No matter the boom-boom-boom nature of these two players’ games, the fastest servers in the business and ace-accumulators supreme, not even their heaviest thwack into the surface of No.1 Court was ever going to cause as much of a tremor as the shock-waves that had rippled round the entire complex only moments before the pair eventually prepared to play with the sun having set on Roger Federer’s Wimbledon.
By the time this match was concluded dusk was approaching, American John Isner powering through against a hobbling Milos Raonic to reach his first ever Grand Slam semi-final, 6-7, 7-6. 6-4, 6-3. 6ft 10in Isner will play Federer’s conqueror, 6ft 8ins Kevin Anderson. The Land of the Giants comes to Wimbledon on Friday.
The arrival of Isner and Raonic on to court came close to doubling the attendance as everyone sought respite after the Federer upset. It was Prozac rather than Pimms that was the sought-after pick-me-up round the grounds. Perhaps the sparse numbers were due to some football match or other. And that was even with the dispensation from the All England club that allowed the match to be watched via tablets or phones.
Raonic’s coach, former Wimbledon (2001) winner, Croatian Goran Ivanisevic, resisted the temptation to sneak a look at events in Moscow. If the authorities stopped short of issuing headphones they might have considered tin hats for these two are the Bash Street Blokes of the circuit, having hit serves close in excess of 140mph an hour in these championships.
It didn’t take them long to find their range even though they had been hanging around in the locker rooms since Federer’s failed match point in mid-afternoon. It was perhaps pay-back time against John Isner following his marathon match of three days’ duration against Nicolas Mahut in 2010, the American eventually prevailing in the fifth set, 70-68.
Isner, 33, is king of the tie-break with 22 victories in 2018 and ought perhaps to have been recruited by Gareth Southgate for advice of winning shoot-outs. If it was artistry and nuance that you wanted, then No.1 court on a billowy summer’s evening was not the place for you.
If, however, you could marvel at the ferocity of a serve delivered with precision, then you were in the right place even if the line officials had every right to request cricketers’ boxes and breast-padding for protection. They certainly had every right to danger money to be added to their stipend. This was Heavy Metal tennis, strident and unrelenting. The symphonies were being played elsewhere at Wimbledon.
The arena did fill slightly as tickets were circulated among the gathering Wimbledon throng but it never came close to a capacity audience.
Isner’s prowess at the tie-break was not enough for him to hold off another accomplished practitioner with Ranoic taking the first set, 7-6, with five points conceded. As an indicator of how clipped the whole affair was there were only 23 strokes in the tie-break including the serve itself. The longest rally within it was five points.
It is tennis for the aficionado or the partisan but not for the neutral. Of course, just as Martin Johnson’s England were correct never to apologise for using their driving maul to subdue opponents, so these players have every right to beat opponents into submission through the serve. But they need more variety to challenge the greats.
The first two sets went to script, Raonic taking the first on a tie-break, Isner the second. And then, glory be, there was a break of serve in the third enabling the American to take the honours, 6-4, Raonic feeling the effects of a thigh problem that needed heavy strapping towards the end of the first set. It was to impede him more and more as Isner, still to be broken in the tournament, came home in the fourth set.
Wimbledon 2018 in pictures