Found April 09, 2012 on Fox Sports:
At the beginning of February no one with a rational view of current form on the international tennis circuit would have dared to suggest that John Isner would have been able to pull off three consecutive Davis Cup victories on European clay. Unless your name was Jim Courier or Andre Agassi, Americans didn't do that sort of thing. Red clay, slower than the grey Har-Tru found in the US, has been used so often to bury American dreams in Europe and South America that people have stopped counting. Yet Isner has just taken the US team through to this year's semifinals - where they will play Spain, probably on clay in another away tie, in September - with three most remarkable victories. It began with his upset of Roger Federer, no less, in Switzerland in February, and has been followed this past weekend with two more triumphs against France at the Monte Carlo Country Club - first against the smooth hitting Gilles Simon and then, in a rubber that clinched the tie, against the powerful Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-6, 5-7, 6-3. We know that the man who honed his tennis skills at the University of Georgia stands 6-foot-9 and serves out of a tree at ridiculous speeds. But there have been a lot of big servers who have failed to conquer red clay. Isner's serve is, of course, exceptional and wins him many free points no matter what surface he is playing on. But the fact that the surface is slow does not, as some might think, act as a detriment. It gives him time to organize his shots which is very important for a man who, inevitably, does not move as fast as a smaller, more flexible athlete. After enjoying his other great win of the season so far - against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinal at Indian Wells - Isner said, "I'm not shying away from clay. I think it is a very good surface for me." Now he has even more evidence to back up that assertion and the confidence, inevitably, is growing. "I have the tools to be able to compete with these guys," he says. "I take the court believing I can win no matter who I am playing against." On a personal level, it will be fascinating to see how Isner can use this clay court success for his own benefit in the upcoming European season. One thing is certain - no one will want to see Big John in their section of the draw at the French Open in May. The levels of success Isner enjoys on the ATP tour in the coming weeks may have some bearing on the degree to which he has been inspired by having Courier, a two-time French Open champion, at courtside during his Davis Cup triumphs. The man Isner refers to as Captain Courier has started to look like a highly effective leader of this dedicated band of players but, hopefully, his absence will not reduce Isner's belief in himself. The fact that the victory over France was achieved without Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, two linchpins on recent Davis Cup squads, was highly encouraging. Young Ryan Harrison, thrown into the deep end when Fish decided he was not fit enough to play, did not disgrace himself while losing in four sets to Tsonga and should have benefited enormously from the experience. And, of course, talking of linchpins - who better than Mike and Bob Bryan? Once again the endlessly enthusiastic twins came through to claim the doubles point by beating Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra and, happily, it looks as if they will be able to provide Courier with that vital service for years to come. Two of the other quarterfinals revealed the need to have strength in depth in this era when the world's best players frequently opt out of Davis Cup because of the scheduling and the need to give themselves some respite from the wearying worldwide travel schedule which is seriously exacerbated by the Davis Cup. Spain shrugged off the absence of Rafael Nadal as David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro stepped up to do the business against Austria, winning 4-1 at home but Serbia, without Djokovic, could not prevent the Czech Republic from winning 4-1 in Prague despite Janko Tipsarevic winning a bad-tempered match against the volatile Radek Stepanek. The Czechs will now travel to Argentina in September following the Argentines' 4-1 defeat of Croatia.

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