Isner leads American charge into third round, but Tsitsipas looms large

John Isner is among the Americans who are enjoying success at the French Open in 2021. However, he has to face a familiar foe in Stefanos Tsitsipas in the next round.

Four American men advanced to the third round of the French Open on Wednesday, an unusually large number for that contingent.

John Isner stared the charge early in the day when he overpowered Filip Krajinovic 7-6(6), 6-1, 7-6(5). The world No. 34 is through to the last 32 at Roland-Garros for the seventh time in his career, making him one of the more successful American men in recent memory at this event.

“I don’t normally make it into Week 2 (of Grand Slams),” Isner said when asked to compare the pressure of Week 1 and Week 2. “That’s just the facts. But there is a lot of pressure early on in the event, especially in a first round. There is a lot of butterflies because everyone is so good, and it’s very easy to come out in a first round and play a tentative match. Lord knows I have done that before, and I’m sure a lot of high-ranked players have done that, because just like anything, you want to try to get that first win under your belt and then maybe you can be off and running from there.

“I think the pressure, in my experience, is quite big in the first week. Now, if you ask Rafa that question or Roger, they’ll say the second week because that’s what they are accustomed to. For me, there definitely is a lot of pressure in the first week.”

OPELKA MAINTAINS MOMENTUM

First-week pressure is the case for the entire crop of American men right now, but so far this fortnight they are handling it well for the most part. Reilly Opelka, Marcos Giron, and Steve Johnson are also through to the third round along with Isner in the relatively wide-open bottom half of the draw.

Opelka scored an impressive 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 victory over clay-court specialist Jaume Munar. The world No 35 had never won a main-draw match at Roland-Garros prior to this fortnight, but at the same time his performance has not come out of nowhere. He recently made a run to the Rome semi-finals.

“Isner has had a lot of success on it,” Opelka said when asked about his prospects on clay. “We are similar in a lot of ways. My forehand is improving. At the rate I think it’s going, I think there’s still so much more room to grow, which is exciting for me; it really is. I go into each practice very excited to test it, to try to improve it. I’m thinking on new things.

“In practice I’m really locked in now to make sure I’m not developing any bad habits on it and letting those old ways creep back in.”

TOUGH TESTS AWAIT

American men have had a lot of bad habits over the years on clay, but Johnson and Giron are also helping to turn the tide this fortnight. Johnson outlasted Thiago Monteiro 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-3 in a night match on the outer courts, while Giron defeated clay-court guru Guido Pella 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-7(3), 6-4. It could have been even better, but Mackenzie McDonald lost from two match points up against Cristian Garin and Tommy Paul fell to Daniil Medvedev in four sets.

And it only gets tougher from here, as Isner has to go up against No 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round and Opelka awaits the second-seeded Medvedev.

“I’m sure he can serve well right now,” Tsitsipas said of Isner, putting it bluntly. “Also, I’m sure he’s a guy who likes to play on clay. Conditions are obviously the way they are. (I’m) just going to have to do my thing; just have to find my way around it.”

Whatever happens from here, this French Open has already been better than expected for the male representatives from the United States.

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