MASON, Ohio ‚Äî John Isner‚Äôs absence from the ATP top 20 will be brief.
The 6-foot-10 former Georgia tennis star made sure of that Saturday, rallying to beat seventh-seeded Juan Martin del Potro 6-7 (4), 7-6 (9), 6-3 in a grueling Western & Southern Open semifinal.
Isner, who fell from No. 20 to 22 this week, will return to the top 20 after a stimulating Cincinnati run that includes beating three straight top-10 players for the first time in his career while earning his second Masters 1000 series finals appearance and first in Cincinnati. His previous Masters 1000 final appearance was at Indian Wells in 2012.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs awesome to be at this stage again,‚Äù said Isner, who beat top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals and No. 8 Richard Gasquet in the second round. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been playing pretty well this season, but this tournament is where I‚Äôve really started to put it all together. I‚Äôm playing pretty well in all facets of the game.‚Äù
Isner, in his first appearance in the tournament‚Äôs semifinals, had been 0-4 against the Argentine. He‚Äôll play third-seeded Rafael Nadal, who overcame sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, 7-5, 7-6 (4) in the other semifinal to reach the tournament final for the first time in nine appearances.
Nadal extended his personal winning streak against the Czech to 14 matches while improving his overall season record 52-3, including 14-0 on hardcourts. After winning at Montreal last week, the Spaniard will be making back-to-back appearances in hardcourt finals for the first time in his career.
He is 15-1 against top-10 players this season.
Isner needed 2 hours, 47 minutes to improve to 16-3 since retiring from Wimbledon in the second round because of a left knee injury. He finished off the win when del Potro sent a backhand from the baseline into the net.
Despite tossing into a persistent swirling breeze and bright sunshine, both players served so effectively early that the first set included just one break point, fought off by the 22nd-ranked Isner. The 6-foot-6 Del Potro came up with a crucial mini-break on the 11th point of the tiebreaker when Isner sailed his backhand volley wide to lose the set.
Del Potro broke Isner in the eighth game of the second set to put himself into position to serve for the match, but he double-faulted on match point and Isner came up with his own break to stay alive and eventually force a tiebreak that he won when del Potro sent a forehand wide to the deuce court.
‚ÄúI think I lost the match in the second set,‚Äù del Potro said. ‚ÄúThat was my chance to beat him. He was fighting all the time and deserved to win the third set, but I missed my chance.‚Äù
‚ÄúI know, at that moment, that the sun on that side was pretty bad,‚Äù said Isner, who can become the first American to win the tournament since Andy Roddick in 2006. ‚ÄúWe both struggled with that for about 30 minutes.‚Äù