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John Isner goes for his third Hall of Fame Open title against Alexander Bublik. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
John Isner goes for his third Hall of Fame Open title against Alexander Bublik. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)|Associated Press
Tennis

Hall of Fame Open Men's Final: Abrams picks John Isner vs. Alexander Bublik in a hot Sunday match on grass

Match starts at 2 pm EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Hall of Fame Open

Newport, RI

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Men’s Finals

John Isner over Alexander Bublik

Russian Alex Bublik pulled out a match against 33-year old Spaniard Marcel Granollers that was strange, indeed. First of all, any match with Granollers is strange simply because of the way he serves. It’s a combination of Jay Berger (remember him---the guy from Hollywood, Florida who would begin his serve with his racket halfway to the backscratch position), and any 14 & under girl, but with enough jerks in it to fill an entire middle school. He brings his back leg up and it almost looks like he’s going to fall over like a kid on a pogo stick who can’t keep his balance. Once he delivers, however, he brings some heat because he has good racket speed. And once the point gets underway, Granollers is not only tough, but he’s thoughtful and very strategic, and his game is particularly effective on grass courts, which reward slices, return-of-serve blocks, and deft drop shots. So when Bublik ran out to a 4-0 first set lead, I was surprised, to say the least. But the Spaniard raced back to tie it 4-4, only to lose the set in a close tiebreaker that could have gone either way. Granollers outsmarted the Russian in the second set, blocking serves back and making Bublik supply his own power on a day where the temperatures reached 100 degrees, and supplying your own power was the last thing these players wanted to have to do. Granollers also gave Bublik a lesson in set two on how to drop shot on grass, one that Bublik returned, with relish, in the decisive third set. The Russian deserves a lot of credit, because, although he’s kinda wild and likes to hit out, he marshaled his resources to win a tight third set to roll into the finals, giving him a chance for his first title on the ATP Tour.

He’ll play three-time champion John Isner, who rallied after looking like he was about to retire at the end of the second set. In fact, as he and Ugo Humbert were changing sides toward the end of that set, Humbert looked over at Isner expecting the big fella to pack it in and throw in the towel. But that’s just not the way Isner is wired. Even at 34 years of age, Isner relies on his giant serve to bail him out time and again. He really doesn’t possess an all-around game, but, especially on grass, it doesn’t seem to matter. He wins his serves, he tries to break once a set, and when he can unleash his big forehand, he does. In this match, late in the third, he served, came in after it, and hit a marvelous shoe-top backhand volley for a winner, and any illusion that Humbert had that Isner was about to walk away from his chance to play for yet another title disappeared. Isner will do what he does in the finals. He’ll unleash his service bombs, he’ll crack his forehand, and he’ll win just enough points to walk away with yet another Hall of Fame title and the $100,600 that goes with it.

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