World no. 16 John Isner has not enjoyed the best run during North American hard-court swing so far, losing early in Atlanta, Washington and Montreal and struggling in the first round in Cincinnati as well. Nonetheless, the American is through to the second round, defeating Dusan Lajovic 7-6, 1-6, 7-5 in two hours and 16 minutes for the 121st Masters 1000 win.
It was the seventh meeting between the two and the sixth win for John who took four points less than the Serb thanks to that second set when Dusan had the upper hand. Despite serving at 73% and blasting 27 aces, Isner had to play against ten break points (nine in sets one and two), fending off eight of those and moving over the top with a single break in the closing stages of the encounter to book the spot in the second round.
John had 53 winners (the big majority coming from his serve) and 34 unforced errors, losing the edge in the more developed rallies and staying in touch with a better performance in the shortest rallies up to four strokes to emerge at the top.
Isner saved a break chance in game three and four more at 3-3, blasting four winners to stay unbroken, creating a set point on the return at 6-5. Dusan saved it with a strong serve, reaching the tie break that Isner won 7-3 with two mini-breaks.
Lajovic was the only player on the court in set number two, serving well and scoring a break in the second game after a beautiful forehand down the line winner, gaining the momentum and delivering another break at 4-1, wrapping up the set with a forehand winner in the next game to set up a decider.
There, Isner survived a scary opening game that included four deuces and a break point for Dusan that he denied with a risky forehand winner, managing to bring the game home and playing much better in the rest of the encounter.
The American lost only three points in the remaining five service games and Dusan couldn't follow that pace, saving a break chance at 3-4 before John broke him at 6-5 to seal the deal and make a winning start. The struggling Italian Marco Cecchinato has lost the tenth straight match on the Tour, with Alex de Minaur scoring a 6-7, 6-1, 6-2 triumph for the fourth Masters 1000 victory.
The young Aussie never faced a break point, wasting two chances on the return at 2-2 in the opener and losing it 7-5 in the tie break. That was all we saw from Cecchinato who grabbed 11 points outside serve in sets two and three, offering Alex 12 chances for a break and suffering two in each set to propel the Aussie into the second round.