Isner routs Simon as US level with France
John Isner used his brutal forehand to dispatch Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 as the United States drew level with France in their Davis Cup quarterfinal on Friday.
The Americans needed a strong performance from Isner after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had earlier withstood a spirited performance from 19-year-old Ryan Harrison to win 7-5, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 and give France a 1-0 lead.
"I took to the court very confident," Isner said. "I played very well. Simple as that."
Given Isner's form, France coach Guy Forget thinks Saturday's doubles match between Bob and Mike Bryan and the French pair of Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra may determine the eventual semifinalist.
Tsonga faces a tough match against Isner on Sunday, while Simon looks short of form.
"The doubles will be decisive," Forget said. "We'll be in a great position if we win. If we lose, it will be difficult."
Given that the Bryans are the world's top-ranked doubles pairing, and are unbeaten in Davis Cup since losing to France in 2008 - when Llodra was partnered by Arnaud Clement - Forget has plenty to worry about.
"I hope Mika and Julien are feeling inspired," Forget said. "I will try and gee them up as much as possible."
Simon, who was called up to replace the injured Gael Monfils this week, never looked like getting his first career win against Isner.
"John did what he is supposed to do, which is to be emphatic and dominant," United States captain Jim Courier said.
The 13th-ranked Simon could not cope with Isner's big serve on outdoor clay at the Monte Carlo Country Club.
"His second serve bounces up so high I almost prefer his first serve," Simon said.
Isner hit nine aces and 53 winners and broke Simon's serve four times. Simon, who is 0-3 against Isner, failed to convert any of his five break point chances.
"I didn't really serve that great today," Isner said. "But my forehand was on and I was going for it. I wasn't holding back and that was the game plan."
The 11th-ranked Isner took a grip on the match when a double break put him 4-0 up in the second set. With the crowd watching on in resignation, Simon got only a ripple of applause after finally holding to make it 4-1.
The third set was more competitive, but Simon failed to take his chances when they came - including one at set point.
"Gilles had started to play better, and it's never easy to close the match out against a player of his caliber," Isner said. "I had to save some break points. That third set could have gone either way."
With Isner trailing 3-2 and 15-40 down in the sixth game, Simon's two-handed backhand flew into the net.
Isner was 30-40 on his next service game but saved break point with a clinical smash for 4-4.
Simon kept chipping away and, when Isner missed an easy volley at the net, Simon got his chance to pull back a set with Isner on his second serve. But the American kept his cool, and his forehand winner down the line got him out of danger.
"I had quite a few chances," Simon said. "But when you don't break once in a match, you end up with this kind of score."
The momentum had turned back in Isner's favor, and his volley on the run gave him break point in the 11th game. After some great defending at the net, he took it to lead 6-5 and easily closed out the match.
Neither team is at full strength.
Simon was a late call up for the injured Gael Monfils, while Harrison replaced ninth-ranked Mardy Fish when he pulled out with fatigue earlier this week.
The sixth-ranked Tsonga found it tough at times against Harrison, ranked 66th and playing in his first meaningful Davis Cup match.
"I had to battle and it worked out quite well for me," Tsonga said.
The Frenchman took a laborious opening set in 54 minutes, then began to find his range as Harrison's temper frayed.
"His major weakness is that he is very, very nervy," Tsonga said. "I knew that if I held on longer than him it would be to my advantage."
Courier spoke with Harrison after the American smashed his racket into the ground following his double fault that gave Tsonga a 3-1 lead in the second set. He whacked it so violently that the frame bent into a right angle.
"You don't want to snuff out someone's fire," Courier said. "Ryan is a high energy guy."