SAN JOSE -- John Isner's monster serve is rarely out of whack, but it took him awhile to get the rest of his game cranked up at the SAP Open on Wednesday night at HP Pavilion.
Isner, the tournament's second seed and currently the top-ranked American player at No. 6, ultimately outlasted unseeded Canadian Vasek Pospisil 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-3 in a second-round match but not without some worrisome moments in his debut appearance after drawing a first-round bye.
Isner had a couple excuses. First, since he didn't get any practice time on the HP Pavilion court, he had a hard time getting comfortable hitting anything but his serve early in the match.
Second, he had to squeeze his 6-foot-9 frame into economy seating on two flights from Tampa, Fla., on Monday.
"My back's been bothering me ever since I landed here," he said. "I had some flight issues. I lost my (first-class) seat due to the weather in the Northeast. I actually fly economy quite a lot, but I wasn't able to get the exit row. Sure enough, there was some 5-foot-1 person with his feet dangling sitting there."
As often is the case in his victories, the 27-year-old Isner effectively pulled this one out banging bullets from the service line. While he recorded "just" 14 aces, he hammered several other serves that Pospisil could barely get a racket on, and when the Canadian did get a ball back, it was either long or without much steam on it.
Both players staged a serving exhibition in the first set. Isner lost just five points on his serve -- two on double faults -- and Pospisil lost just six. The tiebreaker was just as close through the first five points, but Isner finally got a mini-break when, with both players at the net, he got the best of the rapid-fire rally and slipped one past his opponent for a 4-2 lead.
"He went at my body, and I was able to reflex one back," Isner said. "That was definitely a turning point in that tiebreaker."
After Pospisil won the next point, Isner then boomed two more big serves for a 6-3 lead and finished it off when Pospisil hit long on a rally.
The two players were on serve through their first five games of the second set, but Isner, who had only lost a handful of points on his serve to that point, inexplicable lost a service game at love, and Pospisil was able to run out the set easily from there.
Pospisil appeared to be on the verge of an upset early in the third set when he served to win the opening game, then had two break points against Isner in the second. But both times, Isner responded with an ace to fend off the break, then after finally gaining the advantage with a hard serve that Pospisil returned long, he spanked yet another ace to salvage the game.
"At that point, he'd won five games in a row and had break points to win six in a row," Isner said. "But I aced him twice, and my serve bailed me out like it has a lot of times. That gave me sort of new life, and from 2-all on in the third, I played very well."
Indeed, after trading service games, Isner finally broke Pospisil for the first time in the match in the fifth game. Pospisil hit consecutive volleys at the net wide to go down 0-30, then hit long on a rally to go down 0-40. He fought back to win the next point, but Isner then delivered a passing shot down the right side off a Pospisil cross-court shot for the break.
Isner then used his serve to finish off his opponent, winning the sixth and eighth game and then breaking the exhausted Pospisil in the ninth game for the victory in the 1 hour, 48 minute match.
In another second-round match after the Isner-Pospisil battle, fourth-seeded Tommy Haas of Germany rolled over Jesse Levine of Canada 6-3, 6-1 in just 53 minutes.
Completing first-round play Wednesday afternoon, American veteran Michael Russell beat onetime prodigy Donald Young in the first round for the second year in a row, 6-3, 7-5.
Thursday's key matches
7 p.m. -- Milos Raonic (1) vs. Michael Russell; Day session (begins 9:30 a.m.) -- Sam Querrey (3) vs. Lleyton Hewitt