In most previews of this year’s Paris Masters, John Isner would more often than not have been mentioned in the list of players trying to qualify for the ATP Finals in London. For good reason, even when the season-ending injuries to Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios were factored in, the American was still 16th in the race. But 1,000 points will take you very far, very fast, and if Isner can win the tournament and collect the 1,000 points that goes to the champion, the 32-year-old will find himself at the season-ending championships for the first time next week.
That possibility looked remote just a few days ago, and it looked remote for long stretches of his grueling three-set wins over Diego Schwartzman, Grigor Dimitrov and Juan Martin del Potro. But Isner, serving as well and competing as doggedly as ever, has survived them all.
Now he’ll be a solid favourite against 77th-ranked Serbian Filip Krajinovic, whose road to the semis, which include wins over Yuichi Sugita, Sam Querrey, Nicolas Mahut and a walkover win over Rafael Nadal has to be one of the least-imposing in Masters history.
Isner won their only meeting, at a Challenger in Lubbock, Texas, in 2008. That’s a long way from the semis in Paris.
Another American being tagged “an under-the-radar contender for London” is Jack Sock. At the beginning of the week, he was 18th in the race, and he had reached just one semifinal since April. But like Isner, Sock can qualify if he wins in Paris. And like Isner, Sock has competed extremely well so far.
Since losing the first set to Kyle Edmund in his opening match, he’s taken off his trademark backwards cap and played with a strangely chastened and low-key determination.
The sarcastic smiles and dialogues with his camp haven’t been as frequent; instead, whenever he’s found himself in trouble, Sock has calmly found his way out.
Sock’s opponent today, Julien Benneteau has been lifted by the crowds on a magical ride reminiscent of the ones that his fellow Frenchman Michael Llodra went on in this arena a few years ago. But neither of Llodra’s rides ended in a title, and Benneteau’s, as storybook as it would be, is still a long shot as well.