The world number one Novak Djokovic has his sights set on another Miami Open final on Friday when he takes on John Isner in the last four at Crandon Park.
And it was Djokovic who assisted in providing us with a winner from my only bet of the day on Thursday when the Serb failed to cover a -5.5 game handicap against David Ferrer.
The dogged Spaniard fell 7-5, 7-5 to the defending Miami Open champion and did just enough on the handicap to win our bet after leading in the early stages of that one 4-1.
Novak Djokovic vs John Isner
I said yesterday that Ferrer would most likely put up stern resistance against Djokovic and so it proved, but the Serb was much improved on his showing against Alexandr Dolgopolov in the previous round.
The day off probably helped in that regard, but he’s straight back in action on Friday against an opponent he hasn’t often enjoyed facing and it will be a test of Novak’s mental fortitude as much as anything else tonight.
Isner was quite simply superb in a straight sets win over Kei Nishikori that featured not only the usual fabulous serving, but also great returning and winners off both wings plus some very deft net play.
The American was unrecognisable from the forlorn figure we saw against James Ward in Davis Cup and the one we’ve watched for most of this season in what was probably the best performance of his career against the Japanese star.
Nishikori didn’t play badly, but he didn’t have much of a chance against Isner, whose returning in particular was a surprise to me.
Any repeat of that sort of level at midnight UK time tonight in his ninth clash with Djokovic could lead to a very difficult night for the Serb, who has been beaten by Isner in a Masters 1000 semi final before.
That came at Indian Wells two years ago, where Isner has usually found conditions far more to his liking than here in Key Biscayne, and with his confidence now more than fully restored he has a shot of the upset.
It is hard to see Isner reproducing that level two nights in a row and logic would dictate that if the American can’t beat the Serb in more favourable conditions in their Indian Wells clash two weeks ago why would he here where it’s slower?
Confidence could be the answer after Isner recorded back-to-back wins over top-10 opponents for the first time since beating Djokovic, Milos Raonic and Juan Martin Del Potro to make the 2013 Cincy Final.
Opening sets between this pair have never failed to go over 9.5 games, which looks a ‘sure thing’ again today at 1.31, with seven of their eight set ones lasting for at least 12 games, and over 10.5 is a 1.82 shot today.
Isner has won seven sets on hard courts against Djokovic in their seven matches (the other was on clay in Davis Cup back in 2010) and only once has the set win come without the need of a tie break.
The set one markets look like they expect a breaker, which isn’t surprising, as five of their seven hard court clashes have ended 7-6 or 6-7 in the opener, so over 12.5 games in set one is skinny as a consequence at 2.02.
I prefer the 2-1 to Djokovic here at 3.65, with the Serb likely to come up with the goods when he really needs to to edge what could be a tough one against an Isner very much in form.
Sure thing: Back over 9.5 games in set one at 1.31
Long shot: Back Djokovic to beat Isner 2-1 at 3.65