Andy Roddick's Saturday night showdown with his fellow American, John Isner, was always going to be a toe-to-toe slugging match, but few would have guessed that it would end with the world No 5 being carried out of the ring. It was a typical Roddick match, won by thunderbolt serves, cracking forehands and an unbreakable resolve in the tie-breaks, the only difference being that Isner was the man landing the knock-out blows.
Isner won 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 on a bleak day for American men's tennis at the US Open. The 24-year-old from North Carolina will carry the Stars and Stripes into the next round – Taylor Dent, Andy Murray's opponent, was hoping to join him last night – and Isner may believe anything is possible after his victory over Roddick, but the top three American men all failed to reach the last 16. Sam Querrey, the world No 22, and James Blake, the No 23, both joined the Wimbledon runner-up on the list of losers, going down to Robin Soderling and Tommy Robredo respectively.
Given that he has a frame to match the Empire State Building, it is no surprise that Isner feels at home here. The 6ft 9in giant loves the fast, high-bouncing courts at Flushing Meadows, having first announced his arrival when he took a set off Roger Federer on these courts two years ago. Until last week he had failed to get beyond the first round in all six of his subsequent appearances at Grand Slam tournaments, but this summer he has reached two semi-finals and one quarter-final on the US hard-court circuit. At No 55 he is at his highest place in the world rankings.
Roddick has been outplayed many times in the past, but he has rarely been outgunned. Isner hit 38 aces to Roddick's 20 and blasted 90 winners to his compatriot's 51. Isner's volleying was also assured, but even more impressive was the way he kept his nerve in the two tie-breaks, especially in the decider. There were only three breaks of serve all match, Roddick making two of them, and it was Isner's play in the tightest moments that decided who would meet Fernando Verdasco in the next round.
The difference for Isner this summer has been his improved fitness, which has also been a factor in Roddick's resurgence this year. Roddick was among those who advised the University of Georgia graduate to work on his strength and conditioning.
"Andy in general pushes every American player because he's the guy that we all look up to," Isner said. "He sets the bar real high. He's No 5 in the world. Nobody's even close to him in America. He's the guy that all of us aspire to be and try to be better than him, if that's possible. The way he competes and his attitude going about a match inspire me."
Roddick, who showed how gracious a loser he can be after his Wimbledon final defeat to Federer two months ago, said he was happy for Isner but "mad that obviously it came at my expense". He added: "There's no comparison to him now compared to last year. I think he's being a lot more professional now. He's doing the things he needs to be doing. I think his coach deserves a lot of that credit."
Isner said it was "hands down, the biggest win of my career", while Roddick admitted it was one of his most disappointing defeats. "It's tough," he said. "I don't know that I've come into a slam with as much confidence as I did here and then left earlier than I wanted to. The times I've lost early, it's been a little dicey coming in. It's just the way tennis is. I made a quarter-final last year and I was playing just terrible, but didn't make it past the third round this year. That's the thing with sports: there's not always a good reason for it."
Roddick's defeat should be good news for Novak Djokovic, who was his scheduled quarter-final opponent, but the world No 4 has his own problems. Djokovic does not look the player he was two years ago, when he reached the final here, and laboured for three and a half hours to beat the American qualifier Jesse Witten. The 26-year-old world No 276 took a set off Djokovic and served for the third set at 6-5 before losing 6-7, 6-3, 7-6, 6-4.
The other beneficiary could be Federer, who might have played Roddick in the semi-finals. The world No 1, who now meets Robredo, was not at his best in beating Lleyton Hewitt 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, but, as usual, he found a way to win.