With so much drama in England on Wednesday, Milos Raonic and John Isner almost seemed like an afterthought by the time they took to the court for their Wimbledon quarter-final.
Their match started just before England faced Croatia in the semi-final of the World Cup, ensuring a near-empty stadium at Wimbledon. They also played after Roger Federer and Kevin Anderson had duked it out on the same court for more than four hours with Anderson pulling off a stunning upset.
Raonic and Isner didn’t start playing until early Wednesday evening when most of the 35,152 spectators had left to watch soccer. The two big servers started strong, piling up 23 aces between them in the first set. But as the match wore on, Isner’s serve held up better and the American came out on top 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3.
There was little to separate the pair through the opening two sets, with neither winning a break point. But it was Isner who started to look more energized and he broke Raonic’s serve three times over the next two sets.
Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., and who was seeded 13th, didn’t win any break points in the match and he was hobbled almost from the start by a problem with his right thigh, which he had to have taped after the first seven games. “It feels like a tear of the muscle,” he said after the match. “I don’t know to what extent. That’s sort of the sensation I had.”
The injury bothered him while serving or shifting his weight, he added. “I knew he’s been serving really well,” he said. “I think after the first set, something, I only had, like, five or six second-serves to look at in that first set. I didn’t have many chances.”
He felt the tide turning when Isner won his first break point in the third set. “Before that, I can hope to hold, try to put a few things here together, play maybe a good return point or two in the tiebreak, maybe take care of my serve. But just once I got behind a break, it was going to be tough,” he said.
The empty stadium didn’t do much for the atmosphere, although Raonic said it wasn’t a factor. “I noticed it, but … it wasn’t like an overpowering feeling that you really noticed. I noticed it because sort of – yeah, I looked up and saw it a few times.”
He also lamented the long wait for the Federer-Anderson match to finish, which forced him to warm up twice.
The win was a major breakthrough for Isner, who is seeded ninth. He had never advanced beyond the third round at Wimbledon and he’d only made it to one other Grand Slam quarter-final, at the U.S. Open in 2011. He’s never even played on centre court at Wimbledon.
“At 33, I’m playing the best tennis of my life,” he said after the match, adding that his wife is expecting a baby girl in September. “With how I’m feeling physically and mentally, I’m in a very good spot. I think I can keep doing damage here. This is amazing.”
Isner will now take on Anderson in the semi-final on Friday. And the two have some history together, having battled it out during their college days in the United States. Isner played at the University of Georgia while Anderson was at the University of Illinois. “There could be a little mental aspect in our match. I say that because our rivalry, what have you, goes back way before the pro tour. We played each other in college probably three, four, five times. We played each other a bunch on the pro tour.”
The other semi-final will pit Rafael Nadal against Novak Djokovic.
For Raonic, 27, there’s now only recovery, a planned stop in Toronto for the Rogers Cup next month and preparations for next year’s tournament. He’s made the quarter-final at Wimbledon in four of the past five years and lost in the final to Andy Murray in 2016. When asked if he felt his day would one day come here, Raonic didn’t hesitate: “That’s what I work for, yeah. That’s what I put in the efforts and the sacrifices, the sweat, the frustrations, and all the good things. And I have fun doing it, that’s for sure. That’s what I do it for, to have that opportunity, and hopefully make something out of it.”
The lone Canadian left at Wimbledon is Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski, who advanced to the semi-finals in doubles with partner Yifan Xu of China.