LONDON (Reuters) - John Isner said he had slept badly the previous night after tossing away a two-set lead to leave his Wimbledon second-round match against Ruben Bemelmans hanging in the balance.
When he returned on Thursday he spared himself a nightmare defeat by saving two match points on his way to securing a 6-1 6-4 6-7(6) 6-7(3) 7-5 victory.
The American had led by two sets and 4-0 in the third-set tiebreak on Wednesday and would have had a day off had he not squandered a match point and allowed qualifier Bemelmans to fight back to two sets apiece.
On the resumption, Isner found himself staring down the barrel in the 10th game of the decider but he served two of his 64 booming aces to save two match points at 15-40 before taking the next two games to reach the third round.
Isner had got into a furious argument with umpire Mohamed Lahyani the previous evening after Belgian Bemelmans twice got the benefit of Hawk-Eye decisions that him questioning whether the line-calling technology had malfunctioned.
“I felt like I won that match twice, because at that point I go up a break,” Isner said of the Hawk-Eye controversy in the fourth set. “Mohamed, the referee, said it was out but Hawk-Eye didn’t. I never saw anything like that.”
Isner is no stranger to drama at Wimbledon having played for 11 hours and five minutes over three days to beat Nicolas Mahut in 2010 — the longest match in tennis history.
The trauma of this one hardly compared to that but Isner was mightily relieved to scrape through to face 98th ranked Moldovan Radu Albot — a match that offers an enticing opportunity for the 33-year-old to finally reach the last 16 here.
“It was a tough match. I have of course been in this situation before where the match has not finished, and I’m not just talking about 2010,” Isner told reporters.
“It’s not all that uncommon with how it can rain and whatnot. But I certainly didn’t sleep like a baby last night. When you’re up two sets and 4-0 in the third-set tiebreaker and you let that slip through, it’s tough.
“A lot of stuff goes through your head. I’m half asleep, I’m not really asleep. We’ve all been there when you have something weighing on you.”
Isner’s hopes were hanging by a thread when he trailed 4-5 15-40 on his serve against the 104th-ranked Bemelmans.
He responded by slamming down four successive aces.
It was a punch in the stomach for Bemelmans who double-faulted on his way to gifting Isner the break in the next game.
Isner then completed an eventful victory with the help of another couple of aces.
While Isner needs one more win to post his best Wimbledon run, compatriot Frances Tiafoe reached the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time when he beat French veteran Julien Benneteau in four sets.
Americans Sam Querrey and Mackenzie McDonald are also still alive in the top half of the draw.
Asked about a theoretical semi-final clash with Querrey, Isner quickly poured cold water on the reporter’s enquiry.
“Isn’t Roger (Federer) in the draw?,” he said joking.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon and Ken Ferris