Thursday's U.S. Open primetime was relatively quiet, but over in Louis Armstrong Stadium, the crowd got downright manic. The Open crowd loves a countryman and so they showed love to 13th-seeded American John Isner as he took a hard-fought first set and brisker second set with aggressive play at the net. Something turned in the third set, though, both on and around the court, before Isner won, 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), in four sets.
Gael Monfils, who'd been goofing around all night and has been goofing around throughout his career and probably goofed his way out of the womb, began to play, too, which only made for more goofing.
He stifled Isner's volley game with his effortless reach and pinpoint passing shots. Perhaps yearning for a longer final match, and perhaps just bored, the evening crowd took the side of the rallying Monfils. The Frenchman, as is his his wont, did everything in his power to keep them there.
Monfils is as gifted a troll as he is a tennis player, and his antics presented the perfect foil to the taciturn Isner. He bantered with fans (including a camera-wielding man who'd drawn Isner's ire by using a flash), giggled as Isner argued with the chair umpire and struck a jaunty pose with every winner. The Armstrong crowd ate it up, all of it.
Unforced errors consumed Isner, his irritability only compounding his struggles and feeding his opponent. It was hard not to feel sorry for the American when his unraveling met a "MON-FILS! MON-FILS!" chant from the home crowd.
Isner found his happy ending, though, by reestablishing his net presence, dialing up his serves (nine fourth-set aces), and staying in points long enough to catch Monfils flinching. By the time the men reached a tiebreak, the chants had reverted to the kind of "U-S-A!" stuff Isner surely expected when he took the court. He rode the rising patriotic tide, too, to a 7-4 tiebreak while sending the troll back under his bridge.
Isner could not have looked more relieved. Monfils didn't seem to mind.