Updated 2:15 a.m.
Lengthy describes 6-foot-6 Juan Martin del Potro and 6-foot-10 John Isner, not to mention their respective winning streaks. Because Mother Nature interrupted multiple times, lengthy also depicts Saturday's course of events.
Top-seeded del Potro outlasted No. 3 seed Tommy Haas and a three hour, 10 minute rain delay for a 7-6 (4), 6-3 win that concluded after midnight. Isner's match against Dmitry Tursunov turned in the big servers favor immediately upon returning from an 81-minute stoppage and ended 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-4. Isner makes his first finals appearance in Washington since losing in 2007 to Andy Roddick, the last American man to triumph in Washington or win a Grand Slam.
The 2009 U.S. Open champion, del Potro owns a 3-0 all-time record against Isner with all three straight sets victories coming on hard courts, including a 2008 quarterfinal win in Washington.
Sunday's men's final is slated for 3 p.m., followed by the women's championship. Defending champion Magdalena Rybarikova returned to the finals with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Ekaterina Makarova, taking all seven games after the three-plus hour delay. The No.7 seed will play Andrea Petkovic, who defeated No. 4 Alize Cornet 7-5, 6-3 in a match that ended at 2:14. In the morning.
Day or night, Del Potro hasn't lost in Washington since 2008, though that statistic is a touch misleading since he skipped three years before returning this summer. There is nothing ambiguous about the Argentine's dominance once here. Yet to lose a set in four matches this week, Del Potro is one win away from his third D.C. title and 14th straight victory at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.
"It's amazing after four years to return and reach the finals, after a month of no competition," said a weary del Potro, who reached the semifinals of Wimbledon last month. "It's so nice for me. I'm looking forward for tomorrow."
Coming off a title win in Atlanta last week, Isner has continued his dominant stretch of hard court play in D.C. doing what he does best: serving. In the opening semifinal match, the 20th ranked player and No. 8 seed impressed himself by whacking 29 aces with only one double fault.
"Yeah, that's not too shabby. Thirty would have been better," Isner cracked after his 2 hour, 17-minute match. "I've served incredibly well these last two weeks in Atlanta and here. It's carried me; there is no doubt about that. That's always going to be the shot that keeps me in the most matches."
Based on the matchup between two basketball forwards-sized players, the finals will certainly have a giant look. Del Potro, D.C. champion in 2008 and 2009, is the short one, but often the better one.
"He's a guy for being very tall, he has every part of the game down," Isner said of his next foe. "He returns the ball exceptionally well. He absolutely crushes the ball from the baseline. There's a reason he's No. 7 in the world."
Grueling is an apt way to describe Isner's recent stretch, not that he's complaining. Sunday's match will be the Georgia native's ninth in 11 days. Against Tursunov, Isner called for the trainer during the third set to work on his quad. After the match, ice packs covered his knees during the post-match press conference.
"My body doesn't feel great, but at the same time nothing is wrong with me besides just being a little tired and a little worn out," said Isner, who has two tour titles this season.
"When you're winning, you're playing a lot of matches...My body is a little beat up, but I'll be ready to go tomorrow for sure."
Stumbling early against Haas, a finalist last year, del Potro trailed 1-4 when the deluge struck. He struck back when play resumed, taking the next four games. However, del Potro lost his serve with a chance to take the set, and then whacked a gutsy second serve ace when Haas had set point before eventually winning the tiebreaker.
"I have to be honest: the rain delay helped me to play much better in the second part of the match," said del Potro, who broke Haas at 4-3 in the final set. "
He'll need a strong return of serve throughout against Isner, who added to his tour-leading total of aces with 72 in four matches this week.
" Nobody can break his serve in this tournament," said del Potro, who last faced Isner's weapon in 2011.
Ironically, the turning point came not on Isner's own powerful serve, but with the ball in Tursunov's hand. With the American holding a 2-1 lead in the second set, rain made an appearance, but not before Isner pulled ahead 15-40. After Tursunov held one break point, the steady rain held up the match for 81 minutes.
Upon returning to the court refreshed, Isner took the very first point, giving him the game's first break of serve.
"Winning that first point gave me all kinds of momentum," Isner said. "I knew I was serving great. In this tournament so far, I've really only needed one break a set."
That formula worked in the final set. He broke Tursunov for a 3-2 lead. In the final game, Isner closed out the match with four straight aces.
For those hoping for a shorter Sunday, lots more aces would be a good thing.