updated 8:04 p.m.
Juan Martin del Potro wasn't the first player during the Citi Open befuddled by John Isner's service game. Actually, two weeks worth of tour pros had minimal luck against the highest ranked American's powerful weapon. The top-seeded Argentinean was just the first one to find a winning solution.
Then again, what else would you expect from a player who hasn't lost at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center since before Barack Obama moved into that notable White House further down 16th Street. After losing his first set of the week, del Potro turned dominant with his own power-packed game for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 triumph on Sunday afternoon for his third title in Washington.
Ranked No.7 entering the week, del Potro improved to 4-0 all-time against Isner, who made his first Washington finals appearance since 2007. The Wimbledon semifinalist, who tweaked his left knee during the grass court event last month, broke Isner's serve twice in each of the last two sets en route to his 14th straight win in this event.
Following the men's final, Magdalena Rybarikova defended her title with a 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over Andrea Petkovic. Rybarikova improved to 10-0 all-time in Washington.
"I'm surprised to win this tournament," del Potro said.
Well, surprised to win this specific week, but not the event itself. Washington champion in 2008 and 2009, del Potro returned to D.C. after a three-year absence and clearly picked up where he left off. He also returned to the Rock Creek hard courts not long after finishing off third-seed Tommy Haas in a semifinal match that ended after midnight thanks to a three hour, 10 minute rain delay.
"I went to bed not even knowing who I was playing today," Isner cracked. Upon awakening, the 20th ranked player understood the challenge that awaited him.
Rehashing comments he made pre-match, Isner said, "No offense to my other opponents, it was a step up in class today against Juan Martin."
Del Potro, unable able to fall asleep until sometime around 3 a.m., entered Stadium Court some 12 hours later. Even opponents with the proper amount of shut-eye struggle finding rhythm against Isner's potent serve. Once he did, the 2009 U.S. Open champion flashed his Grand Slam form, breaking Isner early in the second set, controlling the match from there.
The three-setter lasted only 89 matches, far shorter than a standard match involving Isner, whose ability to hold serve often leads to tiebreakers. One reason for the shorter contest, del Potro's change in tactics.
After initially receiving Isner's serves while standing on the baseline, del Potro backed up considerably as the match progress. "I go almost out of the court to take the ball," said a chuckling del Potro.
He found the sweet spot with his return of serve halfway through the match. Sporting a bright yellow shirt and white headband, the 6-foot-6 del Potro whacked a backhand winner on match point before raising both arms in celebration.
The previous time he celebrated a win in Washington, del Potro went on to claim his only Grand Slam title. Isner touted del Potro as one of the favorite at this year's U.S. Open behind only Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
Del Potro may have had limited rest overnight, but he entered the week fresh after taking off a month following his Wimbledon loss to Novak Djokovic. Meanwhile, Isner, who won in Atlanta last week, played his ninth match in 11 days.
"The legs weren't quite there," Isner said. "At the same time, In could have been 100 percent and clicking on all cylinders and maybe not have won that match. That just speaks to how good he is."
The tour leader in aces, Isner whacked 29 with only double fault in Saturday's semifinal win over Dmitry Tursunov. In the championship match, the No. 8 seed had only six in the final, one in each of the final two sets. Three of his four double faults came in the final set.
On the sun-filled, but gusty day, neither player lost a point during their first service game. Isner continued that dominant pattern for a 2-1 lead. The fourth game also required the minimum amount of points to complete, but they all went the Isner's way. With the service break, Isner eventually took his first-ever set from del Potro.
During the opening set, Isner never faced a break point and only dropped five points on his serve, though three came in his final service game. Starting to find his range, del Potro squandered a break chance for a 2-0 lead, but took four consecutive points during Isner's next service game for a 3-1 lead.
Del Potro wasn't simply solving Isner's serve, but also his usually simmering forehand. Twice in the second set, Isner saw an overhead smash returned for a forehand winner by the top seed.
"I think that gave him a lot of momentum," said Isner of the first misdirected overhead, adding that del Potro's forehand is considered the best on tour. "Not so smart on my part to go to that wing with that overhead."
Hopes for a momentum shift faded when del Potro broke the 6-foot-10 American's serve in the very first game of the third set. Isner lost his serve in his opening four matches of the week.
Isner losing his serve with regularity is a rather rare occurrence. Del Potro the last man standing in Washington, rather common. When he actually visits, that is.