John Isner powers past Kevin Anderson at BNP Paribas Open

John Isner powers past Kevin Anderson at BNP Paribas Open
John Isner returns a shot against Kevin Anderson during the BNP Paribas Open tennis in Indian Wells, Calif. (Julian Finney / Getty Images)

It was like going to a heavyweight title fight.

USC's late and legendary Marv Goux would have drooled about this, about his love of big man versus big man, as he used to call it when his Trojans played Notre Dame in football.


Sure, it was tennis, just a third-round men's singles match in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells on Monday.

But when John Isner and Kevin Anderson took the court, you knew you could forget about finesse and patty-caking. There is not a delicate moment in either of their games.

Isner is 6 feet 9, Anderson 6-8. When they walked in, all you saw were knees. This match would have made John Wooden an instant tennis fan. They should have brought out a basketball hoop, skipped the coin flip and had them do a slam dunk contest to see who served first.

Isner is from the U.S. He played his college tennis at Georgia. Anderson is from South Africa. He played his college tennis at Illinois. They played each other in college all the time. Now they are pros and still do.

Little separates them — one inch in height and two spots in the brackets. Anderson was seeded 16th here, Isner 18th.

"I've played him more than anybody else on tour," Isner said. "Eleven times." (Isner leads, 8-3).

"We've played matches that have gone three tiebreakers twice. We almost never play without at least one tiebreaker."

These two towers of power serve huge, seldom get broken and badly need that tennis device, the tiebreaker, designed to end things.

Remember, it was Isner who played, and won, the longest match in tennis history at Wimbledon, where in the final set they don't use a tiebreaker. Isner beat Nicolas Mahut in that 2010 match that went 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days. Isner won the fifth set, 70-68.

In that match, he had 113 aces. Many decent club players don't have that many in a lifetime.

So Monday, this was to be, as it always is, Mt. Everest facing K-2. They put it on Stadium 2, possibly because they feared for the electrical equipment at ground level in the big stadium. These guys are so tall they barely need to make service tosses. They can just open their hands and hit.

Tournament chief executive Ray Moore, a former semi-decent tour player himself, was there to watch and said, "I am just salivating, wishing I could have hit just one like that."

There is nothing left to the imagination with these two. Isner served first and held with three aces. One 134 miles an hour, then 138 and 123 on game point.

From the start, it was all guns blazing.


Anderson countered with a 115 ace, a 134 bomb that Isner barely ticked and a 123 ace on game point.

The first seven games, all service holds, took only 20 minutes. The only danger of anything unpredictable happening was a tennis ball abrasion to a


After a while, it seemed obvious that they ought to just have this pair start with a tiebreaker. It would save them, and the tournament, lots of time. Interestingly, Anderson lost that first-set tiebreaker when he netted a soft cut shot from Isner.

He would have been forgiven had he screamed at Isner, "C'mon, wimp, give me some pace."

The soft stuff may have also so shaken Anderson that he lost his focus, or some testosterone, long enough to drop the first game of the second set.

On his serve!

That meant this match was over. It's like a 15-run first inning in baseball. You play on, but only because the rules say you have to go nine innings. The outcome has been decided.

Isner won in 1 hour 19 minutes, 7-6 (6), 6-2.

The good news is he hit 18 aces (Anderson had 11) and only lost seven points on his serve in the entire match. One of Isner's serves was 146, fastest in the tournament so far.

An amazing statistic: Only three times in the match did either player hit a serve, first or second, less than 100 miles an hour.

Isner, who led the ATP Tour in total aces in 2010, '12 and '13, is winning his service game this year at a 95% clip.

There is, of course, bad news. Isner wins his return games at a horrid 6% rate. That means a lot of tiebreakers and hoping.

The other bad news. His next match will be against Novak Djokovic. That's No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who beat Isner last year at Indian Wells in the semifinals en route to the title, and who, like many of the other top players, seems unfazed by Isner's service flame-throwing.

"These conditions suit me very well," Isner said afterward. "But every condition suits him."

At No. 20, Isner is the top-ranked U.S. men's player. With that comes expectations, and he admitted to letting lots of people down, including himself, with a Davis Cup performance last week against Britain in which he lost two matches — one a near-five-hour marathon to unheralded James Ward — and the clincher to Andy Murray.

He said his coach, Justin Gimelstob, picked him up at LAX after his flight in from London —"3 p.m. [in L.A. traffic] on a Monday," Isner said, in obvious appreciation — and they had a good talk en route to the desert.

"I've been a bit of a mental midget in some instances," Isner said.

Follow Bill Dwyre on Twitter @DwyreLATimes