SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — On one of the most important points of the match, John Isner walked up to the baseline, bounced the ball between his legs and wasted no time smacking an adrenaline-fueled 138 mph ace.
So long, break point.
So long, set point.
So long, any questions about whether his serve is back.
Isner advanced to the SAP Open semifinals for the first time Friday, rallying in a first-set tiebreaker before overpowering Xavier Malisse 7-6 (8), 6-2 behind his booming serve. The bone bruise in his right knee that forced him to drop out of last month's Australian Open is no longer an issue, and apparently neither is his confidence.
"It's not something I'm going to just try to kick a serve in," Isner said. "I'm going to go for it."
The highest-ranked American saved two break points on his serve in a lengthy first-set tiebreaker, relied on his big-finish forehand for two breaks in the second set and never let his strongest stroke slip during a quick 68-minute match. He will play Saturday against fourth-seeded Tommy Haas, who beat wild card Steve Johnson 6-4, 6-2.
Isner finished with 10 aces and no double-faults and made 67 percent of his first serves. He improved to 5-2 in his career in San Jose. His previous best finish at the tournament played on a hard court in the home of the NHL's San Jose Sharks had come in 2008, when he lost in the quarterfinals to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
"If I serve well," Isner said, "I can be in the match against anybody in the world."
After two wins to advance to the semifinals, the remaining field could give Isner tougher competition.
Top seed and two-time defending tournament champion Milos Raonic of Canada had 14 aces in a 7-6 (0), 6-3 win over Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin. He will next face third-seeded Sam Querrey, who outlasted Colombia's Alejandro Falla 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 in the late match, which Raonic didn't stick around to watch.
"Get a good meal. I'm hungry. It's late," Raonic said after advancing. "I'll start thinking about that (Saturday). Tonight, I'm thinking about food and sleep."
So far, the tournament has belonged to the hard-hitting headliners.
Neither Isner nor Malisse faced — nor forced — a break point in the first set until the tiebreaker, and Isner never faced one after that. The 6-foot-9 American, ranked No. 16 in the world, kept the rallies short and the time between points even shorter and relied on his serve in the most critical moments of the match.