Isner finally flicked a forehand from the baseline at the feet of a charging Malisse on his second set point. Malisse netted the in-between backhand, and Isner pumped his fist all the way to the bench.
"I just tried to hit my biggest serves," Isner said. "I feel like when I am serving out a set or serving out a match, I'm up a break, I feel like that's when my sense of urgency is the best. Essentially, I don't want to hit a ball besides my serve."
After the tiebreaker, he hardly did.
The only other drama came three games later, when Isner challenged a called ace by Malisse that was overruled. Isner later went ahead 15-40 and forced another backhand into the net for a break and a 2-1 lead that had the American screaming "Come on!"
Isner earned another break and cruised comfortably on his serve. On match point, he served out wide and put away an easy volley with Malisse well off the court.
After dropping the first two meetings, Isner has won the last three against Malisse. He's also starting to regain his rhythm after stumbling late last year, leaving Australia with a nagging knee and looking rusty earlier this week.
Isner had lost to Thomaz Bellucci to send the U.S. and Brazil to a deciding fifth match Sunday, when Querrey sealed the victory for the Americans by beating Thiago Alves indoors in Jacksonville, Fla. Isner hadn't played on the ATP World Tour since a two-set loss to fellow American Ryan Harrison in the second round in Sydney on Jan. 9.
Since losing in the round of 32 in the U.S. Open last August, Isner entered San Jose 3-7.
"It's a gradual thing, and winning cures a lot of issues for me," Isner said. "Mainly with confidence and being comfortable on the court, and that's what I feel like I'm building toward."