ASB Classic: John Isner playing with 'house money' after early scare
Second-seed John Isner will approach the rest of the ASB Classic like he is playing with "house money" after surviving a huge scare from Tunisian journeyman Malek Jaziri.
The 2010 and 2014 champion stopped the run of big-name departures on Wednesday, but only just after holding his nerve in the third-set tiebreak to win 6-3 3-6 7-6 in two hours.
What began as a dream day for organisers got off to a horrible start when defending champion and top seed Roberto Bautista-Agut withdrew due to a stomach virus before third-seed David Ferrer was knocked out by Dutchman Robin Haase.
Sixth-seed Feliciano Lopez also pulled out prior to his second round clash with Jeremy Chardy due to a back spasm.
Kiwi Rubin Statham, who replaced Bautista-Agut in the main draw, came close to pulling off a major upset, shrugging off his defeat in the doubles just a couple of hours earlier to take Jiri Vesely to three sets, losing 6-7 7-5 6-3.
And Isner admitted he was lucky not to be leaving early as he struggled to find his rhythm in his first match in two months.
"I played well in the big moments today," the bid-serving American said.
"There was some things I did very well, there was things that I can definitely improve on but I've got to trick myself into thinking I'm playing with house money now considering that I could very easily be out of this tournament."
The 31-year-old's victory sets up an all-American quarterfinal against seventh-seed Steve Johnson, who beat Taiwan's Yen-Hsun Lun 6-4 7-6.
Isner has won four of six matches against Johnson, although the latter won their most recent meeting in Washington last year.
"We've played six times and every match is generally close. He's got a huge forehand and he moves extremely well," Isner said.
"We're very good friends off the court but on the court it's going to be a battle and we'll see what happens."
BAGHDATIS FIGHTS BACK
Eighth seed Marcos Baghdatis was also forced to dig deep, battling back from a set down to edge German wildcard Dustin Brown 4-6 7-6 6-4.
The 2006 Australian Open finalist was in serious trouble late in the third set only to save four break points before breaking Brown in the next game to progress.
"I kept calm. I'm very happy with my mental work today," Baghdatis said. "I kept focused and I found a way to win so that's pretty positive."
The Cypriot is the last seed remaining in the top half of the draw but he is refusing to look past his quarterfinal clash against Vesely.
"Last year he was a seed here so he could've been a seed this year. It doesn't really matter, everybody plays great tennis and I think it's going to be a tough one."
With the top-four seeds receiving a bye in the first round, Wednesday was the first chance for the public to see the tournament's elite in action.
But Bautista-Agut departed without firing a shot as an illness picked up during his triumph in India last week left him unable to compete.
Four-time champion Ferrer did not last much longer, stunned 2-6 6-4 7-6 by Haase in the opening match on Centre Court.
After being down a break early in the third set, the veteran Spaniard immediately hit back to set up a tiebreak.
But instead of his experience coming to the fore when it mattered most, he made a crucial unforced error on serve to hand Haase the advantage and he closed out the match to cap a brilliant fightback.
"I did a mistake with my forehand, an easy mistake and well, tennis is that, and it's very important to [hold] concentration," Ferrer said.
"He served very well in the third set. The court is fast and it's not easy to break but I didn't return so well.
"It was a close match and in the important moments he served better than me."
The result continues a poor build-up to the Australian Open for Ferrer following a second-round defeat to little-known Aussie Jordan Thomson at the Brisbane International last week.
"Tomorrow night I go to Melbourne and I will try as soon as possible to forget this match and will be focused with the Grand Slam," he added.
The early signs were promising for Ferrer, who did not concede a single break point to take the first set.
But at 34, the legs don't move as fast as they used to and the 58th-ranked Haase ground his way back into the contest by running Ferrer around the court.
Haase insisted, though, that was not his initial strategy.
"If you know David Ferrer, he likes to run so that's not the right game plan," he said.
"But of course, in the end it's always better to let someone run than let you have to run all the time but that for sure was not my game plan."
Haase, who beat New Zealand's Finn Tearney in the first round, will meet Portugal's Joao Sousa in the quarterfinals after he cruised past British qualifier Brydan Klein 6-3 6-4.
Meanwhile, in the first match of the evening session fourth seed Jack Sock from America defeated compatriot Ryan Harrison 7-6 4-6 6-1.
In the doubles match that divided New Zealand tennis fans, Artem Sitak and his American partner beat Michael Venus and Sweden's Robert Lindstedt 6-3 3-6 10-8.