MELBOURNE, Australia -- Tim Smyczek owes his good friend John Isner dinner.
The 25-year-old Milwaukee native twice came within a match of earning a slot in the main draw in the season's first Grand Slam event -- first in last month's playoff for the wild card allotted to the Americans and again in the qualifying tournament a few days ago.
But Smyczek did win a mini-game of chance by drawing No. 1 in the "lucky loser" draft and filled the one and only vacancy left by the withdrawal of none other than Isner, sidelined by bone bruising in his right knee.
Elsa/Getty ImagesIf not for John Isner, Tim Smyczek might be on a different continent right now.
That was an interesting enough coincidence, but the wiry 5-foot-9 Smyczek then found himself paired with Croatia's 6-10 Ivo Karlovic in the first round and his hours of practice with the 6-9 Isner suddenly came in very handy. Smyczek didn't lose a single service game, hung in and broke twice against Karlovic's out-of-a-tree delivery and won in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-5. Isner texted his pal shortly afterward and implied there should be a quid pro quo.
"I knew I was going to be watching the ball go by me a lot, so I just prepared myself for that mentally, and really just tried to get myself in a calm place and tell myself if I did get any opportunities, I was just going to have to be ready for them,'' said Smyczek, who trains in Tampa and is part of a close-knit group of pros there, including veteran Mardy Fish.
"With Ivo, it wasn't so much the speed of the serve as really just the angle it was coming from. He can put it real short in the box. A lot of times I covered one serve and it just didn't matter; he hit it too good. Practicing with John a lot did prepare me for that, for sure.''
Smyczek, ranked 125th in the world, will next play Spain's relentless fourth-seeded David Ferrer, who is more his size but obviously many cuts above him in stature. Smyczek said he was looking forward to the "thrill" of facing Ferrer on a show court.
"I've watched a lot of video of Ferrer over the last couple of months,'' the American said. "He's a guy I look up to a lot; he's more my body type. He's got a game I'm working toward.''
Smyczek's upset was part of a generally strong day for the six U.S. men in action -- although the draw now pits two of them against each other.