John Isner beat Roger Federer in the greatest win of his career three years ago. Now the hard-serving American will try to duplicate that effort to reach a US Open quarter-final.
Isner advanced after only 75 minutes on Saturday, leading 6-3 6-4 when Czech opponent Jiri Vesely retired with a neck injury.
That put Isner in the path of 17-time Grand Slam winner Federer, who dispatched German Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-4 6-4 after just 93 minutes.
“I’m going to go out there and roll the dice,” said Isner, whose lone win in five tries over the 34-year-old Swiss legend came in a 2012 away Davis Cup tie.
“That was the best win of my career and one of the best matches I’ve ever played, hands down. I played extremely well that day and I needed to to beat him. I’m going to need to do that again on Monday.”
The big-serving Isner has played 93 service games in a row at the US Open without allowing a break, rallying from triple break point down in the sixth game of the second set versus Vesely to sustain the streak, aided by two of his 21 aces.
“Definitely conserved a lot of energy. I’ll be able to leave it all out there on Monday, win or lose,” Isner said.
“I have been on and off the court pretty quickly my first three matches. That bodes well for me. Same goes for him, but he’s generally in that position.”
World No.2 Federer, who has not won a slam title since Wimbledon in 2012, has defied time with runs to the Wimbledon final this year and last.
“As he gets older he seems to keep getting better,” Isner said.
“It’s unbelievably impressive what he’s continuing to do. He is playing at a very high level right now. I have the utmost respect for him. At the same time, I feel like I can challenge him on Monday.
“It’s what I work so hard for, to get an opportunity like this. I’m going to have fun with it. At the same time, I’m going to go out there and believe that I can win.”
Isner rates Federer as one of the best returners in the sport, especially with a new chip-and-charge tactic in his portfolio.
“He has that chip return that no one else has. That’s the shot that gets him in points,” Isner said.
“From that, his talent and skill and everything, everything takes over. He’s able to get a lot of balls back, and he uses his incredible skill and athleticism to win points after that.”
Isner will face Federer in the same Arthur Ashe Stadium where they first met in 2007 in a third-round match.
Isner took the first set in a tie-beaker and Federer took most everything thereafter.
“Absolutely no pressure on me that day, and I honestly probably didn’t believe I could beat him, either,” Isner said.
“I was happy to be on that court. I was fresh out of college and no one knew anything about me. He certainly didn’t. I won one set, which was incredible. Didn’t win much after that.”
Meanwhile, Federer’s third-round win over Kohlschreiber was only marred by him dropping serve for the first time since Wimbledon.
“I won the big points today, I served well when I had to, even though it was up and down for both of us,” said Federer, who has now reached the fourth round in New York for the 15th year as he looks to return to the final for the first time since 2009.
“He stood far back to return so I had to do a reset in my mind. Philipp’s a great player.
“I have practised with him tons so I know how tough he is.”
Federer also avoided falling out of the tournament as long-time rival Rafael Nadal had done on Friday night in the Spaniard’s earliest exit in New York in 10 years.
Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych, a semi-finalist in 2012, reached the last 16 for a fourth successive year by beating Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-7 (2-7) 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 6-3.
He next plays 12th seed Richard Gasquet who beat Australia’s Bernard Tomic.