LONDON -- It's as if they were created solely to play their games on grass.
Feliciano Lopez, a long, lithe Spaniard, moves like a cat on the lawns of the All England Club; his charging half-volleys are exquisite. When John Isner's screaming serves hit the green surface, they skid low and far and, quite often, elude opponents' rackets altogether.
On Monday, the players collided in a third-round match that, because of rain, never took place Saturday. It was well worth the wait because, despite their contrasting styles, they were an almost perfect matchup.
Lopez's and Isner's serves were so dominant that they went 46 games without a service break -- and then Lopez broke through in the 47th. He backed up a terrific return with a forehand that whistled past an approaching Isner and landed just inside the sideline. Lopez, understanding the significance of the moment, leaped into the air and executed an enthusiastic scissor kick accompanied by a monstrous fist pump.
Lopez was still beaming, arms outstretched, when the Court 3 crowd gave him a standing ovation after his 6-7 (8), 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), 7-5 victory.
With the withdrawal of Madison Keys earlier in the day, Isner was the last American of either gender to depart the main singles draw. Thus, there are no United States representatives in the fourth round -- the first time in the Open era, which extends back to 1968, that Wimbledon has been without a U.S. player in the fourth round of either singles draw. The same thing happened three years ago at the French Open.
Isner -- who conceded that grass should be the surface that rewards his game the most -- had never been past the second round here. Wimbledon remains the only major in which he has failed to reach the fourth round or second week -- although he was actually playing in the second week because rain pushed it there.
"I knew it was going be like this," Lopez said as he studied the statistics sheet. "I knew there would be a lot of aces, lot of tiebreakers. Luckily, I made it."
Isner won the serving battle but lost the war; he stroked a tournament-high 52 aces, 18 more than Lopez, but surrendered that one break point. Overall, Isner had 80 winners and 27 unforced errors, but Lopez (55 and 10) was more efficient.
These powerful players were slashing at each other so furiously that only a dozen of 298 points lasted beyond eight strokes.
When peers meet at this elite level, often it is only a couple of points that separate them. This is especially true of tiebreakers, where an entire set can hang on a single stroke.
Isner, because his serve is so dominant and his return game something less, plays more tiebreakers than anyone -- 39 so far this year. Isner played and won two tiebreakers in his second-round match against Jarkko Nieminen but won only one of three against Lopez.
The critical juncture, after a 90-minute rain delay, was the third-set session, when Lopez won both of Isner's first two serves and looked far stronger in closing it out. When one last forehand volley from Isner sailed well wide, you got the idea that he might be packing soon.