Winston-Salem - French qualifier Julien Benneteau broke down in bitter tears after losing to hometown hero John Isner 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in Saturday's final of the ATP Winston-Salem Open.
The Frenchman, ranked 113th, fell to 0-5 in ATP career finals but dreamed of breaking his title duck at age 29 after fighting through qualifying matches last weekend just to earn a spot in the field of the last US Open tuneup event.
"I can't help but show my emotions," said the disappointed runner-up. "I went into this match with nothing to lose. I was going for every shot but it was not enough. It was a final. It meant a lot."
The upset was not to be as powerful US fourth seed Isner fired 19 aces on a cloudy afternoon with Hurricane Irene raging on the coast 500km to the east. He wrapped up the third title of his career in just over two hours.
"It’s just great to win this final - and especially at home," Isner said. "I was just looking forward to coming back home because it had been eight months, since Christmas, that I’d been in the state of North Carolina.
"I definitely wanted to do well here. It’s such an important event for me."
Both men must now fight bad weather to reach New York as the full force of the record-breaking hurricane grinds slowly up the coast with all flights to the city cancelled for at least the next 24 hours.
"I'm going to New York with some momentum," Isner said. "That’s what I have now."
After rallying from a losing the first set to win each of his previous three matches, the luck ran out for the Frenchman, who had saved two match points against Robin Haase to reach the pre-US Open final.
Benneteau's most recent prior final came in Marseille in February of last year. He was playing in his first final on US soil.
The loss dropped Benneteau to 16-17 on the season but will still lift his ranking to about 83rd. His all-time best ranking was 63rd.
Isner, who grew up in the area, claimed his second title since Wimbledon after Newport on grass in July. He now stands 28-18 on the season, winning 17 of his past 21 matches.
Crowd favourite Isner, ranked 28th, was shocked in the opening set as he lost serve in the ninth game, an error that allowed Benneteau to serve out the set after 33 minutes.
But the Frenchman was unable to consolidate his pending upset, losing serve for 3-all in the second after saving three break points in the game.
Isner then applied the pressure to secure an insurance break for 5-3 and leveled the afternoon a game later at a set apiece.
There were still chances for Benneteau in the third, which Isner cut off with another break midway through the deciding set.
Benneteau saved pride to hold for 3-5 with his sixth ace before Isner ended with an ace of his own, his 66th of the week, to lift the trophy.
"I'm tired from a lot of matches this week," Benneteau said. "My shoulder has been bothering me a bit but that's normal. There was heat and humidity and difficult conditions."