It's almost impossible to upstage a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal match.
But John Isner did it.
Isner, seeded 11th, upended world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (5) Saturday in a thrilling semifinal at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
"That's why I play this game, to be able to enjoy moments like that," Isner, who won a 2007 Futures title in the Sacramento suburb of Shingle Springs in his pro debut, told reporters. "The stadium was packed, wasn't a seat in the house, and everyone was on their feet, cheering for me, too. It was very special when that last ball went by him and I knew I had won the match."
The 6-foot-9 Isner reached a singles final in an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, the highest level outside of the four Grand Slams, for the first time and ensured he will crack the top 10 in the world on Monday.
If Isner beats Federer -- who downed Nadal 6-3, 6-4 in the wind -- today (ABC, 1 p.m. PDT), he will replace Mardy Fish as the top-ranked American at No. 8 and become the first U.S. player to win the singles crown at Indian Wells since Andre Agassi and Serena Williams in 2001.
The Williams sisters have boycotted the tournament since then because of alleged racist remarks by some fans after Venus, citing knee tendinitis, withdrew four minutes before her semifinal against Serena.
Isner fired 20 aces in his two-hour, 45-minute triumph over Djokovic, who also won at Indian Wells in 2008 and reached the final there in 2007.
"With that serve and with that forehand, he's got the ability to be a top-10 player," said Djokovic, who lost to Isner for the first time in three matches. "He had that already a couple years back. It's just a matter of really trusting your instincts and your strokes and your quality. I think it all came together for him now, and he's deservedly in the top 10 now."
Isner also upset Federer in the first round of the Davis Cup last month against host Switzerland on clay, Isner's worst surface.
"I knew going into this year that I had the tools and I had the game to be able to at least compete with these guys," said Isner, a 26-year-old native of Greensboro, N.C. "I take the court no matter who I'm playing expecting to win and believing to win. There's really no reason to take the court if I believe otherwise. The win against Roger was very big for my confidence, and obviously this one will be very big for my confidence, also."
Federer has a chance for revenge in the BNP Paribas Open, a hardcourt tournament he has won three times (2004-06). Isner won in Federer's country; now they will meet in Isner's.
"I know how difficult it's going to be (today)," said Federer, who's 2-1 against Isner. "John is playing great tennis at the moment, and I'm sure for a long period of time. It's great and exciting for American tennis, and I'm happy it's happening in the final, this rematch for me. I look forward to that a lot."
The Federer-Nadal match, Saturday's second semifinal, was delayed for three hours by rain. Then Nadal struggled in the wind to fall to 18-10 lifetime against Federer.
"The crazy wind [made it ] very difficult for me to play with a clear tactic," said Nadal, the Indian Wells champion in 2007 and 2009 and runner-up last year. "I lost court, I had more mistakes, and I think he played very aggressive. He played fantastic. His serve was with high percentage, and I wasn't able to play my usual tactic against him with that conditions. He hit the balls, every one inside the court, and the weather conditions makes the topspin more difficult for me."
The top two women in the world, No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, are scheduled to meet for the title today at 11 a.m. PDT (ABC). Azarenka beat Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 to win the Australian Open in January and 6-4, 6-1 for the 2010 Bank of the West title at Stanford.
Colleges -- Jana Juricova, the reigning NCAA women's singles champion, returned to the lineup in a full-time capacity as No. 9 Cal blitzed No. 68 Oregon 7-0 in Eugene, Ore., for its fifth consecutive victory.
The sixth-ranked Juricova, who had been out since Feb. 12 for undisclosed reasons, swamped Julia Metzger 6-3, 6-0 at No. 1 singles for the Bears (11-4, 4-0 Pacific-12 Conference). The Ducks fell to 8-3 and 0-2. ...
The Sacramento State men lost to Columbia 7-0 in a nonconference match in Arlington, Texas. The Hornets (3-8) played with four freshmen, as they have all season. The Lions improved to 12-2 with their eighth straight victory.