Road to Prague: John Isner
“Any player who appreciates history understands Rod Laver’s legacy, and I’m so proud to play in the first Laver Cup,” John Isner said after being called upon by Team World captain John McEnroe. “It’s always special to play in a team, and as a tennis player, it’s a rare opportunity to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”
They don’t come much bigger than the man from Greensboro, North Carolina, the tallest player at this inaugural Laver Cup. The 6’10” behemoth is understandably famed for two things in tennis – his ace machine of a serve, and the three-day encounter with Frenchman Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon back in 2010, won by Isner in a fifth set that ended 70-68.
With over 9,500 aces already to his name, he is on course to join Roger Federer and Croatians Goran Ivanisevic and Ivo Karlovic as the only men to fire 10,000 aces during their careers.
But there’s far more to Isner than one shot and one match. Since turning pro following his All-American college career at the University of Georgia, the 32-year-old has collected 12 ATP titles in his career – 10 in the US – in his decade on the tour.
“It’s hard to win a tournament,” Isner underlined after his victory in Newport in July, ending a trophy drought that stretched back to August 2015. “It’s no small feat to come out here and be the last man standing. I’m very happy about that. It’s been two years since I won a tournament, so I had that weighing on my mind.”
Like the old story about London buses, Isner waited two years for a title and two showed up at once. No sooner had he won on the lawns of the International Hall of Fame Tennis Club than he was at it again the very next week, kick-starting his US Open preparations with a fourth surge to the trophy in Atlanta.
Victory in Newport had raised Isner back into the world’s top 20, backed by a surge to the semifinal in Cincinnati – his second ATP Masters 1000 semi of the season after a surprise surge to the final four on the clay of Rome. A third-round run in New York rounded out a creditable summer – and prime preparation before the journey to Prague.
“I’m delighted to have John join Team World,” McEnroe said in June. “Who wouldn’t want a guy with weapons like his? He’s one of the biggest and best servers in the world, and we’ve all seen the sort of damage he can do. I don’t think any of the top guys ever want to see his name next to theirs in a draw.
“Team competitions bring out the best in players like John. Don’t forget he beat Roger in Davis Cup on his home turf in Switzerland, and to pull off a win like that takes nerves of steel.”
While McEnroe concedes Team Europe arrive with the pedigree, he hopes Isner’s power can be a game-changer at the O2 Arena. For his part, the American is planning to enjoy his brush with a little more tennis history.
“It’s sure to be super competitive, especially facing off against great players like Roger and Rafa who’ve both had an amazing year,” Isner said. “And we have the legendary John McEnroe as our captain – I can’t wait for his words of wisdom, it will be a lot of fun.”
ISNER’S ROAD TO PRAGUE
ASB Classic, Auckland (outdoor hard): Quarterfinal lost to Steve Johnson 6-3 5-7 7-6(3)
Australian Open (outdoor hard): Round of 64 lost to Mischa Zverev 6-7(4) 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(7) 9-7
Memphis Open (outdoor hard): Quarterfinal lost to Donald Young 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(6)
Abierto Mexicano Telcel, Acapulco (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Steve Johnson 6-4 6-4
BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Gael Monfils 6-2 6-4
Miami Open (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Alexander Zverev 6-7(5) 7-6(7) 7-6(5)
US Men’s Clay Court Championship, Houston (outdoor clay): Quarterfinal lost to Ernesto Escobedo 7-6(6) 6-7(6) 7-6(5)
Internazionali BNL d’Italia (outdoor clay): Semifinal lost to Alexander Zverev 6-4 6-7(5) 6-1
Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open (outdoor clay): Round of 16 lost to Mischa Zverev 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3
Roland Garros (outdoor clay): Round of 32 lost to Karen Khachanov 7-6(1) 6-3 6-7(5) 7-6(3)
Aegon Championships, Queen’s (outdoor grass): Round of 32 lost to Marin Cilic 7-5 6-3
Aegon International, Eastbourne (outdoor grass): Quarterfinal lost to Richard Gasquet 6-3 6-2
Wimbledon (outdoor grass): Round of 64 lost to Dudi Sela 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 5-7 7-6(5) 6-3
Hall of Fame Open, Newport (outdoor grass): Final beat Matthew Ebden 6-3 7-6(4)
BB&T Atlanta Open (outdoor hard): Final beat Ryan Harrison 7-6(6) 7-6(7)
Coupe Rogers, Montreal (outdoor hard): Round of 64 lost to Juan Martin del Potro 7-5 7-5
Western & Southern Open, Cincinnati (outdoor hard): Semifinal lost to Grigor Dimitrov 7-6(4) 7-6(10)
Winston-Salem Open (outdoor hard): Round of 16 lost to Borna Coric 7-5 6-2
US Open (outdoor hard): Round of 32 lost to Mischa Zverev 6-4 6-3 7-6(5)