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Olympics/Paralympics

Isner, Wagner among athletes counting down to London 2012

April 20, 2012 12:48 PM
John Isner will have a busy summer in England, first taking on Wimbledon then the Olympic Games.
U.S. Paralympic gold medalist David Wagner was on hand in Times Square, celebrating the upcoming games in London.
The Olympics and Paralympics lit up Broadway to celebrate the 100-day countdown to London 2012.
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
 
London’s calling, and the top men’s tennis players in the United States – both Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls – cannot wait to get there.
 
"It's going to be my first Olympic Games. Barring injury, I’m going to be there," said potential Team USA member John Isner during a recent conference call held by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). "Missing out on Beijing in 2008, that makes it all the more exciting. There’s a lot of tennis to play in between now and the Olympics, so hopefully I get over there rested and playing well."
 
The call, held on April 18, also featured swimmer and 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin and promoted a London milestone: The 100-day countdown to the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in Great Britain’s most famous city. To celebrate, the USOC's "Road to London Celebration" transformed Times Square in the heart of New York – arguably the most high profile city this side of the Atlantic – into a festive atmosphere of play complete with dozens of U.S. Olympians and Paralympians on hand, including David Wagner, who represented Team USA and the USTA as an organization.
 
"I was amazed with the way they transformed a ready-made, iconic place like Times Square into a mini-Olympic Village," said Wagner, who spent the day doing interviews and signing autographs for fans. "So many sports were well represented there. There was tennis, but then you also had beach volleyball, gymnastics, the trampoline – that set-up was cool – BMX racing. It's my first time doing something like this, and it's an honor. Just awesome to be part of it all."
 
Wagner has twice won Paralympic gold in Wheelchair Quad doubles with partner Nick Taylor in both Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, in addition to a silver (2004) and bronze (2008) in Quad singles. Also the defending US Open Quad champion in both singles and doubles (with Taylor), the Hillsboro, Ore., native assumes the pressure of being one of America’s prime medal candidates with aplomb.
 
"Talking focus, knowing that I qualified early for the team, has allowed me to get locked in," said Wagner. "I’ve been in this mindset for a while now. I still know that I want to get stronger, faster. That’s very crucial. The big show gets you motivated to train harder, prepare more thoroughly, just do better, really."
 
Isner, of Greensboro, N.C., currently slots as the top American men’s tennis player in the world at No. 9 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. Given his status, Isner is a virtual lock to be featured in singles for Team USA but could also find himself involved with doubles. In particular, he’d be thrilled to find himself in a mixed pairing with one of the two best American women to ever play.
 
"Serena or Venus Williams would be the ideal. I would look to jump at that," said Isner.
 
Fellow Olympic hopeful and U.S. Davis Cup teammate Mardy Fish is No. 10 – a sign of things to come for a media-maligned American tennis landscape upstaged by more recent European dominance, believes Isner. 
 
"I think the only other country that can say that is Spain," said Isner, referring to the combination of No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 6 David Ferrer. "We’re not doing that poorly. I’d put myself, Mardy, Andy Roddick – he’s still doing well – up against anyone, and there’s a bunch of guys even behind us that are up-and-coming. 
 
"We’re going to see in the future, hopefully starting this summer, that Americans can do well and make a big statement. I remember watching the 1996 Games in Atlanta and watching Andre Agassi win the gold medal there, in the United States. Andre was one of the guys I did look up to growing up. I mean, at the time, I was very young and had no idea what I was going to become in tennis. It's truly special for me to think about how I felt about that moment to now, trying to match his effort."
 
The trek to London and playing on the grass courts of the All-England Club, site of his much-ballyhooed marathon win over France’s Nicholas Mahut at 2010 Wimbledon, adds to the confidence the 6-foot-9 baseline bomber has developed in recent months, with career-defining wins over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.
 
"It's going to help my big serve out a lot," said Isner. "Wimbledon is the mecca of tennis. I just hope I’m lucky enough to be able to compete for any title there, whether it’s a Wimbeldon title or a medal at the Olympics. I’m going to have two opportunities at it, so the goal is to make the most of it."
 

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