Isner's career year
continues with Wimbledon run
Arthur Kapetanakis | July 10, 2018
For much of his career, John Isner’s lasting highlight on the grass courts of Wimbledon was one he would rather forget – his 11-hour, five-minute epic against Nicolas Mahut in 2010.
Though he eventually grew to appreciate his record-breaking victory as the media storm surrounding it petered out, the 33-year-old was always eager to add a different sort of highlight to his Wimbledon resume – one that included success in the famed event’s second week.
Entering his 10th Wimbledon this year, Isner had never advanced beyond the third round, a puzzling statistic, given the server-friendly courts at the All England Club. But as the 6-foot-10 bomber explained, he struggled throughout his career with the low, grass-court bounce that kept the ball well below his strike zone and the slick surface that made it hard for his big frame to catch up with the ball.ADVERTISEMENT
Isner would tower over even lanky, big-serving Wimbledon legends, like Pete Sampras (6-foot-1) and Goran Ivanisevic (6-foot-4), and it seems grass courts accentuated the fact that his height could be both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.
In each of his last three Wimbledon appearances, Isner has gone out in five agonizing sets, including a pair of third-round losses to Marin Cilic (2015) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2016) that ended 12-10 and 19-17, respectively, in the final set.
Ruben Bemelmans almost furthered that trend this year, as he held two match points against Isner in the fifth set of their second-round matchup. But from 15-40 down, the American fired four aces to get out of trouble before immediately breaking the Belgian and serving out the match, 7-5, in the decider.
Now, having reached his first Wimbledon quarterfinal – and just the second major quarterfinal of his career after the 2011 US Open – the Greensboro, N.C., native’s long-awaited Wimbledon run comes in the midst of what may be the best season of his 12-year career.
“I do believe that, at 33, I’m playing my best tennis,” Isner told USTA.com after his opening-round win, a straight-sets result over Germany’s Yannick Maden. “I think [winning my first Masters title in] Miami was indicative of that. So as long as I'm feeling healthy and strong and eager to get out there, you know, I think I can do well here.”
He followed up that early-April Miami title, earned with a three-set final victory over world No. 3 Alexander Zverev, with a fourth-round run at the French Open, matching his career-best performance on the red clay.
Entering Wimbledon as the ATP’s top-ranked American and the world No. 10, Isner was just one spot below his career-high ranking. He has been ranked No. 9 on three occasions, in 2012, 2014 and earlier in 2018.
If there is a silver lining to his prior Wimbledon struggles, it is that his second-round performance in 2017 left him with just 45 ATP ranking points to defend at this year’s event.
Now, having finally conquered his Wimbledon hoodoo, Isner is a quarterfinal victory over Milos Raonic away from achieving a new career best. Should the Dallas resident win on Wednesday, the 750 points he will receive as a semifinalist would vault him above current No. 8 Dominic Thiem, a first-round victim on the London grass. Looking even further ahead, a Wimbledon title would see him rise to No. 5.
“I certainly would love to get to No. 8,” Isner said. “This is my third trip inside the Top 10. Never could get to the Top 8.”
With his run to the quarters, Isner has almost guaranteed at least a return No. 9 when the new rankings are released following the tournament. Only a quarterfinal loss, coupled with Kei Nishikori winning the event, would see the big man remain at No. 10.
Of course, Isner will take it one match at a time. Looking at the big picture, he has his sights set on finishing the year in the Top 10, something he has not done in his career. In the ATP Race to London, he is currently No. 8, with the American hard-court swing and the US Open still to come.
“I’m in a very special position now,” he said, “and I want to make the most of it.”
But for now, the focus remains on the task at hand and on the grass courts that are particularly firm this year and, according to Isner, playing more like his preferred hard courts than in the past.
Surely that has something to do with his magical run, but take no credit away from the hard work the veteran American has put in away from the spotlight that has allowed him to evolve his game and peak at age 33.
The former Georgia Bulldog opted not to play any grass-court tournaments in the buildup to Wimbledon this year, making the calculated decision to put in more time on the practice courts while keeping his body fresh for the main event. As he continues to compete deep into the second week, that decision may continue to reap rewards. His efficiency over the past week has helped him keep that extra energy in reserve, as he has not dropped a set in the tournament outside of his second-round scare.
With 135 aces through four matches thus far, Isner has yet to be broken in the tournament, saving all six break points he has faced. In this form, no one in the field would envy lining up against him.
Not even eight-time champion Roger Federer, his potential semifinal opponent.