Isner Likes Role As Local Favorite
John Isner has played the role of local favorite before.
A University of Georgia grad, he has drawn huge support from the fans at the Atlanta Tennis Championships in each of the past two years.
So the Greensboro native knows exactly what to expect going into this week’s Winston-Salem Open.
And make no mistake, he will feel inspired by the crowds that are flocking to the new Wake Forest tennis complex.
"It’s going to inspire me a lot to go out there and absolutely give 100 percent on the court," Isner said after a practice session on Sunday afternoon. "I’m going to have a lot of support out there and I don’t want to let the fans down, so I think that’s definitely going to help me.
"Going into New York on a positive note is huge, so I want to do that, ideally, with five consecutive wins here which would win me the tournament."
Isner is the No. 4 seed this week, behind No. 1 Andy Roddick, No. 2 Jurgen Melzer and No. 3 Alexandr Dolgopolov. That gives Isner a bye into the second round, where he will meet the winner of the first-round match between Dudi Sela and Filippo Volandri. Tournament officials have already announced that Isner will play in the Tuesday afternoon session.
Isner was careful not to get too far ahead of himself.
"I just want to get off to a good start here," he said. "I don’t want to go into New York with a disappointing loss or an ugly loss. So I just want to play my best here, and I feel I’m tracking that way."
There are other benefits to playing here besides the crowd support, for sure. Isner gets to stay at his parents’ house this week and eat some home cooking, in a laid-back atmosphere. His parents’ home is about 20 miles from the Wake Forest tennis complex.
"Normally this time of year I’m on the road somewhere," he said. "Although this is another week, another stop, it doesn’t feel like I’m on the road this week. This is obviously a tournament week, a preparation week, but in a sense it’s a rest week because I get a break from the hotels and all, and I get to see my family. It’s the first time I’ve been back to the Triad since Christmas, so it’s been a long time coming and it’s nice to be here."
Isner, who currently stands No. 27 in the South African Airways ATP rankings, has been on a roller coaster ride of sorts this year.
He didn’t play well early in the year or after an equally frustrating clay-court season, he fell as low as No. 47 in the rankings in June.
He regained some confidence in his thrilling five-set loss to Rafael Nadal in the first round at Roland Garros, and that sparked a turnaround.
"I lost a couple of tough matches early in the year and my confidence kinda took a dip and I wasn’t really able to climb back out of that," he said. "Then I think that match against Nadal gave me a lot of confidence. That was the way I needed to play. I knew I had it in me. It was a matter of going out on the court and executing that way and playing that way."
That confidence eventually paid dividends when he took a late wildcard and wound up winning on grass at Newport, beating Olivier Rochus in the final.
" Taking that wildcard turned out to be the best decision I’ve made this year, tennis-wise," Isner said. "To win an event is going to give you a lot of confidence."
The following week, he reached the final at Atlanta and had two match points against Mardy Fish before falling in three sets. And he followed that up with a trip to the semis in Washington, where he lost to eventual champion Gael Monfils.
He comes to Winston-Salem after losing a third-set tie-breaker to Radek Stepanek in the first round at Cincinnati.
"And now I’m here and I feel fresh and the goal is to be playing my best in New York," he said.
Isner gives the new Wake Forest tennis complex high marks.
"This place is awesome," he said. "I’ve been told next year the stadium is going to be permanent, but right now the stadium court looks great. It’s not too big, which is nice, so during the big matches when the stadium is full it’s going to be a lot of fun to play there, a lot of fun for the spectators. This site is definitely first-class."