By John Delong
The tallest player on the ATP World Tour turned into the world’s tallest quarterback on Sunday afternoon at the Winston-Salem Open.
Two-time WSO champion John Isner took a break from his pre-tournament preparations long enough to participate in a workout with Wake Forest football coaches and players at BB&T Field.
Getting tips from Wake coach Dave Clawson, the 6-10 Isner completed a variety of slants, posts and corner routes to wide receivers Matt James, Jared Crump and E.J. Scott.
Clawson greeted Isner by joking that he could have made a lot of money in the NFL as a tight end, but on this day Isner’s passing skills were on display. He was crisp and on the money, throwing 35-yard completions with no problems.
“I love football more than anything,” Isner said. “It’s one of my passions. I love Georgia, I love the Carolina Panthers, so it was neat I got to throw to some wide receivers, some fast wide receivers. It was a lot of fun. It was something I don’t get to do very often but anytime I can get a football in my hand I enjoy it.”
Isner is the No. 1 seed in the fourth annual WSO and has a first-round bye. It has already been determined that he will play his second-round match on Tuesday night against the winner of the first-round match between Noah Rubin and Bradley Klahn.
Isner, who won here in 2011 and 2013 before missing last year’s tournament because of a hip injury, comes into the WSO ranked No. 14 in the latest ATP World Tour rankings.
The Greensboro native won his ninth career ATP World Tour singles title earlier this summer in Atlanta, and arrives here after losing a three-set heartbreaker to Andy Murray in the third round at Cincinnati. He had two match points before Murray fought back to win a third-set tiebreak.
Isner was pleased to get his game turned back around in Cincinnati, after early exits in Washington and Toronto. He beat No. 17 Kevin Anderson, the WSO’s second seed, and Marinko Matosevic in the first two rounds.
“The Murray loss was certainly a tough loss, but it’s one of those that was sort of an encouraging loss,” he said. “You hate to have it, but at the same time I felt like I played the right way. I had two match points. I felt like I gave myself the opportunity to win and that’s really all you can ask for. Other than the match points, I played pretty well. You can sleep better at night if you play the right way, and I feel like that’s what happened.
“It was the best match I’ve played all summer. So now I want to keep trending in the right direction.”
Isner, who is a perfect 10-0 lifetime on the Wake Forest Tennis Complex’s center court, said he is looking forward to facing either Klahn or Rubin on Tuesday night.
“It’ll be a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s been two years now, because I missed last year, and it’ll be fun to get out in front of these great crowds again. I don’t know who I’m going to play yet, but it’ll be an American, so that’ll be fun. I’ll keep an eye on it. But I won’t be watching it because I’ll be home watching the Panthers.”
He has always considered the WSO to be a relaxing tournament, since he gets to stay at his parents’ home in Greensboro. He also calls it the perfect preparation for the US Open.
“I’m really not looking at this tournament as one I should win or whatnot,” he said. “I’m more looking at it like it would be great to win because I’ve won this tournament twice before. I’m going to go out there and try to play the right way and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, and then I have a big one coming up after this. My focus right now is this tournament, but I’m certainly not putting too much pressure on myself.”