By John Delong
John Isner is back in a familiar spot as the top-ranked American player after winning tournaments in Newport and Atlanta the last two weeks.
He talked with John Delong of winstonsalemopen.com recently about his career success and his commitment to this year’s Winston-Salem Open, where he will be one of the star attractions.
Here’s the full interview:
Q: The past two years you were unable to play in the Winston-Salem Open. What factors tipped
the scales for you to come back this year?
A: I think the big things were the two years that I won the tournament and the incredible memories I have and just how relaxed I am there. It doesn’t really feel like a tournament because I’m staying at home and I’m driving 30 minutes to the courts and 30 minutes back, and I’m playing on Center Court and getting lots of support. I just have really good feelings from the event, so I’m looking forward to recreating that.
Q: Let’s talk about your career. How proud of you are all the things you’ve been able to accomplish?
A: I’m very proud of my career. It’s something that when I first turned pro never in a million years could I imagine doing some of the things I’ve done, number one American for five years in a row, being inside the top 20 seven years in a row, getting into the top 10 on two different occasions. It’s something that I didn’t see myself doing. And it’s not all about winning matches, it’s about being consistent, staying healthy, staying fit, staying motivated and that’s what I’ve been able to do now for the better part of 10 years. And I still feel like I’m playing at a very high level and I am healthy and I feel strong and I don’t want this to stop anytime soon. I’m just going to keep on doing what I’ve been doing and that’s working hard and smart and taking care of myself and we’ll see how long I can do this.
Q: Your legacy is multi-faceted. You’re not just the college guy who had success. You’re not just a big server. You’re not just the guy who beat Mahut at Wimbledon. How does that make you feel?
A: For sure, I think the number one thing of course everyone’s going to remember the match I played in 2010. But I think the main thing when you look at my career, the main thing is consistency throughout the years for a very long time. That’s with players exiting the game and really good players entering the game. I’m just very, very consistent. Consistent with my results, consistent with my effort, my work ethic and determination and everything that goes into becoming a very good tennis player.
Q: Would your time in the Top 10 be your biggest achievement?
A: I think maybe so. I think getting into the top 10 is something I want to get back to as well. I’ve been there on two separate occasions in 2012 and 2014 so, you know, it’s no small feat to get into the top 10. Especially since there are six or seven guys you can name that are always in the top 10. So there’s really not much room there for the rest of us. So it takes a lot of consistently good results and good efforts throughout the year.
Q: You burst on the scene quickly after turning pro, going to the finals in Washington right off the bat. Then you fell back a little. Where was the biggest turning point in your career, when you felt you made the big leap?
A: In 2007, I think I was ahead of my learning curve. It helped me in so many ways doing so well early on, but although I was doing well and winning matches on the ATP tour I hadn’t really learned how to win matches consistently on the ATP tour. I just happened to get hot for a few weeks. There was no pressure on me. I regressed a little bit in 2008 and it seemed there were a lot of expectations on me and I had somewhat of a sophomore slump. You see that in a lot of sports and it definitely happened to me. But somewhere along the line of 2009, in April of 2009 I came down with mono and didn’t play for two and a half months. Once I was finally able to get back I’ve been playing very well ever since for eight years now.
Q: Some time has passed since the Mahut match at Wimbledon. How do you look back at it now and what impact did it have in the big picture of your career?
A: It’s definitely the most famous match I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve played some very good matches but that was the match that people will never forget. It’s a match I still get asked about a lot. It took a life of its own. I remember it was 2010, it was during the World Cup, arguably the biggest sporting event in the world. Our match was going on during that event and we were stealing headlines from the world cup. I thought that was really neat. We were on the front page. I guess you can say it went viral and everyone was tuning in. I thought it would never end, but eventually it did and certainly it was an amazing thing to be a part of.
Q: Your career starting taking off after that match, didn’t it? Was that one of the springboards in your career?
A: In a certain way, I wanted to forget about that match, and it was not easy to do. The only way to do that was to get out there and win, so it certainly motivated me in that respect. In the immediate aftermath it took its toll on me. When I returned to play in the States I sprained my ankle which is something I never do, and I think that had something to do with the lasting effects of that match. I was of course physically tired but I was mentally drained also, so that match didn’t just take me out of everything for a few days, it took me several months to recover from that.
Q: You have 12 career titles now. How important is winning tournaments to you?
A: That’s at the very top of the list of things I’ve accomplished on the tennis court. It’s very tough to do. Every one, you look at a tournament and look at the bracket, once it’s all said and done there’s only one guy who is left standing, I don’t know how many tournaments I’ve played, maybe over 250 tournaments probably, and to only have won 12 of them means I’m losing more than I’m winning. So it’s a very good feeling to get out there and to make the finals and then come through in that situation. That’s very rewarding.
Q: Talk about the future a bit. You’re 32 now, how long do you want to keep playing?
A: As far as how much longer, it’s up in the air. I think what it comes down to is myself feeling fit, staying strong, eager and anxious to go out there and compete, if I lose that, I will probably walk away from the game, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. If for some reason my game drops a little and I’m 80 or 90 in the world, that’s one thing. I want to be playing a high level of tennis like I’m playing right now. I think as long as I continue to do the right things, working hard and working smart, knowing how far to go because I could practice longer at 22 then at 32. I’ve got to take care of things like eating right which I’m very, very good at, very diligent at, as long as I’m doing all those things and treating it as your job, which it is, I think I can easily play another four years and then we’ll see from there.