Is big John inching to even loftier heights?


Originally published on: 14/02/12 10:21

John Isner would have chosen a career in basketball were he not a tennis player, and it’s hardly surprising he wanted to make the most of his 6’9” stature.

While we gawped at his size on first viewing, there’s little that surprises us about Isner these days. Two crucial matches made that the case. The first, obviously, was his triumphant negotiation of Nicolas Mahut in a three-day marathon at Wimbledon in 2010. The second, a defeat – but the most surprising of defeats – in a five set loss to Rafael Nadal on the clay of Roland Garros, of all places, last year.

His Davis Cup win last Friday could prove to be a third milestone, capable of driving the Tampa native into the top 10 over the coming months.

The world No.14 built on his career-best clay performance – that 241-minute epic against Nadal – with a huge scalp on Davis Cup duty, ending Roger Federer’s run of 16 successive Davis Cup singles wins in a run that stretches back to September 2003 after a 4-6 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2 triumph.

“It was a big win. The biggest win of my life that’s for sure,” reflected Isner, and the score particularly wowed the masses for the fact that clay is supposed to be the antithesis of an American tennis player, not least one who ducks under most door frames and weighs in at 111kg, a tough bulk to shift on a surface as demanding as dirt. Isner appears to be defying the unwritten rule.

“I’ve always said that I don’t mind playing on red clay, it gives me a lot of time,” said the 26-year-old, who admits pushing the best clay court player in history to five sets last year did him a world of good.

“Obviously I’m a big guy but I actually prefer slower surfaces. Red clay isn’t such a bad surface for me. Playing Nadal in that match and taking him to five sets – it did give me some confidence and belief going into the [Federer] match.”

Isner, who wears a size 15 shoe, took up the game relatively late in comparison to many of his peers after starting at just nine years old. He went through the college system, competing for the University of Georgia from 2004-2007, and ultimately broke into the top 100 in February 2008. Now two months shy of his 27th birthday, is the big-serving right-hander ready to muscle a second American back into the top 10?

Jim Courier thinks so.

“He’s got a massive game,” said the US Davis Cup captain. “I learned that John can beat anyone at any time. No-one has a chance if he plays the way that he plays and serves the way that he serves unless they play incredible tennis, incredible defensive tennis.”

And Isner?

“I do realise now, no matter the opponent, a lot of times the ball, the point, the match is going to be in my control, no matter who I’m playing, no matter if it’s Roger Federer or somebody who isn’t even ranked,” finished Isner.

That in mind, never mind top 10, what price on Isner making the big four the even bigger five?


Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.