By Ashley Marshall
John Isner has made the US Open Series, and in particular the BB&T Atlanta Open, his personal playground over the past decade. With four titles in Atlanta and two more in Winston-Salem, the US Open Series represents the 33-year-old American's favorite part of the summer in the build up to the US Open.
Now a husband and soon to be a father, Isner is playing some of the best tennis of his career this season, which includes a win at the Masters 1000 event in Miami and a run to the final four at Wimbledon earlier this month. That success has been reflected in the ATP World Tour rankings, with the big-serving American climbing to a career-high No. 8 in the world as the grass-court season transitions to the North American hard-court swing.
USOpenSeries.com spoke with Isner, who has contested the BB&T Atlanta Open championship match seven times in eight years, ahead of what is shaping up to be his busiest and most memorable summer ever.
USOpenSeries.com: Welcome back to Atlanta, a place that holds a lot of memories for you. How special is it to be back at the BB&T Atlanta Open?
John Isner: Yeah, it’s very special. This is the ninth year of this tournament, and I’ve played it all nine years. When I first got on tour and I heard an event was coming to Atlanta, I knew it could be a good opportunity for me, and that’s exactly what it’s been, so I’m very fortunate, personally, to have a tournament so close to Athens, Ga., where I went to school. But I think this city, in particular, definitely should have a professional tournament. There’s so much tennis involvement in Atlanta, and the fans come out to this tournament. It’s really great.
USOpenSeries.com: It's been less than two weeks since your Wimbledon semifinal. Obviously some disappointment, I’m sure, with the loss, but can you speak to how proud you are with the two weeks in London?
John Isner: The loss was disappointing, of course, but it was still a very good tournament for me personally. I’m happy to make the semifinals, and to do it at 33 years old I think is very cool. I definitely know that I still have some very good tennis ahead of me and that I can keep improving, and I do think ultimately I can learn from that loss and learn from those two weeks and be better from it.
USOpenSeries.com: I wanted you to talk a little bit about the mental game versus the physical game, being that you've taken part in two of the longest matches ever, and because you have had success, you can probably weigh in on that topic the best.
John Isner: Yeah, the mental game is certainly not something you can really see. It's definitely an intangible aspect out there on the court. Us tennis players, we work so hard on the physical side of things to make sure that we're in good enough shape to withstand long matches, withstand matches in pretty rough heat.
The mental side of things, pretty much in all sports, in my opinion, is more important. Of course, as I said, you have to take care of the physical side of things. You have to be able to perform out there athletically. But once you have that buttoned up, being mentally strong, being able to get yourself in a good frame of mind in the most critical moments of a match helps so much.
For me, in particular, I feel like I've done a good job of that this year. Certainly there's some cases where I've fallen short a little bit mentally, maybe physically. For the most part, it's something that myself, I feel like I'm doing pretty well.
USOpenSeries.com: People talk about the importance of a stable family situation. What kind of importance has that stability had on you, and how has it put the wins and losses into a new perspective for you?
John Isner: For sure. I think you’ve seen that in tennis in other players and in athletes, in general, in other sports. If your personal life is in order and you’re very happy with that, it puts you in a better spot. So for me, professionally, I think it is helping out so much. It is exactly what my wife and I want, and the timing has been perfect, so things are going pretty well.
USOpenSeries.com: A busy summer is coming up for you and [wife] Madison now, with the upcoming birth of your daughter. Will this have any impact on your US Open schedule?
John Isner: I don’t expect it to, but if something happens, then it will. But as of now, I plan on playing a full schedule through the US Open.
USOpenSeries.com: Do you plan to take more time off? Will we see more or less of you going into the fall?
John Isner: Yeah, for sure. Definitely the most important day of my life is coming up in September. It doesn't appear that I will be making any appearance in Asia. You can pretty much count on that because I'm going to have to be there for my wife and be there for my daughter.
Assuming everything goes smoothly, I should be able to play this whole summer, and then when it's all said and done, get back home.
USOpenSeries.com: Is Davis Cup then also out, I assume?
John Isner: I have to talk to [U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim] Courier about that. It could very well be a very tough ask of me to go over to Croatia. I'm going to play that one by ear.
USOpenSeries.com: You’re entering your favorite part of the year with the hard-court season now. What are your expectations for the US Open Series?
John Isner: I always have lofty expectations. It is my favorite time of the year, a surface that I really enjoy, and I’m playing at home on top of that. In the past, this has been a very good time of the year for me, and I’m hoping that is going to be the case again this year. As long as I’m feeling good physically and strong and eager and ready to go, just go out there and see what happens. It’s a fun time, and it culminates in the US Open, so just looking forward to all of it.
USOpenSeries.com: How meaningful would it be to have a deep run at the US Open at your home Grand Slam in New York?
John Isner: Yeah, it would be very meaningful. It’s a fantastic tournament, especially for us Americans. We love playing there, getting the crowd support. You’re in New York City, the greatest city in the world. The energy is there, it’s amazing. Very much looking forward to it.
USOpenSeries.com: Regardless of what happens on the court the rest of the year, with the success you’ve had at Miami and Wimbledon, would you already consider 2018 a success?
John Isner: There’s no doubt. I could have zero wins and 18 losses this year, and I would still consider it a very, very big success. It’s been the best year for me in quite some time, and I’m very happy with all of it.
USOpenSeries.com: With your success coming at 33 years old and players having success later in their careers, what do you attribute that to?
John Isner: There have certainly been advancements in training and diet, and that definitely helps, and just how you take care of yourself. For me, it makes sense. As you get older and as you’re doing the right things to look after your body, you become wiser and smarter. Me, at 33, I know my body better than anybody else. I know what I need to get myself ready to play a tournament or play a match. I think the same goes for someone like Roger [Federer].
USOpenSeries.com: When you started playing well this year – you're 33 years old, going to have a baby, maybe this is kind of a swan song – how has your vision of yourself, your career, particularly going forward, been affected by this obvious rise in your playing?
John Isner: I think, for me, seeing the players that have always been ranked ahead of me, I'm talking about most, in particular, Roger Federer, he's [an] alien, different than anyone else. But seeing him have some success at 34, 35, 36 years old, that's a very encouraging sign for a player like myself, who is entering his low- to mid-30s.
I've also always known that I'm someone that does everything I possibly can to get myself as physically strong as I can be. When I finish with a tournament, I fly back home, I'm generally in the gym right away. Everything I do is to allow myself to really hold up all season long.
From that, I think I've been able to feel physically probably the best I've felt in 11 years on tour, which is cool to think about, considering I'm 33 right now. I still do believe that my best tennis is ahead of me. I've said that for a long time. It's something I firmly believe right now.
Now, there will come a time where Father Time is probably going to get the best of me. As of right now, I don't think it's there yet.
USOpenSeries.com: You were talking about your age. I wanted to ask about what you've been doing to play smarter and not harder. You recently mentioned that. How has that played a role as you play this summer, tapering your schedule?
John Isner: No, for sure, when I'm home, my main focus is everything I do off the court. That doesn't mean that I'm neglecting time on the practice court. But for me, especially because I know how my body is, I know how I react to certain things, I need to focus on my body and gaining strength, gaining flexibility, eating as healthy as I possibly can. Then when the time comes, get on the court and practice all the right things on the court.
So what I'm doing off the court, it's a lot of weight training. I do conditioning at SoulCycle, believe it or not. I do a lot of pilates, as well. I'll spend every bit of three hours a day working out, making sure I'm staying fit, flexible, gaining strength on top of that.
USOpenSeries.com: Do you believe that's helped with the mental side of things, to take you away from a tennis focus?
John Isner: I think so. I think you're absolutely right. I've been on the tour for so long, I've hit so many balls, been around tennis my whole life. I know how to hit a serve, hit a tennis ball. I don't stress about practice as much. As I said before, I'm not neglecting practice by any means. I'm getting out there on the court.
The most important thing for me is to make sure I'm feeling healthy and nothing is bugging me. As long as that's the case, I can go out on the court, and I can perform pretty well.