As told to Richard Osborn
It was a tall order. No one spends four years in the college game anymore, not if they want have an impact on the ATP Tour. Those are prime years wasted, right? Few expected John Isner, the 6-foot-10 rocket-server who played his collegiate ball at the University of Georgia, to do much on the pro level. But the former Bulldog has made his mark and then some. He owns 14 ATP titles, has been a Davis Cup stalwart, and has pocketed more than $17 million in prize money. Now 33, the Carolinian remains the lone American in the Top 10. After capturing the BNP Paribas Open doubles title last year, he went on to win the Miami Open singles —the first Masters 1000 title of his career. Then the man known for the longest-ever match at the All England Club (think 70-68 in the fifth), posted his best-ever Wimbledon result, reaching the semifinals. As he enters a new phase in his career as father and family man, Isner says there’s still much left to accomplish.
BNPParibasOpen.com presents John Isner in his own words:
I feel like I’ve always understood the value of family. But I really understand it now that I’ve got a family of my own.
Of course, I’m close with my brothers, my parents, my aunt and uncle, my little cousin, niece and nephew. But having our own family – Maddie, myself and Hunter – it makes it so much more important.
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Life changed forever when this little one entered the world on 9/15/2018. Everyone say hello to the 8lb 1oz Hunter Grace Isner. Didn’t think it was possible to love something this much. My wife @madkool13 is doing amazing and will be the best mother ever. We are so blessed!
I was in the delivery room when Hunter was born – it was incredible. It really shines a light on how amazing women are and how much their bodies go through to bring a baby into this world. To see it happen was truly beautiful. It’s a miracle to be able to have a healthy baby like that.
I spend as much time as possible with them now. I find myself practicing earlier in the day, so I can get my work done. I don’t put my work off, but I get my stuff done earlier so I can be with them. I also prefer to train offsite at every tournament, to get away from the noise, find a place where I’m comfortable. I can get in, get out without fanfare, so I can be closer to them.
It’s come full circle for me, really. I’m definitely the elder statesman now. When I left college, I was one of the younger players on the Tour, even though I didn’t turn pro until I was 22. Now, it’s very rare that I play someone older than myself, especially the other Americans. I never could have imagined myself playing this long, being ranked in the Top 10, feeling as good as I am. That’s a testament to how I’ve been able to take care of myself.
Eventually, I won’t be playing this game anymore. But I’d like that to be on my own terms. Seeing someone like Roger Federer do what he’s doing at 37, father of four, still one of the best in the world, greatest of all time, is motivating. It’s all possible.
I guess I’m one of the guys the young American players look up to — and not just literally. It’s a good spot to be in. I have a good relationship with a lot of the young guys. I’m a good friend of Reilly Opelka. We have a lot of similarities — not just our height. We have the same agent, similar personalities. He’s a guy who has already beaten me twice this year, and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him. He can always lean on me.
We have a lot of good, young Americans with so much room to improve. They have a lot of talent, but they can be a lot more professional. That’s not a knock on them – they’re still learning and maturing. I had to go through that maturation process, too. There are a lot of things they can still do — the little details, away from the court, away from the gym. I guarantee that’s what Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are doing. That’s what Sascha Zverev is doing. That’s what Stefanos Tsitsipas is doing. These young Americans will be going up against them for the next 10 years. Right now, they’re pretty far behind them. They have a long way to go to catch up. You have to keep up.