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Iron Man Isner’s Race Against The Clock

Madrid, Spain

Querrey, Isner © Pedja MilosavljevicSam Querrey made it to Madrid without a hitch, but John Isner was not as lucky.

A routine trip from Belgrade to Madrid became a 21-hour ordeal for American John Isner, as he dealt with the effects of volcanic ash, lost luggage and an unsympathetic train conductor en route to his first-round match in the Spanish capital.

In a span of eight days, beginning last Thursday in Belgrade, American John Isner has played nine matches, reached a career-high No. 19 South African Airways ATP Ranking and successfully raced against the clock despite the travel delays caused by the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland.

Following a narrow loss to doubles partner and countryman Sam Querrey in the Serbia Open final the prior evening, Isner and coach Craig Boynton got on a noon flight Monday to make a routine journey from Belgrade to Madrid via a stopover in Frankfurt.

But minutes from boarding their connecting flight in Germany, they received news that it had been cancelled; the Madrid airport had been shut down due to the volcanic ash cloud. Querrey, meanwhile, had made it safely to the Spanish capital on an earlier flight. “The last to make it to Madrid,” said Isner. “That’s pretty lucky.”

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Aware that he was scheduled to play his first-round match at the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open the following day, Isner and his coach placed a call to ATP staff at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament to inform them of their situation – earning Isner a late start of 5pm Tuesday – and weighed their options to ensure they made it in time.

“We really had no options,” said the 25 year old. “The nine o’clock flight to Madrid was sold out, so that wasn’t really an option, but we don’t know if that one went off either. We had to go wait in this line for about two-and-a-half hours, couldn’t really do anything. We could’ve stayed in Frankfurt and taken an 8am flight to Madrid, but then again there was no guarantee that the airport was going to be open. If we stayed there and took the morning flight and it would’ve been closed, I wouldn’t have been able to play my match.”

After much deliberation, they booked a 9:30pm flight from Frankfurt to Barcelona to get closer to their destination. Upon their arrival in Spain, they were again delayed when they discovered the coach’s bags had gone missing. “It was a disaster,” said Isner. By the time they had a cab driver take them to a hotel and got to bed, it was already 1:30am.

They woke up four short hours later, getting on a 6:15am train to begin the last leg of their journey to Madrid. Though Isner tried to catch up on his sleep on the two-hour, 45-minute trip, he was continually interrupted by an unsympathetic train conductor.

“There was no one in the seat in front of me, and I kept putting my feet up,” said the 6’ 9” Isner. “Even when I was falling asleep he would wake me up and tell me to take my feet off.”

Just hours removed from a long and exhausting journey, the sleep-deprived Isner stepped on the court at the Caja Magica and pulled off a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 win over Christophe Rochus.

On Wednesday, he came within two points of defeat at 6-6 in a second-set tie-break against Colombian qualifier Santiago Giraldo, but rallied for the victory. He then teamed up with Querrey, currently the No. 5 team in the 2010 ATP Doubles Team Rankings, to take out Brazilians Thomaz Bellucci and Bruno Soares 2-6, 7-5, 10-8.

“I’m a bit tired,” Isner told after settling into his hotel room past 11pm Wednesday. “I won yesterday in three sets. I won today in three sets. I won a doubles match in three sets. I’m really, really tired. But I think if I can sleep well tonight, then I’ll be fine for tomorrow.”

Isner will need to be fully rested for a busy Thursday in Madrid. The American confronts Rafael Nadal for a place in the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open quarter-finals, and afterwards joins Querrey in doubles action against No. 6 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach.

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Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid, John Isner

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