Isner Rides Roller Coaster Into 2018 Season
Before John Isner settles in for his final push ahead of the new ATP World Tour campaign, he spent time on Thursday in New York — the home of the inaugural New York Open from 11-18 February — where he participated in two clinics for more than 100 local kids and attended the Brooklyn Nets game against the New York Knicks.
“It’s one of the most important things us professional players can do as pros, to give back,” said Isner, who will be playing in the New York tournament. “I want to see tennis in a healthier spot 10 years from now when I’m done playing than it is now. You want to give back as much as you can.”
However, Isner is still very much a contender on the ATP World Tour. And for a moment, his 2017 season appeared destined for a dream ending. But suddenly it came to a halt.
The 6'10" American saved a match point in the Round of 16 at the Rolex Paris Masters to upset eventual Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov before beating arguably the hottest player on the ATP World Tour, Juan Martin del Potro, in the quarter-finals. Isner was just two wins away from clinching his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title and with that his first berth in the season finale at The O2. But despite winning six more points than his opponent, his year came to an end in a stunning semi-final defeat at the hands of world No. 77 Filip Krajinovic in a third-set tie-break.
“I did finish the year well but I also finished on a very, very tough loss, so that was tough to get over,” Isner admitted. “It took some time, but I did know I had some more important things in my life to look forward to outside of tennis so [I was] very happy to put that behind me.”
In fact, he had one of the highlights of his life to look forward to: Isner got married to Madison McKinley on 2 December.
“Standing up there and saying our vows was pretty surreal,” Isner said. “When we got engaged, you picture that moment but you can’t put yourself in that situation. It’s sort of like practising for tennis. You can practise, practise, practise. But when it comes time to play a big match, you can’t really replicate that at all.”
It was a spectacular moment for the No. 17 player in the Emirates ATP Rankings, who was thrilled to have friends and family — many from his tennis ‘family’ including Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson and others — attend in South Carolina. “The wedding was amazing; it was honestly the most amazing wedding I’ve ever been to and will probably ever go to," Querrey said.
Isner believes that entering the new season as a married man will only help his performance on the court.
“I’m a lot happier now being married than I was even being engaged,” Isner said. “I think that’s a good thing so I try to keep that in perspective — that I’m a happily married man and just enjoying that aspect of my life. It’s a very big step, so I think for my tennis career it’s going to be a boon for sure.”
And while the newlyweds spent a week in Mustique — a small island that is part of the Grenadines — for their honeymoon, it is back to work for Isner as he prepares for 2018.
“I do feel like I’m a little bit behind, but obviously I’ve had some more important things to take care of,” Isner said. “I haven’t been on the court as much as I would like but I don’t feel like I’m too rusty and I’ve stayed in good shape. That’s the most important thing for me every offseason — to keep getting stronger, get my body feeling better and I think I’ve done that very well so far, so I’ve just got to focus on the tennis.”
And despite a devastating season-ending loss for Isner, he did accomplish one major goal: the right-hander finished the season inside the Top 20 for the eighth consecutive year. The American also led the ATP World Tour in aces (1,123) for the fifth time since 2010.
“I think that [finishing in the Top 20] is something that can motivate me for 2018 as well. To really keep putting together these consistent results is pretty impressive in my opinion,” Isner said. “I want to keep doing that, but I do believe I can do even better than that as well.”
The 32-year-old, who made three Masters 1000 semi-finals this year, can do that by getting off to a fast start — he did not win back-to-back matches until May in 2017. But Isner is not putting extra pressure on himself to rocket up the Emirates ATP Rankings immediately.
"If I have some good results, yeah, my ranking could go up," Isner said. "But I need to be consistent throughout the whole year."
Isner will be able to make strides toward that with a strong performance early in the year at the new ATP World Tour 250 event on Long Island: the New York Open.
"I think it’s very cool. It’s going to be a very unique venue. It’s going to be much more intimate in February versus September in Flushing Meadows," Isner said. "I think the players love coming to the city. I do as well. So I think this event is going to be awesome and can’t wait to get it going in February."