In case you missed it this weekend, 22-year-old John Isner came out of nowhere to reach the finals of Washington yesterday in just his second career ATP event. He lost to Andy Roddick in the final, but won FIVE STRAIGHT third set tiebreaks to get the title match, an absurd number.
He beat Tim Henman, Ben Becker, Wayne Odesnik, Tommy Haas and then Gael Monfils, all in third set tiebreaks. Pretty amazing, and another record set by a young American that I think that may never fall (like Sam Querrey’s 10 straight aces last week!).
So just who is this kid? He’s 22-year-old four-year collegiate star out of the University of Georgia who just turned pro. Oh, and he’s 6-foot-9 and he serves freakin bombs. Upper 130s and into the 140s on the first serve, mid 120s on the second, and well placed. And he backs those blasts with some pretty deft volleys.
(If you’ve ever dreamed of what would happen if you dropped a 6-foot-10 or so kid with a huge serve/volley game and limited ground strokes on the pro tour, this is about as close as you are going to get.)
I think I had heard that Haas – Isner’s quarterfinal victim – called him an American version of Ivo Karlovic, the 6-foot-10 big-serving Croat. That’s a fair assessment.
Apart from their obvious size similarity, Isner has better volleys than Dr. Ivo and may even have the better serve. But ground strokes, return game, movement, fitness and of course experience goes to Karlovic right now. That of course can change.
You could also make the comparison to Roddick, who had that nasty serve – and still does – when he first burst on to the scene six years ago. But I think Roddick was much more dangerous than Isner from the backcourt back then meaning Andy could sneak a service break on occasion. From what I’ve seen thus far Isner is going to have a real hard time winning points on anyone’s serve.
Chris Guiccione is another big guy on the upswing, but the “Gooch” doesn’t volley as well as Isner.
So naturally the buzz is where is this kid going to go from here, or was what happened in D.C. a fluke? Patrick McEnroe has already put him on the Davis Cup team as a practice partner. The Cincinnati Masters tournament has already awarded him a wildcard, and the US Open is sure to follow.
Right now Ivo is at a career-high No. 34, and if Ivo can get to that level I see no reason that Isner can’t do the same. Plus, Isner has a massive, massive advantage over Ivo in that John’s an American. Simple as that.
Being an American means that Isner can play nearly five of the 11 months of the pro ATP tour on his home soil at hard court events including the US Open and three Masters; whereas Ivo gets one, maybe two events a year in Croatia. Big advantage to Isner.
Just imagine if Spain had events in five of the 11 months of the season, or France or Australia. Imagine the benefit players from those countries would have. Well, for whatever reason the U.S. – the tennis mecca that it is (joke) – has such an advantage.
Plus, if his ranking doesn’t allow direct entry he’ll get wildcarded into virtually any U.S. event of his choosing from here on out, and he’ll have all the top coaches coming after him.
That’s why I would be surprised if Isner didn’t reach the Top 20 and possibly crack the Top 10. And if he can develop some sort of baseline/return game then watch out. Same goes for Ivo and Gooch, of course.
Then again, maybe I am getting way ahead of myself on Isner. Maybe what happened last week was a fluke, and you could make that case.
Let’s face it at Georgia he didn’t win the NCAA singles title losing in the final – if he’s that good how could he have not won that? And then you could argue that D.C. has the slickest, fastest courts on the tour, and that he played the event with no pressure, no expectations, nothing lose, and in his last two win he beat two of the mentally frailest guys on the circuit in Haas and Monfils, who both choked under the pressure at the end of their matches.
Fair points if you want to make those arguments, but like I said if Ivo can make major in roads on the tour I see no reason why this kid can’t do the same, and then go a few steps beyond.
What will be interesting is to see how players react to playing him in Cincinnati and at the US Open now that the word is out on the kid. And credit to Roddick for closing him out yesterday.
Much like Ivo this kid is going to be one of those dangerous floaters nobody wants to play on a fast surface – though it looks as though Ivo may get seeded at the Open, good for him! And right now if you do draw Isner you are probably looking at playing a tiebreak or two, maybe even three, and you are not looking at playing a lot of long rallies or really gaining any rhythm from the ground if that’s you taste. And it doesn’t help that the kid’s confidence is sky high right now.
That said I’m sure a lot of players would love to see Roger Federer play Isner in the first round at Cincinnati. Federer of course has a way of figuring out and nullifying big servers (Roddick), so maybe against Isner – upset aside – he would again find the solution and provide insight for the rest of the tour guys on how to get the serve back. Because based on what happened last week, the players are going to need all the help they can get.
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