Professional calls Saddlebrook his home court
By Kyle LoJacono
During the professional tennis offseason and between ATP tournaments, John Isner travels to Saddlebrook to improve his game.
The 6-foot-10 Tampa resident’s work has paid off as he has raised his professional ranking to No. 19 in the world, the second highest for an American man behind only No. 9 Andy Roddick.
“Really I’ve just been putting in a lot of hours to get fitter, faster and stronger,” Isner said. “Those are kind of the keys for me. I want to be a better athlete because I feel pretty good about my technique. My coach has been putting me through some intense workouts to do that.”
Craig Boynton has been his coach for the last 17 months. The 15-year veteran coach travels with Isner for all his tournaments.
“John had been at Saddlebrook working with other coaches, so I knew him before I became his coach,” Boynton said. “At some point we started talking and we decided to start working together.
“Because of his size, he needs to be the one dictating the point,” Boynton continued. “He needs to be on the offense and making his opponent react to what he’s doing. He’s made slow and steady improvement with that. I have a vision of how he can maximize his talents and he’s gotten much closer.”
Isner’s most recent claim to fame was when he won the longest match in professional tennis history 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68 at Wimbledon against Nicolas Mahut. The match stretched across three days and lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes.
“It wasn’t a surprise to see him battle through it,” Boynton said. “He competes harder as the points get more important. I’ve seen that for a long time, but it was great for the world to get to see him.”
After the match Isner, 25, said nothing like that would ever happen again.
“It just kept going on and on,” Isner said. “I thought I had it won a couple times and he would just come back. It was actually more mentally draining than physically draining.”
Isner went no further in the tournament after winning the marathon and Wimbledon, but the tall, 245-pounder has continued to improve his game in preparation for the next major tournament — the U.S. Open at the end of August.
“He’s got a big serve, which is really good for hard surfaces like at the U.S. Open,” Boynton said. “He tops out in the mid to high 130s (mph), but it’s more the angle it comes down on you that’s really tough. He’s so tall that it’s like the ball is coming down right on your head.”
Isner was born in Greensboro, N.C. and went to school at the University of Georgia. The Bulldogs were the NCAA runner-up in Isner’s junior year in 2006 and took home a national championship the next year. His team was also undefeated during his senior season.
Isner turned pro in June 2007 after he graduated and debuted at No. 839. His highest ranking was No. 18 earlier this year.
Isner’s best finishes in major events include fourth round appearances in the 2009 U.S. Open and the 2010 Australian Open. He also has reached the third round in the French Open and the second round at Wimbledon.
His first professional singles title was at this year’s Auckland Open, a hard court event. He also has two doubles championships. Isner has a 73-58 career singles record, according to the ATP’s website at www.atpworldtour.com.
Isner’s other highlight in 2010 was reaching the finals of the Atlanta Tennis Championships July 25 where fellow Saddlebrook member Mardy Fish took him down 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4).
During the next few weeks Isner will enter a few tournaments in preparation for the U.S. Open, mixing in several trips to train at Saddlebrook.
“Traveling on the tour is cool, but it’s also nice to get back home to train for a while too,” Isner said. “It’s a great place for young players to learn the game and for me to get better.”