Isner returns to action after Wimbledon marathon

JOHNS CREEK, Georgia — Preparing for his first event since taking three days, 183 games and over 11 hours at Wimbledon to beat Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, America’s John Isner has adjusted to a new public life.

By (AP)

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Published: Wed 21 Jul 2010, 11:19 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:59 AM

“Yeah, but I really try to stay out of the spotlight,” Isner said Tuesday. “I don’t see myself as a celebrity at all.”

Maybe not, but Isner understands there are worst things to be known for. After all, what’s wrong with appearing on the television’s Late Show with David Letterman, throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium and winning a made-for-TV award on ESPN?

Perhaps if Isner had raised his hand for attention it would be different for the third-year professional. But as Isner sees it, he was just doing his job at Wimbledon.

In the strangest career twist he could imagine, Isner wondered if the tennis gods had tossed him into some kind of cruel kaleidoscope. The match began on a Tuesday, and after getting suspended twice because of darkness, it mercifully ended on a Thursday afternoon.

On the Wednesday night that followed the match’s second suspension, Isner slumped against his locker. He could barely move. His coach and trainer hovered nearby, offering encouragement, nutrition and a quick trip back to the hotel.

“This was just — it just wouldn’t end. It was crazy,” Isner said. “I really thought it was a like dream. Out there, towards the end of that match, on the day we didn’t finish, it was like 50-all, 55-all, and I’m just thinking this can’t be real.”

Because it was so late, only two or three players still milled around the locker room.

“(Roger) Federer was one of them,” Isner said. “He just kind came up and laughed and gave me a pat on the back, so that was pretty cool.”

The next day carried the match to its conclusion of 980 points overall, 711 of which came in the fifth set with Mahut winning 365.

But Isner took the final one, which ended a run of 168 straight holds that began in the second set on Tuesday.

Now that he’s a month removed from the gauntlet, Isner acknowledges the epic match “is probably going to stick with me probably forever.” What the 6-foot-9 Isner wants, however, is to earn fans’ respect for other reasons, too.

“Now it’s up to me to really not make this a lasting image of my career,” he said. “Right now, I am in the top 20 in the world and I feel like I’m going to continue to keep climbing, and my ultimate goal is to be in the top 10 and contend at the really big tournaments.”

After receiving a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed at the Atlanta Tennis Championships, Isner will play a second-round match against Gilles Muller of Luxembourg on Wednesday.

The Atlanta event marks the tour’s return to hardcourts for the first time in North America since Miami at the end of March.

For Isner, who won in Auckland on hardcourts six months ago for his first career title, the last month has been a time for practice and reflection.

He listed new personal goals, foremost being a desire to move out of the 183-game shadow.

“It’s getting a little bit — I don’t want to say annoying — but I’ve just answered, obviously, an awful lot of questions about it,” Isner said. “I want to put it behind me because I think after my match tomorrow here maybe the questions will be focused more on that match and the rest of the tournament.”

After losing at Wimbledon in three sloppy sets, he returned to his Florida home and waited five days before resuming his workout regimen.

Isner spent another four days before returning to the practice court to hit some balls. His appearance Wednesday will be Isner’s first as professional in Georgia since leading the Bulldogs to the 2007 NCAA team title.

Isner’s power game, a primary reason his world ranking improved from 146th in December 2008 to 19th this week, shows no signs of slowing. He leads the tour with 672 aces, ranks No. 5 in service games won and 17th in first-serve points won.

But he’s 53rd in break points converted and 69th in points won returning first serve.

Isner also needs to shorten matches, which was a concern before Wimbledon. He played a rain-affected, 72-hour match at the 2008 French Open that ended in a loss to Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina. The year before in Washington, Isner won five matches in third-set tiebreakers before losing the final to Andy Roddick.

“I think one of the reasons why I play a lot of long matches is that if I’m not playing particularly well, I normally compete very, very well,” Isner said. “That’s going to keep me in the match more times than not. That’s why you see a lot of my matches kind of go down to the wire. I’m a good competitor and I don’t want to lose.”

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