GREENSBORO — The cell phone connection was so good that during the conversation you could hear the click-click-click of the turn signal in John Isner’s SUV as he navigated the streets from his Dallas home to the tennis court.
It was Friday morning, and Isner was headed back to work.
After 32 days of no tennis at all, the No. 10 player in the ATP world rankings was ready to test the left foot he injured March 31 against Roger Federer in the final of the Miami Open.
Earlier in the week, the 34-year-old Greensboro native had withdrawn from the Madrid Open in Spain, his original target date for a return to competitive tennis.
“I was being very optimistic,” Isner said Friday. “I’m going to try for Rome (next week), but there’s no guarantee. In fact, I’m on my way to practice right now for the first time since Miami. I’ll be taking it easy today. I’m not going to be running around and sliding on the clay and whatnot. Today’s more to just feel the ball and see how my foot reacts.”
The ATP Tour stops in Madrid, Rome, Geneva and Lyon are all clay court run-ups to the French Open, the Grand Slam in Paris that begins May 26.
“I’m just trying to get my foot better,” Isner said. “This injury, a stress fracture, is different than anything I’ve had before because it involves bone. Bone heals at its own pace. If it were, say, a muscle injury, I would be very confident I could beat the timetable that I would be given. Because I can work on that. But with bone, you have to respect it, calm down and wait.”
The waiting hasn’t been too hard. Isner has spent time at home with his wife, Madison, and their 7-month-old daughter, Hunter Grace.
And during the layoff, the couple announced on social media that they’re expecting a second child. Video from a gender-reveal party shows Isner striking a tennis ball.
It explodes in a blue puff of smoke. It’s a boy. Tentative due date Nov. 1.
“Those things (gender reveals) are kind of goofy and all, but we wanted to try it,” Isner said. “We thought it would be exciting, and it turned out well. And my reaction was very organic.”
On the video, Isner shouts and drops his racquet, both fists raised in the air, then trots over and kisses Madi as family and friends applaud.
“It was a good time,” Isner said. “There were probably 50 people there. In my neighborhood there are a bunch of little courts, maybe eight of them. I reserved one that’s kind of sunken down and out of the way. Not many people are generally around there, so it was as private as it could be.”
Fatherhood clearly agrees with Isner, who grew up in Greensboro, starred at Page High and was an NCAA All-America player at Georgia before turning pro in 2007. He’s coming off the best year of his career, and he believes his life off the court has helped his game.
“Madi and I are very excited,” Isner said. “It definitely changes things. The timing for it all is perfect. Ultimately, it helps my tennis because it puts everything in perspective. It doesn’t make it easier with training. It changes up my routine, for sure. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not for anything in the world.”
The forced time away from tennis has allowed Isner more time with his daughter, and it’s also given him a chance catch some hockey games. He follows the Dallas Stars a little, but remains a longtime Carolina Hurricanes fan. Isner traveled to Raleigh for two playoff games against the Washington Capitals, sounding the Hurricane Warning siren before the first.
“That was neat,” Isner said. “I follow the Hurricanes religiously, and I love playoff hockey. It’s very cool that the energy is back there in that arena and in the whole state of North Carolina.”
Isner’s own energy has been focused on recovery. Clint Cordial, the chiropractor and personal trainer in his seventh year traveling with Isner, has helped him make progress. But it’s been slow going.
“I have to be 100 percent before I get back out there,” Isner said. “I can’t be 99 percent when I’m dealing with a bone in my foot because I’m a big guy. … It’s totally the kind of injury that if I come back too soon, I’m going to reinjure it. I know that. And I don’t want to have a setback because I hurried. That would be very demoralizing.”