GREENSBORO — John Isner didn’t stick around in England for the Wimbledon finals.
Instead, after his most successful run at a Grand Slam ended in a grueling semifinal loss, America’s top tennis player went to the airport.
And came home.
“When I was leaving London,” Isner said today, “I was talking it over with my wife, Madi, and said, ‘Let’s take the London-to-Raleigh flight and go to Greensboro for a few days.’ We haven’t been here for a little bit, and it’s very nice to decompress and reflect on a few things. For me to come to Greensboro and keep it low-key, just hang out with my family, was very important. Because when I get back to Dallas later today, then I need to get back to work. … And I need to get myself back in the right mindset to go compete again.”
At 33, Isner has already proven he can compete.
He has won 13 singles titles and more than $15 million in prize money on the ATP Tour since turning pro in 2007 after an All-America college career at Georgia. He has played the two longest matches in Wimbledon history, including Friday’s 6½-hour, five-set semifinal loss to Kevin Anderson that included three tiebreakers and a 26-24 final.
And he’s in the midst of a renaissance year, with a doubles title at Indian Wells, a singles title at Miami and now the magical two weeks at Wimbledon.
It’s all added up to a career-best No. 8 spot in the ATP World Tour's singles rankings released today. He has been ranked among the top 10 for a career-best 14 consecutive weeks.
“To do it at age 33 is very cool,” Isner said. “I had been No. 9 three prior times — 2012, 2014 and earlier this year — but I could never quite get past No. 9. Something always got in the way. I was set up to be No. 8 earlier this year, and then Dominic Thiem, the Austrian guy, beat Rafa Nadal on clay, and that kept me from getting No. 8.
“It’s been a lot of things like that, and I was like, ‘Gosh, am I ever going to beat No. 9 for myself?’ Now finally I’m at No. 8, and I think I could’ve been No. 6 if I had won that (Wimbledon semifinal) match. But it’s very encouraging that I’m doing it at this age. It just goes to show I’m doing all the right things. I really do believe my best tennis is ahead of me. I’ve said that time and time again, and I still believe that.”
Isner is a handful for opponents.
At 6 feet 10 and 240 pounds, he features the game’s best and biggest serve, a rocket that led to 110 consecutive service games won at Wimbledon until Anderson’s first break.
“It took me forever to grow into my body,” Isner said. “I didn’t start playing really good tennis until I was 22, after I’d left Georgia. And I’ve seen photos of myself from my first couple years on tour, and I was still super skinny at 24. I’ve always been a late bloomer. … It’s crazy to think about, but maybe I am just growing into my body now.”
And now, along with the big body and booming serve, there is veteran savvy.
“At 33, I am a lot wiser, definitely a lot more mature,” Isner said. “That’s important at this stage, working smarter as opposed to harder. It’s not necessarily about the number of hours on court. Stuff I do off the practice court is vital to my success.”
It’s the off-the-court stuff that drew him home to Greensboro for a few days.
A chance to relax. A chance to spend time with family, to play with his niece and nephew, twins who will turn 2 years old soon.
A chance to clear his mind, put Wimbledon in the rearview mirror and get ready for the summer hardcourt season on his home turf.
Isner has always played his best in the United States, and up ahead are tournaments in Atlanta and Washington. Those are followed by masters tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati. All of it leads toward the U.S. Open starting on Aug. 27.
He said he feels fine. There are blisters on both feet and his right hand after the marathon semifinal against Anderson. But it’s minor stuff that will heal, nothing close to an injury.
“It just takes a few days to recover,” Isner said. “Every day you wake up and you feel a little better than yesterday. The hardest thing to overcome after losing a match like that on a stage like that is more the mental aspect.
“I’ve got to get myself to hit the ‘delete’ button on that. It was a good tournament, and of course I would’ve liked to have gone one more match further. But I can’t dwell on that. … I’ve got to forget it. It was a big moment at a big occasion, and I came up just a little bit short. That’s disappointing. But my focus has to be on what’s coming up. And I’m eager to get back out there on the hardcourts this summer.”