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John Isner Loses in US Open Second Round, Retires from Tennis

John Isner ahead of ATP Los Cabos

The giant of tennis, John Isner, has finally hung up his racquet. Arguably the greatest American male tennis player of the 2010s, John Isner’s career certainly inspired many young players to pick up the sport and serve a bit well at the same time. In a hard-fought match on Grandstand, Isner fell to compatriot Michael Mmoh 6-3 6-4 6-7(3) 4-6 6-7(7), in front of a packed crowd. Isner served 48 aces, to finish his career with an all-time high 14,470.

Isner started strong, breaking serve in each of the first two sets. But as Mmoh settled in and found his rhythm, Isner began to fade the longer the match went.

The Career of John Isner

A Storied UGA Tennis Career

John Isner became a staple of American men’s tennis long before he made it to the professional tennis tour. One of the highest-ranked junior players, Isner accepted a scholarship to play on the University of Georgia men’s tennis team in 2003. Unlike many top players who turned pro in the midst of their college careers, Isner was a loyal four-year starter for the Bulldogs. From 2003 to 2007, the American compiled a win-loss record of 143-28 in singles and 140-27 in doubles. College players would already witness his big serve, with Isner’s big weapon paying off in critical matches. The University of Georgia men’s team won the 2007 NCAA Tournament, with Isner clinching a crucial 6-1 7-6(1) win over Kevin Anderson in the first singles match, one of his biggest rivals.

Despite Isner’s highs with the Bulldogs, he also experienced many crushing blows. There was no bigger defeat than his difficult loss to Somdev Devvvarman in the final of the 2007 NCAA Individual Tournament. In front of a vocal Georgia crowd, the American lost 7-6 in the third. It was one of many final-set tiebreak losses for Isner, whose big serve would frequently find him in intense and pressure-filled matches.

At the same time, Isner won countless final-set tiebreaks, with three of them clinching ATP titles for the American. In general, Isner won 504 tiebreaks throughout his professional career, winning a whopping 92% of his service games.

A Breakthrough, and The Never-Ending Tennis Match

Isner first made headway on the professional tour after he made the final of the 2007 Citi Open. That tournament would eventually become a staple on his calendar, with Isner consistently drawing big crowds in the nation’s capital. A couple of weeks later, he took the former World No. 1 Roger Federer to four sets at the 2007 US Open. Yet after that, he faded a bit from the bustling top of men’s tennis. The American did not win a match at Grand Slam level in 2008 and struggled with an illness that kept him out of the crucial midpoint of the tennis season one year later. However, Isner slowly gained momentum on the ATP Tour and eventually picked up his first Top 10 win over Gael Monfils.

The 2009 US Open was another significant fortnight for Isner. Isner had a positive summer swing that year, making the semifinals of the Washington Open. With momentum now on his side, Isner stunned World No. 5 Andy Roddick in the third round of the year’s final Major. Isner pulled through a brutal five-set match in front of a primetime Arthur Ashe crowd, winning 7-6(3) 6-3 3-6 5-7 7-6(5).

Known as a marathon man in tennis, no bigger marathon was his unbelievable Wimbledon 2010 match against Nicolas Mahut. As a match that started in front of an intimate Court 18 crowd, Isner would serve 113 aces, served bullets up to 143 mph, and most importantly demonstrated true mental toughness. In an 11-hour and 5-minute match, Isner defeated Mahut in a never-forgotten 70-68 fifth set. The match took three days to complete due to darkness and is popularly known as the longest match in tennis history. (We have embedded the highlights, but Wimbledon has also published the entire match on its Youtube page.)

Seven Years of Big Serving, and Solid Consistency

As the years went on, Isner gradually built up his tennis resume to become one of the more consistent American tennis players. Any player facing him would fear his intimidating serve and would have to be on their return game to stand a chance. Such was the case in the 2011 French Open, when Isner played one of the matches of his life to push Nadal to five sets. In fact, it was one of the only times Nadal even had to play a fifth set at the French Open.

Isner’s solid form eventually granted him an elusive spot in the Top 10 in 2012, as the American made the final of the 2012 BNP Paribas Masters, the quarterfinals of the Summer Olympics, and continued to rack up ATP 250 titles in American cities. Isner eventually won 16 titles in his career, none more frequently than in Atlanta. He compiled a 37-6 record at that tournament and won six titles there.

Isner also won multiple titles in Newport and Houston, demonstrating his skills on grass and clay courts. Despite his big serve seemingly only translating to fast courts, Isner was always capable of grinding out matches on slow surfaces. His return game was a flaw in his game given his 6’11 height, but Isner was always able to adjust his serve to the speed of the court. On fast courts, fans would witness true speed on the wing. At the 2016 Davis Cup, Isner notably hit a 157 mph serve in his opening tie against Australia.

2018 – The Peak of His Powers

Isner’s consistency seemed to never end going into the 2018 tennis season, and fans would inevitably expect a drawn-out final set every time he played. Surprisingly, it was 2018 when Isner sprung to the top of men’s tennis. Isner won his first Masters 1000 title in Miami, taking out Alexander Zverev 6-7(3) 6-4 6-4 to win the title. For those full two weeks, fans not only witnessed the peak of Isner’s serving, but Isner also frequently hit powerful forehands that left fans in awe.

Isner backed up that result to the fullest. The American made his first Grand Slam semifinal at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships, losing in a heartbreaker to Kevin Anderson 26-24 in the fifth. It was that match that altered the rules of tennis forever. The king of playing “extended fifth sets,” Grand Slams would eventually implement a policy that reduced all final sets to a ten-point tiebreak at 6-6.

The American then was able to make the 2018 ATP Finals, something that the majority of tennis fans would never expect given Isner’s age. While Isner was not able to win a match at that event, he still finished the year in the Top 10. Doing so, he became the first American to finish at such a spot since Andy Roddick.

Leaving a Legacy for Young Americans

Isner carried a period in tennis when frankly, many Americans struggled to break through on the tour. Towards the end of Isner’s career, he left a significant mark on the development of young tennis stars hailing from the States. A frequent starter on the Davis Cup roster, Isner mentored younger players, teaching them the ins and outs of professional tennis life.

Since then, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe have made Top 10 debuts, with Fritz recently clinching a treasured spot in the Top 5. While Isner has slowly declined in form as of late, his legacy has left a massive mark on the tennis circuit.

“There comes a time in every athlete’s career that they have to decide to hang it up. For me, that time is now,” Isner posted online to social media. “Of course, there are countless matches I wish I could have back, but I am proud of what I was able to accomplish. The journey was nothing short of incredible.”

Fans will truly miss Isner’s crushing serve, and big heart on the tour.

Main Photo Credit: Louis Walker III/Newport Daily News / USA TODAY NETWORK


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