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Winston-Salem Open: John Isner always glad to play near Greensboro home

By John Dell
Winston-Salem Journal
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CARL COURT - AFP/Getty Images
As for being the lone American player ranked in the top 50, Greensboro native John Isner is proud of his accomplishment but is at a loss to explain why there are no more Americans in the rankings.

WINSTON-SALEM John Isner doesn’t mind being the face of American men’s tennis.

He’s also not bashful about his take on why the Winston-Salem Open, which will be held at the Wake Forest Tennis Center next month, is an important stop in his busy schedule.

“It’s home,” said Isner, a 29-year-old Greensboro native ranked No. 12 in the latest ATP rankings. Isner is a two-time winner of the three-year-old tournament.

As for being the lone American player ranked in the top 50, Isner is proud of his accomplishment but is at a loss to explain why there are no more Americans in the rankings.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it; it’s not pretty in American men’s tennis right now,” Isner said. “I think American tennis fans maybe were spoiled in the ’80s and ’90s with (John) McEnroe and (Jimmy) Connors and all of those guys playing. Then you have (Pete) Sampras, (Jim) Courier, (Andre) Agassi and (Michael) Chang – and everyone was in the top 10, it seemed, back then.”

“The game has changed a lot and the Europeans are dominating for whatever reason,” Isner said. “But honestly, that’s not my concern but I’m proud of what I’ve done in my career. Reaching the top 10 (in 2012) in the world and nearly doing that again – it’s a tough thing to do …

“I was never pegged to be the next No. 1 American tennis player. It’s all just kind of come to me and I’ve taken it in stride.”

Isner, who is 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, has used his powerful serve to his advantage through the years. But there’s another reason he’s won eight ATP titles and more than $6.5 million in a career for which he is very thankful.

He considers himself a late bloomer and says his fitness level has never been better. He drinks plenty of coconut water to stay hydrated, watches what he eats and sticks to a stringent workout plan. That discipline is paying off – he is 23-12 in ATP matches this season.

“I feel like I had a better year than in the past,” Isner said. “I’m feeling pretty good in the summer season. My favorite part of the season is coming up, and I’ve stayed pretty healthy.”

Isner has struggled some seasons during the early part of the schedule, playing in tournaments overseas – but getting back to the U.S. during the middle of summer has always invigorated him. He’ll play in Atlanta this week but stopped in the Triad for most of Monday.

He also loves the hard-court surfaces, which he said is a big plus for his game.

“I love the surfaces we play at this point in the schedule and especially the surface we use for this tournament,” Isner said of the Winston-Salem Open.

After conducting several interviews Monday in Winston-Salem, Isner – who lives in Tampa, Fla – said he was headed to his parents’ home in Greensboro. He was looking forward to his mother’s cooking.

“I eat my mom’s (Karen) cooking,” Isner said about his favorite reason for coming home. “I’m going to enjoy this time and I have just a short trip here before going to Atlanta. I don’t get home a lot other than the (Winston-Salem Open) and holidays, so I’m comfortable here.”

Isner, who won the Winston-Salem Open in 2011 and ’12, will be the favorite when the tournament is played Aug. 17-23. He has yet to lose a match in Winston-Salem, and said that’s a direct result of his mom’s cooking. During tournament week, he commutes from Greensboro.

“Absolutely,” he said about the edge he enjoys being close to home. “It’s an advantage I have because while I’m chilling out at home eating my mom’s cooking, guys are at their hotels having to go out to eat – and they are probably getting their orders messed up.”

Isner will be the top-ranked player in a strong Winston-Salem Open field. Others who have committed are Tommy Robredo, Marcel Gronellers, Dmitry Tursunov, Vasek Pospisil, Jerzy Janowicz and American Sam Querrey, who is ranked No. 61.

“We have 38 of the top 76 ranked players in the world who are coming and we still have four wild cards that we will use,” said Bill Oakes, the tournament director.

“We’re looking forward to adding some big names with those wild-card selections.”

The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of The News & Observer.
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