© Ella Ling

John Isner

Top 10 of John Isner's career highlights


Beating Novak Djokovic to break into the top 10 for the first time.
“That’s why I play this game, to be able to enjoy moments like this,” Isner said after beating Djokovic to reach today’s final in Indian Wells, a victory which propelled him into the top 10. “The stadium was packed, there wasn’t a spare seat in the house, and everyone was on their feet, cheering for me. It was very special when that last ball went by him and I knew I had won the match. Not many people can say they’ve ever beaten the number one player in the world.”

Scaring the heebie-jeebies out of Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
Isner ducked his head under a doorway as he walked on court to play the Majorcan in the first round of last year’s French Open, and then threatened to achieve what would have been one of the greatest upsets of modern times. Isner, who is 6ft 9in tall, has size-15 feet and a gargantuan serve, was known for being something of a clay-court pygmy, but he found himself leading Nadal by two sets to one. Rafa came back to win in five. Nadal is not in the habit of bouncing off the clay after reaching the second round, but he did so on this occasion after dodging defeat.

Defeating Roger Federer on a clay court in Switzerland.
Americans aren’t supposed to excel on European clay courts, but Isner turned in one of the finest performances of his career – if not the finest – when he beat Federer in a Davis Cup tie last month. Federer has since said that the conditions were not to his liking: “Without taking anything away from John in Switzerland, the conditions were extremely tough for both of the players. It was altitude, it was a clay that was virtually unplayable. Every second bounce was a bad bounce.”

Taking 11 hours and five minutes to beat Nicolas Mahut in the first round of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships.
This was the first time in the toournament’s history that a player who had lost in the second round immediately went on a publicity tour. In the days after taking the fifth set 70-68 against Mahut, and then falling apart in his next match, Isner threw the first pitch at the Yankee Stadium, and he toured the television studios with appearances on Good Morning America, CNN and The Late Show with David Letterman. For the Letterman show, he was asked to read out a top 10 of the thoughts that would have been in his head, including “remember when I said I was exhausted – that was eight hours ago” and, “we’ve been playing for so long that I’ve forgotten – am I Isner or Mahut?”

Being drawn against Nicolas Mahut at last summer’s Wimbledon.
Isner and Mahut had become firm friends since their match at the All England Club in 2010. On hearing that they were to play each other in the first round in 2011, Isner said: “I actually joked with Nic about this a week ago, as I texted him and said, ’watch us play in the first round’, and he goes, ’no, man, that’s not cool’. He’s such a nice guy, and we keep in touch a lot, on our phones. I’ve already spoken to him today. We were supposed to practice on site but we’re not going to do that now. It’s weird, but it happens sometimes when you schedule practice together. It’s weird that we’re playing each other in the first round again. It’s almost cruel.”

Mahut was in the locker-room when the draw was made: “After hearing one of the staff cry out, I checked the screen and I didn’t believe it because I thought it was simply impossible. It’s just crazy. John sent me a text message with an emoticon – it was not a smile but a grimace.”

It took Isner just a couple of hours to beat Mahut in straight sets.

First title on the main tour.
Isner’s first tournament victory came in Auckland in 2010. He has since won two other titles.

Serving statistics over the course of 2011.
Isner was top of the leaderboard for service games won, at 91 per cent, played the most tiebreaks (58) and won the most (34). He hit 811 aces, putting him in second place.

Recovering from glandular fever in 2009.
The ‘kissing disease’ has wrecked a lot of tennis careers, so Isner would rightly have been concerned when he discovered he had ‘mono’. Yet he made a full recovery, and made an impression on the sport that summer at his home grand slam.

Trumping Andy Roddick at the US Open.
When they shook hands at the net, Isner having just won their third-round match at the 2009 US Open, Roddick (6ft 2in in his towelling socks) looked tiny. Roddick has been unable to deal with the extraordinary pace and bounce of Isner’s serve (Isner hit 38 aces). “You can’t teach 6ft 9in, especially coming down on a serve,” said Roddick. “You try to fight it off as much as you can. Sometimes you can, and sometimes it’s out of your hands.”

Making the quarter-finals of the 2011 US Open.
For the first time, Isner reached the last eight of a slam, with a victory over Frenchman Gilles Simon in the fourth round. He was stopped by Andy Murray, with a four-set defeat.

  • Laura

    The 11 hours Wimbledon match against Mahut was the most impressive match ever! Thanks for the amazing top 10 of Isner,  he definitely belongs in the top 10 of tennis.

  • http://twitter.com/IrrelevantQuota Roonil Wazlib

    Great list, but definitely should’ve included the Legg Mason Washington tournament in ’07, when he burst onto the scene and won 5 straight matches in third-set tiebreaks, beating the likes of Haas and Monfils, before falling in the final to Roddick.  Soon after, Isner would take a set off Federer in the US Open.  Otherwise, a terrific list. Thanks for compiling it.  I’m a big fan of the big man!