John Isner celebrates at Wimbledon on July 13, 2018 in London.
NEW YORK — In an Instagram post by his wife, Maddie, in April, John Isner shared with the public what was actually the biggest news of his life in 2018: He and Maddie were expecting a baby.
But in the midst of a major life change for the American No. 1 — Maddie is due two weeks after the completion of the US Open — the 33-year-old North Carolina native is playing some of the best tennis of his career.
Who knows, really, but Isner is having what one could argue to be his best season ever. He won the Miami Open this spring, his first Masters 1000 crown (the Masters are one step below the majors), and then went on a march to the Wimbledon semifinals at a tournament where he had never advanced past the third round before.
What was sweet also turned bitter on the grounds of the All England Club, Isner losing in the longest major semifinal in Wimbledon history, 26-24 in the fifth set to South Africa’s Kevin Anderson in six hours, 36 minutes. It was a heart-breaking loss for Isner in his debut in the final four of a Slam, but also offered the sort of bounce you’d expect for a guy who continues to believe he can hang with the best in what is perhaps the sport’s most golden era.
So as he strides onto the grounds in New York City for the US Open come Monday, he'll use that recent confidence as a buoy. Yes, he’s made the quarterfinals just once in 11 appearances at the US Open prior, but that doesn’t seem to matter much to him. He sees every tournament as a chance to make a statement, much like he did at Wimbledon.
"I've always told myself, 'Just keep doing what you do... keep giving [yourself] more chances,'" Isner said during a press conference at Wimbledon. "I want to keep coming to [the big events] feeling good, playing well. That's been the case this year. I've made good on that."
Isner has never inspired the legions of fans that former U.S. No. 1s like John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick did. They played the game as much with their personalities and swagger as they did with their rackets.
But the University of Georgia alum does love the quick courts of the USTAs Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and has had most of his greater success in his career on similar surfaces in North America.
Wimbledon affirmed it: Isner’s a danger to go deep, especially if he can avoid tripping up in the first few hurdles presented to him on court.
Isner opens against another American in left-handed Bradley Klahn, who’s had a stellar season in his own right. Next would be Chilean Nicolas Jarry or German Peter Gojowczyk. No. 24 seed Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina is his projected round three foe, while No. 8 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, Swiss Stan Wawrinka or Canadian Milos Raonic would loom in round four.
Those early battles can prove tricky for Isner, as the past has shown. Should he drop a tiebreak here or there, or have an off day from the baseline, he can find himself relying too heavily on his booming serve.
Isner feels as though — while he has played well at times at the Open — he hasn't played his knockout best.
"I haven't, in my opinion, done really that well at the US Open," he said in a call with reporters last month. "I've always been solid. It's a tournament that I think is tailor-made for me. Playing at home, playing on a hard court, which I love. ... It's a tournament that I can do some good things at. As long as I'm fit and healthy, I'm going to be looking forward to it. I can't wait to get back out to Flushing Meadows."
After Wimbledon Isner won his 14th career title, capturing the trophy in Atlanta. He is just 1-3 since then, but it was a lingering affect: He said Wimbledon drained him. While he has often played the week before New York at a small event in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he did not do so this year, priming him for what he hopes will be a fresh run at Flushing Meadows.
Miami, in late March, perhaps gave Isner as much or more belief that he can go big at the big ones such as Wimbledon. It was there that he beat Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open winner from Croatia, Juan Martin del Potro, Argentinian champion at Flushing in 2009, and upstart German Sascha Zverev en route to the title. His celebration was as massive as he is tall (6-foot-10). Afterward he thanked his training team for helping him stay so fit.
This week, in the lead-up to the Open, Isner has not been discussed among the favorites. World No. 1 Rafael Nadal of Spain is the defending champion, while Wimbledon winner Novak Djokovic of Serbia just won the Cincinnati final over Swiss Roger Federer last week. While those three stars headline most picks for who will capture the title inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sept. 9, it's hard to argue against an Isner deep run. He's fit, he's hungry, he's more experienced than ever and — very likely — this could be the last tennis he plays in a while.
With the birth of his daughter meant for mid/late-September, he's uncertain for the Davis Cup semifinals in Croatia Sept. 14-16, and for Laver Cup the following weekend.
This golden era of men's tennis has now turned golden in age, too. Isner, Djokovic, Nadal and Anderson were the first quartet to contest the Wimbledon semifinal as 30-somethings in the Open Era.
It's reason further for Isner to feel good walking onto the courts of the US Open. He's a dad-to-be that just made his first Grand Slam semi, is having a banner year and loves the conditions in New York in front of the home fans. It all adds up to something good.
Oh — and it's the last time he'll do it before becoming a father. How's that for motivation?