Tennis Prose



Isner and Macpherson Target Seventh Atlanta Title

By Scoop Malinowski

John Isner’s stunning ATP career began in style in 2007 and fifteen years later the big man is still a mighty force in professional tennis.

I was there in Washington DC 2007 when the 22 year old Isner won his first five ATP matches, all in third set tiebreakers. The then unknown Isner, fresh out of NCAA tennis at Georgia, beat Tim Henman, Benjamin Becker, Wayne Odesnik, Tommy Haas and Gael Monfils all in third set tiebreakers before losing the final to Andy Roddick 46 67.

Before Isner’s first round match vs Henman as a wildcard, I saw his striking, towering figure on a practice court and froze in awe to watch. Never before had I heard of Isner or seen someone so tall play tennis with such good coordination and athleticism.

Isner had just won Lexington Challenger while ranked 745 in the world vs Brian Wilson in the final 67 63 64. Somehow Isner summoned tennis magic that week in Washington DC and since then has won 15 more ATP titles and 474 matches total for over $21m in career prize money. Since 2010, Isner has maintained his ranking around the top 10-30 range. Isner has defeated Federer, Nadal and Djokovic too.

This week in Atlanta, the no. 2 seed Isner is seeking his seventh title in the state of his college career. I spoke with his longtime coach David Macpherson about Isner…

Question: John Isner is still going strong and having another very good year, how does he do it?

David Macpherson: He just had a good grass court season (semifinals of Newport, third round of Wimbledon, including a four set win vs Andy Murray and a five set win vs Enzo Couacaud), He’s quite a remarkable athlete and competitor. He takes great care of his body, at six-foot-ten and 37 years old, he still moves beautifully. He’s a better net player now and his returns are getting better every year. It’s tough to keep up with all the young studs coming up. It’s certainly a challenge. He has a personal trainer in Dallas who makes specific programs for his body. He has a great acupuncturist for body realignment. He also travels with a great chiropractor. They keep his body all in one piece. He eats well, hydrates well. He is a consummate professional. At age 37 and being six-foot-ten it’s a remarkable effort.

Question: Do you believe he can still improve?

David Macpherson: Absolutely. A few shots can be improved. He can improve his returns a little better. I feel he’s made gains on his returns. And he can hit a little deeper on certain points and moments. His serve is a thing of beauty, the best of all time in my opinion, first and second serve. He’s become a top five volleyer in the men’s game, that’s something pretty cool for a guy so tall. Just trying to get more depth out of his returns. His strokes are there. Trying to manage movement differently against the opponent because against younger, shorter opponents he can’t afford to play conservatively against someone who moves better. He needs to be decisive with his return game, he can’t just play the ball up the middle.

Question: What is your first memory of John?

David Macpherson: I heard of him the first time when he made finals in Washington DC coming out of college at Georgia. Maybe the first time was spending time together in Davis Cup. I was there as a doubles coach with Davis Cup for Mike and Bob Bryan. I got to know John then, what a great guy he is. He was also coached by another great friend of mine (we had talked earlier about his longtime friendship with Jimmy Arias) Justin Gimelstob. We gradually built up a rapport over the years.

Question: What would you say are Isner’s greatest performance(s), your favorite matches he played?

David Macpherson: Beating Delpo (61 76) in semis of Miami (2018) would be one that comes to mind. Murray at Wimbledon (64 76 67 64 – first win vs Murray in nine tries) this year was excellent. Zverev victories in Miami (2018 final) and Laver Cup were awesome (2-7 career vs Zverev). There are so many! Novak in Indian Wells (QF 2013) when he was younger (76 36 75). Rafa in Laver Cup (75 76 in 2017). Federer in Davis Cup (46 63 76 62 in 2013).

Isner has won Atlanta in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2021. Macpherson never won an ATP main draw singles match (0-13) but in doubles the clever Australian won 16 ATP titles and achieved a best ranking of no. 11. His overall match record in doubles was 388-395. Macpherson’s final ATP match was a victory in 2003 when he won the Newport doubles title with Jordan Kerr 76 64 vs Jurgen Melzer and Julian Knowle.

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