John Isner flew back to the U.S. shortly after he lost in the Wimbledon semifinals, stopping at his childhood home in North Carolina before continuing on to Dallas. He played with his young niece and nephew, caught up with his parents and chose not to watch the Wimbledon men's final.
"It would have been tough to watch that," Isner said Monday in a conference call, alluding to the bitter aftertaste left by his epic 6-hour, 36-minute, five-set loss to Kevin Anderson. "But whatever happens in my first match this week [in Atlanta], it won't be because of some lingering effect of that Wimbledon match. I thought about it for 48 hours after it happened and then that was it -- it's gone."
Isner is an expert at making the past vanish. He's reinvented himself in splendid fashion this year despite being a 33-year-old father-in-waiting (due date: September) who was on the verge of falling out of the top 20 at the start of this year. Isner seemed to be fading. He carried a reputation for underperforming at Wimbledon, and he hardly helped his own cause when he won just one tournament match in the first 2½ months of this year.
Isner's about-face was as abrupt as one of his three-ace service games. It was powered by pep talks from his coach, David Macpherson. The secret sauce Macpherson brought to the table was bland enough. He stressed the need for Isner to play freely, without fear. Relax, Macpherson counseled, and let it flow. Isner soon relaxed his way to a career breakthrough at the Miami Open, bagging his first precious Masters 1000 title. His game, on the upswing ever since, carried him to a career-high ranking of No. 8 just a week ago.
But there's more to Isner's revival than his conquest of the jitters. He's also one of those players who knows how to interpret and apply the lessons he's learned "Things work differently for everyone," he said in an interview with ESPN.com. "For me, I think experience has really helped me a lot. It's made me wiser, and that's made me calmer on the court."
Isner has also benefited from the example set by 36-year-old Roger Federer and all the other 30-somethings who have broken down conventional age barriers to success.
"That's so encouraging for a player like me, entering his low 30s," Isner said. "We've seen some players who, getting into their 30s, thought they have just a year or two left. They didn't handle it so well sometimes because it's maybe their last year, and the ranking is starting to drop. So they become less clutch and put too much pressure on themselves. I tried to avoid that by doing everything possible to take pressure off."
Isner's transformation has also had a strong physical component. His newfound confidence is bolstered by the knowledge that he's done everything possible to achieve peak fitness.
"After a tournament I fly back home and I'm in gym right away," he said, "Everything I do is aimed at holding up all year long. From that, I'm feeling the best I have after 11 years on the tour, which is pretty cool considering I'm 33."
Given Isner's style, which is predicated on his ability to play short service games and keep his return games swift, Isner could well be a staple on the tour for four or five more years.
At home, Isner said he's focused on the things he needs to do off the court. "I've been on the tour so long; I've hit so many balls. I know how to hit a serve. A tennis ball. I don't neglect the tennis part, but I don't stress about it, either. The most important thing is that I'm feeling healthy, and nothing's bugging me."
Isner has shifted his main focus from the practice court to the gym, with his main focus on improving and honing his strength and flexibility. His routines in the gym include weight training, Pilates and spin workouts. He said he puts in about three hours a day on those off-court activities, and he's also adopted a healthier diet.
Isner is looking forward to the coming weeks. More than some of his peers, he loves playing in his homeland. Isner said he "can't wait" to get to Flushing Meadows again for the US Open.
Based on the way the past few weeks have gone, once he arrives, don't expect him to leave New York anytime soon.