Most people know his story by now.
He attended the University of Georgia, where he led the Bulldogs to a national championship in 2007. He won the longest match in the history of professional tennis at the 2010 Wimbledon. And he owns one of the most vicious serves on the ATP Tour, a weapon that can be credited to his 6’9’’ stature.
And now the 26-year-old John Isner is poised to crack the top 10 in the world.
Isner turned pro in 2007 and left school as a four-time All-American honoree, finishing his career as the program’s leader in singles and doubles victories. He was 12 credits shy of earning his degree in speech communications, but quickly made an impact on the pro tour, advancing to the final in just his second ATP event, the 2007 Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. Isner lost to then top-ranked American Andy Roddick in the championship, but earned victories over former top-five players Tim Henman and Tommy Haas.
And just a few months removed from celebrating winning the NCAAs with his Georgia teammates, Isner was on Arthur Ashe Stadium playing against eventual champion Roger Federer in the third round of the U.S. Open. Isner delighted the American crowd by taking the first set off Federer before falling in four sets.
It became clear those wins in Washington were no fluke.
Since then, the soft-spoken Isner has won fans over with his powerful game and friendly demeanor. He picked up the 2009 ATP Most Improved Player award and has earned several sportsmanship awards along the way.
When Isner reached the quarterfinals at the 2011 U.S Open, fellow American Mardy Fish made a bold declaration. “I think he can win the tournament,” he said. Isner didn’t win, but he showed that the best was yet to come.
Although not young in tennis terms, Isner, currently ranked a career-high No. 13 in the world, has the most upside among the top ranking Americans. Roddick’s career faces a downward trajectory and the 30-year-old Fish has struggled on the Grand Slam stage. Isner’s recent four-set victory over Federer at the 2012 Davis Cup rubber between the United States and Switzerland was further proof of his emergence as a contender for tennis’ big prizes – the Grand Slams.
As young Americans continue to turn pro at a young age, (19-year-old Ryan Harrison, the latest promising U.S. prospect, went pro when he was 15), Isner remains a rare breed. His modest junior career coupled with four years of collegiate tennis experience would make him an unlikely Grand Slam champion. But if his improvements in the past few years are any indication, Isner is perhaps America’s best hope to win a major championship in the near future.
He is currently the top seed at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis, TN and will play compatriot Donald Young in the second round.
Immediately after beating Nicolas Mahut in the record-shattering 11 hour, five minute marathon match, Isner embraced the attention but emphasized that he wanted to be remembered for more than just a Guinness World Record.
That may or may not end up being the case, but in a career that has already been full of expectation-exceeding surprises, Isner does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Correction: The original article stated that Isner graduated from the University of Georgia. He turned pro with 12 credits left to complete in his Speech Communications degree.