John Isner’s secret to playing his best tennis at the age of 33: Not caring as much about the result.
The No. 1 American, who’s the top seed at the BB&T Atlanta Open this week, has worked on playing more aggressively as he’s reached career-best marks past the age of 30. The 6’10” right-hander approaches the net more often and swings through his returns.
During his Wimbledon quarter-final, when Isner beat Canadaian Milos Raonic to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final, Isner raced forward 37 times, winning 81 per cent of those points (30/37), and converting half of his six break points.
But Isner said, in addition to a change to his game, just as importantly, he’s feeling more confident about his new approach.
“It’s not necessarily that I’m playing more aggressively, while I am… I think I’m able to do that because I’m more comfortable out there on the court, more relaxed. Not so much worried about the result. Of course it’s great to win, if I lose, so be it,” Isner told ATPWorldTour.com.
It hasn’t always been that way for the American, who’s at No. 9 in the ATP Rankings this week. In the past, he has clammed up in tie-breaks, feeling more worried about the final score than how he’s hitting.
“There have been a lot of times where I’ve been too wrapped up in the result,” he said. “I’m not doing that lately, and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been playing so well.”
Watch: Isner Hears The Dawgs Barking
Off-court joy has also helped. Isner married longtime girlfriend Madison McKinley last December, and she is pregnant with a baby girl due 22 September.
“There’s a lot of things going on in my life, a lot of very cool things going on in my life that I think are helping,” he said.
Few tournaments bring out Isner’s best tennis than the BB&T Atlanta Open, where the former University of Georgia Bulldog has won four titles from seven finals and owns a 27-4 record at the ATP World Tour 250-level event. His worst showing was a semi-final loss to Andy Roddick in 2012.
“A lot of factors, I think, go into me playing so well here. I think for one, the surface is very good for me. I’m most comfortable playing on hard courts. It’s of course what I grew up playing on. On top of that I prefer playing in the United States. Throughout my career, I’ve always played my best tennis at home,” Isner said.
Read More: 200 Fans Wait In Line For Isner’s Autograph
“This tournament, in particular, is really home, because I went to school so close to here. There are so many Georgia Bulldog fans here in Atlanta, and this tournament is supported so well. When I’m playing, I have a lot of crowd support, the Dawgs are barking for me, and it spurs me on to play some good tennis.”
As the season enters its final four months, Isner is targeting his best finish yet – his first year-end Top 10 ATP Ranking and his debut at the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, to be held 11-18 November at The O2 in London.
“A huge goal of mine is to make that tournament in London, I also want to finish in the Top 10,” Isner said.
“At 33, I feel like I’m playing my best tennis ever, which is super encouraging for me going forward. It’s incumbent on me now to keep pushing on the gas pedal and keep pushing forward.”
Fvie Spaniards in action on day three
Roberto Bautista Agut started his comeback from a groin injury on Wednesday by booking a place in the J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad quarter-finals. The 30-year-old, in his first match since the Gerry Weber Open five weeks ago, overcame fellow Spaniard Jaume Munar 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 42 minutes.
The World No. 17, who has won one of his eight ATP World Tour trophies on clay courts, will next challenge Japan’s Taro Daniel, who saved one match point at 5-6, Ad-Out in the deciding set against Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain in a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5) victory over two hours and 46 minutes.
Earlier in the day, Italian Matteo Berrettini knocked out fourth-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-3 in 62 minutes. The World No. 84, winner of his second ATP Challenger Tour title at the Trofeo Perrel – FAIP in February, will contest his first ATP World Tour quarter-final against eighth seed and 2016 titlist Feliciano Lopez or Oriol Roca Batalla.
Italian to open his campaign against Zopp
Fabio Fognini joined his family on a trip to Eggli Alp farm in Gstaad, 1,600 metres above sea level, on Tuesday.
The defending champion, with his parents and sister, Fulvia, was initially scared to get too close to the animals, but later assisted farmer Ruedi Wehren with feeding the horses, milking the cows and preparing cheese. The Italian also took the goats outside for their evening stroll and tasted the homemade cheese.
“It is impressive to see how much farmers work,” said Fognini. “Ruedi gets up at 6:30am and works until 9pm most days. It was very interesting to see how he manages the farm and it was a great experience for me to milk the cows and spend time with the goats and the calves. They are really cute, the youngest one is only four weeks old.”
Fognini, who beat German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann in the 2017 J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad final, comes into this year’s ATP World Tour 250 tournament on the back of lifting his seventh ATP World Tour trophy at the SkiStar Swedish Open (d. Gasquet) on Sunday. Read Report & Watch Highlights
“I feel great at the moment and I love playing on clay,” said Fognini, who has a 21-9 record on red dirt this year (31-14 overall record). He also won Brasil Open title (d. Jarry) in early March.
In-form American raring to go this week
World No. 9 John Isner, playing some of the best tennis of his career, was popular with fans on Tuesday when the American signed autographs in a 60-minute session at the PGA Tour superstore in Roswall.
The line, made up of about 200 fans, extended across an entire side of the store. Isner, who attended the University of Georgia, between 2004 and 2007, signed a lot of Bulldogs’ memorabilia.
Since the first edition of the ATP World Tour 250 tournament, 33-year-old Isner has reached the Atlanta hard-court final in seven of the past eight years. With a 36-4 tournament record, Isner has lifted the trophy in 2013 (d. Anderson), 2014 (d. Sela), 2015 (d. Baghdatis) and last year (d. Harrison). He also finished runner-up in 2010-11 (l. to Fish both times) and in 2016 (l. to Kyrgios).
Isner is hoping to carry the momentum of reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals (l. to Anderson) into the North American hard-court swing. He also captured his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title on 1 April at the Miami Open presented by Itaú (d. Zverev).
He is currently in ninth position in the ATP Race To London for a first-time qualification to the Nitto ATP Finals, to be held from 11-18 November.
Before Milan, where Hyeon Chung won the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals last November, and before Melbourne, where the South Korean reached his maiden Grand Slam semi-final in January, Chung showed his tour-leading clutch tennis in Incheon, South Korea.
At the 2014 Asian Games, Chung and countryman Yong-kyu Lim faced four match points in the doubles semi-finals, and much was on the line for the pairing.
Lose and they, like all South Korean males, would still be subject to almost two years of mandatory military service. But win the gold medal, and they’d be exempt.
“For Asians it’s really big tournament… especially for Koreans because Koreans have to go to the Army. It’s a big thing,” Chung told ATPWorldTour.com.
He and Lim came back from 4/6 in the second set tie-break and 7/9 in the Match Tie-break to reach the final, Chung said. As fans cheered after every point and sometimes even shouted and exhaled after every shot, the South Koreans won the country’s first tennis gold medal in 28 years.
“I think the Asian Games started [it for me],” said Chung, who was 18 at the time and eventually served only four weeks in the military. “Because when I’m in the Asian Games, I’m really happy and I had many good, positive things so that I can win Next Gen last year, I can make Grand Slam semis.”
No one has played sweaty-palm situations better than Chung during his big runs and during the past 52 weeks, according to his “Under Pressure” rating on the Infosys ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS. The statistic is based on break points converted, break points saved, tie-breaks won and deciding sets won, and Chung’s 247.6 rating is almost a point better than Juan Martin del Potro’s (third, 246.7) and more than two points better than Roger Federer’s (fifth, 245.5).
“He is able in the big moments to knuckle down and not think too much about what the end result is, and he’s able to execute really well in the big moments, which is a skill in itself, and I think that’s why the results show in the stats,” Neville Godwin, his coach, told ATPWorldTour.com.
Watch Chung’s My Story
Chung will look to use those skills for the first time in more than two months as he returns this week at the BB&T Atlanta Open. A right ankle injury that took longer than expected to rehab has kept him out of play since 8 May when he lost in the first round of the Mutua Madrid Open.
At the time, Chung had made at least the quarter-finals at seven of his eight tournaments and was in sixth place in the ATP Race To London.
But, after missing 11 weeks, he has fallen to the 17th spot in the Race and trails eighth-placed Kevin Anderson by 1,440 points.
“Obviously I would have liked him to play on the clay, and definitely on the grass as well because he was having such a great run and obviously in contention to go to London… It could be a bridge too far now,” Godwin said.
Read More: Americans Lead The Way In Atlanta
“The goal for the rest of the year is to really just stay healthy and keep building on the things that we started working on at the beginning of the year.”
Chung played in Atlanta last year for the first time, falling to #NextGenATP American Tommy Paul in three sets. Hard courts have been Chung’s best surface on tour. The 6’2” right-hander has won almost 60 per cent of his matches on hard courts (53-36), compared to 58 per cent of his matches overall (71-52), according to his FedEx ATP Win/Loss Record.
“I’m just trying to move the legs, and I’m just trying to play my best. Breathe… Stay calm. Trying to think about positive things,” Chung said of playing under pressure.
Not everyone, however, has been so enamored with Chung’s clutch play. Indian Divij Sharan and his partner Yuki Bhambri lost the four match points against Chung/Lim at the Asian Games. Had Sharan/Bhambri reached the final, they would have faced another Indian team, guaranteeing their home nation a gold medal in tennis.
Sharan, who, with Kiwi Artem Sitak, is the top doubles seed in Atlanta, has seen video clips of the match. But he struggles to describe how a shot at gold slipped away from them.
“That was obviously a really, really close match,” Sharan told ATPWorldTour.com, “and I guess looking back, I just think, that was a tough one, just a match they had to win. It was just crazy.”
Nick Kyrgios doesn’t have to think too far back to remember “The Last Time” he played well at the BB&T Atlanta Open. The Aussie beat home favourite and four-time Atlanta titlist John Isner to win the 2016 title.
Kyrgios, after missing the tournament last year because of injury, is back at Atlantic Station to go for his second title of the season (Brisbane) and fifth overall. The Aussie spoke with ATPWorldTour.com about “The Last Time”…
I missed a flight?
I was with my agent, John Morris, and we were sitting at the gate. We were just watching Facebook videos… It was boarding, we were watching [videos], and we completely missed the flight. But I can’t remember where it was or where we were flying from. I’m pretty organised like that. I don’t miss too many flights.
I lost something important?
Every day I lose my wallet, I don’t know where I place it. I’m pretty forgetful like that… I always find it, though.
More “Last Times”: Djokovic | Roddick | Chung
I strung a tennis racquet?
Never. I’ve never strung a racquet in my life… I have tried. Terrible… Not good. It took me hours… Three, four hours. I just stopped. I’ve never strung a racquet again.
Did you finish it?
No… That was 10 years ago.
Watch: Kyrgios Returns To Atlanta
I cooked for myself and others?
I don’t cook that often. I’m a decent cook, I guess. I know how to make like eggs and stuff. Not for a while, though. I can’t even remember.
Flashback: Kyrgios Picks His NBA Dream Team
I met a childhood idol?
I didn’t really have an idol, but I looked up to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga when I was a kid. I played him at the Australian Open recently.
I shared a hotel room with another player?
Pretty recently. I share with my doubles partner Matt Reid pretty much all the time… We’re good friends, he’s a good companion, he’s pretty good to room with, he’s easy. He snores a little bit from time to time, but that’s it.