He became a household name after playing (and winning) an 11-hour tennis match at last year’s Wimbledon. But just who is JOHN ISNER?Last summer, a budding tennis player from North Carolina fought for a grueling 11 hours and 5 minutes to win what would eventually go down as the longest professional tennis match ever played. With the Wimbledon crowd holding its collective breath, John Isner defeated Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, and the match became the most talked-about event of the tournament. Who was this big — 6-feet-9-inches big — American kid?
Now, the 26-year-old “Marathon Man” is again heading back to London for Wimbledon. But first, American Way sat down to chat with him about all things tennis, travel and — wait for it — coconut water.
AMERICAN WAY: 2010 was an epic year for you at Wimbledon. Are you nervous about going back this year?
JOHN ISNER: Wimbledon is the most prestigious tournament in tennis; it’s like the Masters of golf. Just to be able to compete in the tournament is something special — it’s such an awesome, awesome event to be a part of. I’ve tried not to think about it too much. Even though I won only one match last year, the match I did win was pretty memorable [laughs]. There will probably be a lot of attention on me and Nicolas [Mahut], and who knows, maybe I’ll even play on a bigger court my first round.
AW: How do you spend your days in London when you’re in town?
JI: I love London, but I’m really just there for Wimbledon. It’s not much glitz and glamour when I’m in there. I like to stay low-key and away from everything.
AW: You travel often for tournaments. Where is your favorite spot?
JI: I really enjoy Australia — it’s just a great place. Sometimes when I’m in Europe for four or five months, it can be draining. But Australia kind of feels like home.
AW: Where do you call home these days? Anything in particular you like about it?
JI: Tampa, Fla., is home now, but I’m from North Carolina. [I love the food] in North Carolina and Florida. … A lot of times in Europe, I can’t always find what I want. In Australia, though, the food is really, really good.
“Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” Jake Owen
“Someone Else Calling You Baby,” Luke Bryan
“The Whip,” Locksley
“Twenty-One,” Corey Smith
“Troubadour,” George Strait
“Colder Weather,” Zac Brown Band
AW: Speaking of food, rumor has it you have a penchant for coconut water.
JI: I do! I had a problem with cramping when I first turned pro. Playing in hot weather and humidity, my body would just lock up on me. At my mother’s suggestion — and most of the time, she is right — I tried it. Honestly, I think it’s helped save me in a lot of matches.
AW: You’re one of the few top-150 ranked players who played collegiately. Why do you think it’s so difficult to transition from college to the pros?
JI: It’s a different level, but my transition was pretty smooth because I left college with a lot of confidence. When you’re out playing against grown men at 18 years old, it’s a tough learning experience. For me, going to college was the right decision.
AW: Was turning pro always part of your plan?
JI: No, not at all. It wasn’t until my junior year that I realized I was good enough. All I knew was that I didn’t want a regular job. That’s why I play sports for a living: When the fans come out in the thousands and thousands, it’s such an incredible thing to be a part of.