Mental boost helps Isner reach his tennis peak at age 33

John Isner is playing the best tennis of his career at age 33, thanks in part to marriage and impending fatherhood, plus long-lasting confidence after winning the Miami Open.

Isner reached this week’s ATP Washington Open, where he burst onto the scene 11 years ago, hungry to extend the greatest campaign of his career as the US Open approaches.   -  AP

John Isner is playing the best tennis of his career at age 33, thanks in part to marriage and impending fatherhood, plus long-lasting confidence after winning the Miami Open.

The 33-year-old American produced his deepest Grand Slam run to the Wimbledon semifinals, reaching a career-high eighth in the world rankings, and began his hardcourt campaign last week with a fifth Atlanta title in six seasons.

Isner reached this week’s ATP Washington Open, where he burst onto the scene 11 years ago, hungry to extend the greatest campaign of his career as the US Open approaches.

“It does feel that way. I’ve had a lot of good years the past eight years. This year, I’ve been more consistent with my results,” Isner said on Tuesday of this being his best season.

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“I think this is the best I’m playing on the court in all aspects. I feel like I’m playing my best tennis ever. I’m 33 right now and I’m playing my best tennis ever.”

Isner married Madison McKinley last December and the couple is expecting their first child, a daughter, in late September.

“It has definitely settled me down. It has made me worry less about tennis — it had consumed me the last six, seven, eight years. It was the most important thing I had going. Now, it’s not. It takes some pressure off. Starting a family, raising a very nice polite daughter, that’s what’s the most important thing going on for me,” Isner said.

On the court, Isner cited a rare doubles title last March at Indian Wells, alongside American Jack Sock, which helped him rebound from a 1-6 singles start to the year.

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“I was able to win the doubles with Jack and able to get that winning feeling back. Even though it was doubles, you can’t duplicate that feeling,” Isner said.

“I carried that into Miami and that’s when the season started. To my credit, I didn’t lift off the gas. I kept my foot down and kept working and carried that through the rest of the season.”

Isner defeated Germany’s third-ranked Alexander Zverev in the Miami Open final for the biggest title of his career and the memory of that championship fortnight has served him well in the months that followed.

“At a certain point in that tournament, things started to click. Right around the round of 16, I thought, ‘Man, I’m really playing well’,” Isner said.

“I’ve kept those feelings. I haven’t forgotten about that. In situations, I can refer back to that, not so much tactically, but when I was so calm. That was maybe the toughest mental effort of my career in Miami and I’ve been able to keep accomplishing that this year.”

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‘Lightning in a bottle’

Isner reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon before losing to South African Kevin Anderson in an epic 26-24 fifth set after six hours and 36 minutes.

It was the second-longest match in Grand Slam history behind Isner’s 2010 first-round Wimbledon win over Nicolas Mahut, which lasted more than 11 hours.

But, Isner says that being a marathon man isn’t so tough when the stakes are so high. “It’s not as difficult as some people think,” Isner said.

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“It’s the semifinal of Wimbledon. The moment itself gets you physically jacked up and mentally jacked up, and adrenaline takes over. That gets you through a lot of the fatigue.”

Isner is the second seed to Zverev at Washington, where made a stunning debut run to the 2007 final and also settled for runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2015.

“I caught lightning in a bottle in 2007. It was a big help for my career. This tournament is where it all started for me. It’s special,” Isner said.