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ATP TENNIS MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 8, 2007
GREG SHARKO: Good afternoon to everyone. Thank you for calling in for today's conference call with John Isner, who joins us from Tampa, Florida.
As many of you know, John reached his first ATP Final last week at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, where he won five consecutive matches in a third-set tiebreak before losing to Andy Roddick 6-4, 7-6. Along the way he defeated former top 10 Tim Henman in the first round, and No. 12 ranked Tommy Haas in the quarters. Afterwards John moved up from 416 to No. 193 in the ATP rankings. He also won the Lexington challenger two weeks ago and at the time was ranked 745.
In Washington John fired 144 aces during the week, the highest non-Grand Slam tournament total since the ATP began keeping serving statistics in 1991.
Next week John will play in his first ATP Masters Series tournament at the Western and Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati, where he's been given a wildcard.
Prior to turning pro this summer, John helped the University of Georgia to an undefeated 32-0 season and the NCAA team title. He also reached the NCAA singles final and he was a four-time All-American and the school's all-time winningest players with 143 singles match wins.
We thank everyone for joining us this afternoon and we'll start with questions.
Q. You're 22. You've played a lot of college tennis. Some guys are out there on the tour at 18, 19. Why now?
JOHN ISNER: I think for me, I've really matured in college. College was obviously the right choice for me. I got a lot stronger in college. My game improved so much because I had such great coaching there for four years. I got really, really used to winning. I won a lot in college, which really helped the transition from college to a pro and eventually to the ATP, just helped the transition go real smoothly. I was real confident coming from college because I won so much and I knew, you know, going for four years prepared me the best as possible because, you know, I went there and I got stronger, my game just kept on getting better and better.
Q. How are you feeling looking forward to Cincinnati?
JOHN ISNER: Oh, I feel great. I hit today for the first time. I took two days off, which really isn't that long. Can't take any more time off than that because I have such a huge tournament coming up.
I was obviously a bit sore after I lost to Andy. After the whole tournament was over, I logged so many hours on court. But I feel fine. Hitting relatively lightly today. Going at it pretty hard tomorrow. Just working real hard down in Tampa right now. It's hot as -- really, really hot here. Just working hard. Going to Cincinnati on Friday, practice there for a few days, just get prepared for my first-round match.
Q. Can you talk about your professional goals now. The expectations are rising here by the day for you.
JOHN ISNER: For me, I always told myself, if I could ever make top 100 at any point in my career, that will be just a huge accomplishment. Tennis is such a tough sport to succeed in, make money in.
Right now I'm 90 some spots away from that. I have -- really all year, I have about 10 and a half months to pick up points. My ranking can't go down because I have nothing to defend.
For me now I'm trying to shoot for a lot higher than top 50 because I've set myself up nicely for that, given these past results.
You know, I try not to make that many goals for myself. But I think if I had to make a goal, you know, I would say top 50. To ever make top 50 would be huge, and hopefully I can do better, maybe top 25, so on. It was just originally top 100, but I've set myself up nicely so far to go even higher than that.
Q. A lot of the focus has been on where the American players are going to come from after James and Andy at Grand Slam tournaments. A lot of the focus has been on juniors, teenagers. You're from a different mold, going to college. What are your thoughts on young American stars and the different paths that they can take developmentally?
JOHN ISNER: You know, college, unless you're a superstar, beating guys in the top 100, top 50 at 17, 18, obviously not going to college would be the right choice. If you're not tearing it up that well, you need to go to college. For someone like me, I was pretty good as a junior. I never thought about turning pro out of high school. My game got so much better in college. It's only going to get better. You got great coaching, great players to practice against.
The spot I'm at now, I've taken a lot different route than many of my peers. A lot of my peers my age decided to forego college and turn professional right out of high school.
Yeah, obviously for me I'm a little bit older. I'm not 18, 19. I'm new to the Pro Tour, but I'm not 18 or 19. I'm 22. I think I'm more mature at this stage. Hopefully I can set up a different path for people to go through, which is four years of college. At least two years in college, I think. Like I've said, I've taken a different path than a lot of my peers have. I've only been out here for two months and I'm ranked just about the same as a lot of them, so.
Q. What was your highest ranking as a junior? What do you think would have happened if you had turned pro and not gone to college?
JOHN ISNER: Well, in juniors I think I was maybe in the 18s. Maybe I was ranked 8 or 9. I was a good junior, but nothing that spectacular. Obviously college was the right choice for me. If I would have not gone to college, to tell you the truth, there's a good chance I probably wouldn't be playing right now. I'd be out there -- I would have been out four years by now. You just really get burned out at that point. If I would have turned pro at 18, I would have lost a lot of matches. I wasn't that mature. Confidence would have gone really, really down. When you have no confidence, you're not going to have good results. That eventually leads to just probably hanging the racquets up.
To tell you the truth, if I turned pro out of high school, there's a good chance I probably wouldn't be playing tennis right now. I would have taken my licks out there in the early years.
Q. You say obviously winning was the big key. Did you go into these tournaments this summer, like the Legg Mason, thinking, I'm a winning tennis player, I can win here? Did you surprise yourself? Did you feel because of all the winning, you could win matches against players in the top 50?
JOHN ISNER: You know, I thought I could -- I mean, I knew I was capable of winning matches against guys in the top 100, top 50. To tell you the truth, I'm not going to lie, tell you otherwise, but I did surprise myself. I beat five guys all ranked very high. I beat them in such dramatic fashion. I never would have thought I could have done that. I went into the tournament confident that I could win one or two matches, put up a good show, make a little bit of a name for myself. I never would have thought I would have made such a big splash like I did.
After each match I won, I'm getting more and more confidence, kind of like a snowball effect. After each match I won, I'm looking at my next opponent, I'm like, Why can't I beat him? That's really what happened and what led to my success there.
Q. The impact of the Lexington tournament, you win five matches there, did that have a big impact on what you did in Washington?
JOHN ISNER: Yes. That was huge for me. Prior to that tournament, I had never made it past the Round of 16 of a challenger event. Once I made it that far, it was a new experience for me. My first quarterfinal in a challenger, my first semifinal in a challenger, my first final in a challenger. I did real well there. Obviously I haven't played that many pro tournaments. I was competing as an amateur these past couple summers, but not competing that seriously because I had another year of school to go back to.
Obviously winning a challenger, which is a step under an ATP, gave me a lot of confidence. I beat some guys in the top 200 there, top 250. Told myself, if I can beat guys in the top 250, what's to say I can't beat people in the top 100. I went into D.C. extremely confident, confident as ever, and that really helped me.
Q. Now you're playing in a Masters event. Before Washington, would you have gone in praying to win one match? What is your attitude now about competing in a tournament with top 55 guys in the world there?
JOHN ISNER: Yeah, playing in this tournament, I never would have thought I'd be competing in this tournament so early, so soon. Obviously, you know, I want to thank the tournament director, Bruce, for giving me the opportunity to play here. There's not going to be one easy match in the whole draw.
To tell you the truth, if I can go there and win -- just even win one match would be huge. All the top players are here. But it was just like in D.C. I feel confident. I beat Tommy Haas, who is ranked -- I forget what he's ranked, but he's ranked pretty high. There's going to be guys I'm going to be playing against. Unless I draw Federer, Nadal, guys not at that level, I'm pretty confident right now that I can compete with those guys.
Q. What has the experience been like off the court since the D.C. tournament in terms of agents, endorsement deals?
JOHN ISNER: Since the D.C. tournament?
JOHN ISNER: I had an agent prior to D.C. I've been working with Sam Duvall from SFX. He actually showed a lot of interest in me after college, which is kind of rare. Go four years in college, you don't really get that much interest from agents such as that. I've been with Sam, working with SFX. He gave me some good opportunities early on in the summer. I've been able to capitalize on those thus far.
You know, after that D.C. tournament, I didn't have to worry about signing with an agent because I was already with Sam, feel really comfortable with him. I've had good results so far. Hopefully I can keep it going.
Q. Any potential endorsement deals come out of that D.C. tournament?
JOHN ISNER: None as of yet. We're probably negotiating. We'll see what happens.
Q. How old were you when you started playing tennis?
JOHN ISNER: I was about nine or ten.
Q. Did you have any particular tennis idols growing up, anyone you looked up to, pros out there?
JOHN ISNER: If I had to say one person, it would be Pete Sampras. Kind of the cliché answer. Growing up, I honestly didn't watch tennis at all. He was obviously the guy I followed the most, which wasn't that much. I didn't watch that much tennis. I was just always into especially football. I watched everything (indiscernible) pretty much.
Q. What got you into it?
JOHN ISNER: I picked it up at an early age, had some success, won some local tournaments, won some state tournaments, sectional tournaments. I thought I could go somewhere with tennis and I stuck with it.
Q. Do you think this country needs American stars to get the kids and communities playing the sport more, more interested in the sport?
JOHN ISNER: You know, I guess you could say that. Even so, there's so many kids playing tennis. Tennis is I think a really popular sport. But any time it would help to have a huge star, which I think we have in guys like Andy and James. If another guy were to come along, have success like they have, that would probably spark more interest in the game than there is now.
Q. From your perspective, you think the American sport is very healthy from a community perspective?
JOHN ISNER: Well, I think so, from a community perspective. USTA is huge. There's leagues all around the country. There's lots of junior tournaments. There's so many players playing tournaments. For instance, that Lexington challenger, there was a junior tournament going on at the same time during that. So many players competing. A lot of players. Eventually you're probably going to see somewhere across the country the next young prospects.
Q. What can you say about junior Wimbledon winner Donald Young, besides he's left-handed and is about a foot shorter than you? What do you think of him as a future American star?
JOHN ISNER: Yeah, I think he really has all the goods to make it big. He's real talented. He's real young. He's real raw, in my opinion. He's going to get a lot better. He's going to get a lot stronger. He has so much talent.
He's starting to just now follow that junior success up with success on the Pro Tour. Really I think the sky's the limit for him because he's so talented. A lot of people on his side. A lot of people think he can do well. He's going to get a lot of opportunities to prove himself. I think he will.
Q. Tell us about your serve. Clearly it's a huge weapon. Did you really have a span of like the five best serving days of your life or business as usual? What is it that makes your serve so effective besides your height?
JOHN ISNER: Yeah, I served well in that tournament. I'm not going to lie. I've served like that a bunch, but I did follow it up each day after. I don't know, I just felt real comfortable out there out in D.C. The surface helped me. It was a little bit of a slick surface. I felt like I was popping the serve real well. I've been working a lot on my strength and my legs. I actually have been working on my serve a little bit to make it a little bit better, getting down a little bit lower with my knee bend, getting my shoulder stronger.
I definitely don't think it's a fluke. I know I can serve like that on a consistent basis. I think I can do that. Hopefully I can just keep it going.
Q. Other than your height, technically, do you come with the hard flat one a lot, do you prefer the kicker?
JOHN ISNER: Yeah, you know, I can hit my hard flat one. The hard flat one I usually -- unless it is an offensive return, blocking it back, I like to come in with the forehand. Really what helped me in D.C. was my second serve. I was consistently hitting my second serve between 120 and 127 miles an hour. I was placing my second serve real well. I was following it up with a volley, which is what I like to do.
I've had a lot of people tell me that my second serve is more dangerous than my first because it's coming in with more spin, not as fast, and it kicks higher. It eats a lot of players up.
Q. Do you feel more pressure now? You're not a secret any more. Do you feel pressure? What would it mean to you to play in the US Open if that comes to be?
JOHN ISNER: I think it's not going -- obviously my name's been heard a lot after D.C. There's probably a lot of scout reports on me. People know a lot about me which is going to be tougher.
As far as pressure goes, I really don't think so. Still, even still, I'm in this tournament in Cincinnati, nothing much is expected of me. I'm probably the lowest-ranked guy competing in this tournament. There's no pressure. If I go out there and lose first round, nobody is going to say, Wow, what happened? I feel like I can only help myself in Cincinnati. Losing there is nothing to be ashamed of. As far as that goes, no pressure. I think it's going to be a little tougher because people are talking about me now, people know a little bit more about me and they're going to use what they know about me to their advantage when they play against me. It's a matter of me adjusting and be able to overcome that.
As far as the US Open goes, yes, it's always been a dream of mine. Never thought it would come true, to tell you the truth. If I do get a wildcard into there, that would be unbelievable. Go out there, play on that stage. I've been there, played juniors one time, played the doubles event one time. Such a spectacle there. The fans are into it. The place is packed 24/7. If I would get a chance to play there, even on an outer court, it's a great environment, something I could look back on, say I always competed in the US Open.
Q. Exactly how tall are you? 6'10"?
JOHN ISNER: Yes.
Q. How long have you been that height?
JOHN ISNER: I probably have been here for a year or two years. I haven't -- I grew a little bit since my freshman year of high school. I would say I'm a little bit shorter than 6'10".
GREG SHARKO: 6'9" or 6'10"? Website has 6'9".
JOHN ISNER: Go with 6'10". Make it a little bit bigger (laughter).
Q. Does that tie him for the tallest on tour? Karlovic?
GREG SHARKO: That's right, Ivo.
Q. He's tied with Ivo?
GREG SHARKO: That's right.
Q. What is your latest actual measurement?
JOHN ISNER: The last time I got measured was probably I was in school, a physical. I think like in January it was 6'9" and a quarter or and a half. I can't remember what it was exactly.
GREG SHARKO: We need to put him next to Ivo.
Q. I asked you about who you rooted for, your thoughts on community tennis. If you end up in the Open, move up higher, what are your thoughts on the possibility you could motivate young kids to play tennis?
JOHN ISNER: Oh, that would be -- if I was ever looked up upon like that, maybe as somewhat of like a role model, if I could ever inspire younger players to compete harder, actually work their hardest at tennis more than anything, that would be unbelievable. I've gotten some messages from younger players, kids in high school, actually after this tournament, and they've actually told me I have somewhat inspired them to play. I guess they liked watching me play out there. If I can just continue the success out on the Pro Tour, have my ranking keep climbing higher, my name will get more and more out there, if I could in any way inspire kids to choose tennis as their sport, something to go after, that would be awesome.
Q. What kind of messages did you get?
JOHN ISNER: Just stuff that, I watched you play, you're awesome, you're an inspiring player, hopefully I can make it like you have, stuff like that.
Q. How many aces last week?
GREG SHARKO: 144.
Q. Highest non-Grand Slam?
GREG SHARKO: That's right. Including 30 or more in three consecutive matches. The last player to do that was Mark Philippoussis at 2003 Wimbledon. Of course, that was in a best-of-five format.
Q. What is the highest you've ever hit, miles per hour?
JOHN ISNER: I think I hit a 142 in D.C. Prior to that, I can't remember the last time I've been clocked. Probably have to go with that, 142.
GREG SHARKO: I can check the IDS radar speeds.
Q. Who was the player that tied him at 6'9" and a half?
GREG SHARKO: Ivo Karlovic is 6'10" from Croatia.
Q. Are you playing doubles in Cincinnati?
JOHN ISNER: I don't know as of yet. If I play doubles, it would have to be as a wildcard. That's something I'll probably find out in the next couple days.
Q. You said you're coming from Tampa. Who are you working with down there?
JOHN ISNER: As far as players, for instance today I trained with Mardy Fish today, which was awesome. There's a lot of great coaches here, as well. There's always a coach out there on the court. I don't have a personal coach right now in Tampa.
Q. Are you part of that group with Blake, Mardy in Tampa?
JOHN ISNER: I would say I am. There's a bunch of good guys. There's James, Mardy, the Bryan brothers train here. After that there's guys like me and other players that are ranked around what I'm ranked.
Q. You all congregate there by happenstance, or did somebody invite you to go down there and play?
JOHN ISNER: Tampa has always been a good training ground for players. Mardy and James have been here for a while, probably the last four or five years. They've been here for a while. Great facilities here at Saddlebrook, great coaching, great players. It's kind of just one of those things, a lot of players are congregating here.
GREG SHARKO: Thanks, again, for joining us. John, thanks for your time this afternoon. Best of luck next week and the rest of the season.
JOHN ISNER: Thanks. Appreciate that. Thanks for having me.
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