By Matt Hill
NEW YORK- I used to think that the most uninteresting ATP Tennis player to watch was John Isner, but my opinion changed in the wee hours of Monday morning.
The man who probably has the most predictable matches, did something very uncharacteristic for the top 10 player and proud Georgia Bulldog. He broke a racquet and received a point penalty.As a result Phillip Kohlschreiber went on to knock Isner out of the U.S. Open in the third round, continuing a string of early exits in the major events.
Just this tennis season, Isner reached the third round of the Australian in addition to the U.S. Open, and he could only muster a second round appearance in the French and in the opening round of Wimbeldon, he lost to Alejandro Falla of Columbia. Pretty disappointing year in the slams, but I have to admit my opinion took a different course in the Kohlschreiber match.
On a marathon night in New York, Isner showed a fire and really let it be known just how much this meant him.
In the fifth set, he had a run-in with chair umpire Carlos Bernardes and received a warning. Later he was called for a foot fault that was very questionable especially given the timing.
We’ve been in this situation. Everyone remembers Serena Williams and that one turned out to be correct, but Isner did his best impression of Serena by slamming his racquet on to the ground and was assessed a point penalty.
I have to admit from personal experience you’re probably not going to meet a nicer person than Isner, making the outburst very shocking.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Even though he lost, the next couple of games he played with more fire when returning and really showed what it’s going to take to get to that next level.
Isner is going to have to return better if he is going to reach quarters and semifinals of majors. Being a nice guy is great, but it’s going to take more than passive returns and a huge serve to win big matches.
Another problem Isner has is scheduling. I do respect that he plays almost every American tournament, but if he is going to continue being a top-10 player, he might have to give up a Houston, Memphis, Atlanta or Winston-Salem event.
The most important tournaments are the grand slams first, then the Masters 1000 tournaments like Indian Wells where Isner made the finals back in March.
Isner has to get over being predictable, and even though I do believe he is a little bit boring I will not question his heart. It showed that he was visibly upset and he didn’t hide it.
Whether the calls went against him or not is subjective, but sometimes you have to let your emotions fly. After the foot fault game where Isner was down 2-1 in the fifth set, he actually had break point in the next return game.
A lot more fire and a lot of less of playing tournaments like Memphis and Houston will go a long way into turning matches like Sunday night/Monday morning’s match into the win column.
With Andy Roddick almost gone, Isner is taking over the mantle for American Tennis. He will be a very good representative of the game, but Americans don’t want third round losses in majors.
Just maybe this Kohlschreiber match will wake him up.
About the Writer: Matt Hill has been a sportswriter in the Tri-Cities TN-VA region for 14 years. He currently writes for the Elizabethton (TN) Star where he covers tennis in the Northeast Tennessee area. He writes a spring and summer tennis column called “Love 40 that focuses on local tennis. Hill has written stories on nationally ranked junior players and on Winston-Salem Open Tournament director Bill Oakes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.