World No 14 John Isner is coming to January's Heineken Open for first time since 2011. He took out the title in Auckland in 2010, but his biggest claim to fame remains his incredible match against Nicolas Mahut later that year at Wimbledon. It lasted 11 hours, five minutes and was played over three days, with Isner finally taking the fifth set 70-68. This season Isner has beaten Juan Martin Del Potro, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Novak Djokovic. He spoke to David Long about his year, returning to New Zealand and ‘that match'.
SUNDAY STAR-TIMES: How do you think 2013 went for you?
JOHN ISNER: 2013 had its ups and downs for sure; the beginning of the year I was hurt and I unfortunately had to miss the Australian Open, then I won my first clay court title in Houston which was great, then hurt again at Wimbledon. But then I had a pretty good summer. I still want to do better in the Slams, that's for sure.
SST: Do you regard beating Djokovic in Cincinnati as the highlight?
JI: I had a tough draw in Cincinnati so getting to the finals made for a great week.and I played well in the final, not facing a break point, but Rafa [Nadal] was just too tough. (Isner lost 7-6 7-6).
SST: What are your memories of winning in Auckland in 2010?
JI: I have great memories of winning Auckland, it was my first ATP title and it's something I will never forget.
SST: Obviously you've always had that big serve but how do you think your game has changed since the last time you were here?
JI: I think I am a much better player all around. I am certainly in better physical condition and I think my return and backhand have improved a lot.
SST: You are close to the top 10 in the rankings, what do you feel it will take to get you in there?
JI: I just need to continue to work hard, stay healthy and try and replicate the results I have had in the US to other parts of the world. Auckland is still my only title outside of the US. I want to change that.
SST: With your serve, how much do you have to keep working on it? Do you still look to make adjustments, or do you know what works and it's a matter of replicating that?
JI: My serve will always be my number one weapon so I want to make sure I continue to develop it, off speed serves, hitting my spots, things like that you can always work on.
SST: Do you like to get reminded about your match at Wimbledon against Nicolas Mahut, or is it something you get bored talking about now?
JI: That was obviously a special match, but as I have said before I want to be remembered for more than simply that match.
SST: David Ferrer has an incredible record in Auckland and has won the Heineken Open four times. Is there a tournament anywhere in the world where you feel you always play at your best?
JI: I play well generally in the States, and that is one of my goals next year is to perform better consistently outside of the US.
SST: Where did the routine of bouncing the ball between your legs before you serve come from?
JI: As a junior, I have been doing that for years.
SST: A lot of up-and-coming New Zealand players go to a US college to play tennis. You did very well for Georgia. How do you think going to college helped you as a professional and do you think it's better to go that way than straight on the circuit?
JI: I think for me personally it was the right decision to stay in school for four years. I wasn't ready to play professional tennis coming out of juniors. I think these days with players playing into their 30s successfully I don't really see a downside of going to college; it is a great experience.
The Heineken Open takes place in Auckland between January 6-11.
- Sunday Star Times