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John Isner leads New York Empire into World Team Tennis opener

John Isner during his men's singles match against

John Isner during his men's singles match against Dudi Sela at Wimbledon in London on July 6, 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Tim Ireland

World Team Tennis is all three of those things, but the team part takes some getting used to for fans unfamiliar with the league.

For example: John Isner, a star for the New York Empire, is scheduled to join his teammates for Sunday’s opener at Court 17 of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

It also will mark his season finale.

Such is life in WTT, which in addition to regulars, showcases familiar names just passing through in the middle of their summer tournament schedules.

The Empire’s biggest-name female player, Eugenie Bouchard, is scheduled only for two matches late this month.

“As much as I love team tennis, it is not my main focus this summer,” Isner said from London recently as he prepared for Wimbledon, where he lost in five sets in the second round.

“Throughout my career I’ve always played a pretty heavy summer schedule. It has always been the best part of the year for me . . . I’ve got a lot of tournaments scheduled, so a lot of the focus goes into that.”

Isner, 32, has been the best American male player for most of the 2010s, a period during which he regularly has participated in WTT when his schedule allows.

“I like the team atmosphere of World Team Tennis,” he said. “It’s much different than anything we generally do on tour. We are usually out there playing for yourself and by yourself. And of course the format is different.

“It’s a shakeup of the normal tennis match. I like that. On top of that, it’s great competition.”

The Empire finished 2-10 last season under coach Patrick McEnroe, playing at Forest Hills Stadium, with Andy Roddick appearing in two matches.

The move to Flushing Meadows, the site of the U.S. Open later this summer, has proven to be an effective player recruiting tool.

“It’s very cool,” Isner said. “It’s actually going to be a little bit weird being at Flushing Meadow a month or two before the [U.S. Open] tournament and also playing on that court. I think it will be something very interesting.”

New Empire coach Gigi Fernandez said she expects the intimate Court 17 to provide a raucous, home-court edge for the team, whose best-known regular will be Mardy Fish.

“I absolutely love playing in New York; I think everyone does,” Isner said. “The atmosphere, especially during the tournament, just the city itself during the tournament, is incredible. I don’t need to go on about it. Everyone knows about New York City . . . It’s one of the greatest cities in the world.”

Sunday’s 5 p.m. match is against the Philadelphia Freedoms, featuring Sloane Stephens and Donald Young. The 14-match regular-season, seven at home, runs through Aug. 2. The Empire is one of six WTT teams.

“On paper I think our team is very, very strong,” Isner said. “I’m just honored that the Empire decided to allow me to be a part of their team, and I’m excited for it.”

New York Sports