John Isner has enjoyed being the top male American tennis player for much of the decade. Hey, who wouldn’t?
“It’s all been a very nice surprise for me,” he said from London as he prepared for Wimbledon, which begins Monday. “It’s certainly not America’s men’s tennis of the 1980s and ‘90s, but to be able to say you finished the year five times as the No. 1 American is a pretty cool thing.”
That it is, and Isner still is hanging in there, currently ranked No. 21 in the world and No. 2 among Americans, behind only No. 18 Jack Sock.
But Isner is 32, so even if he has a few good seasons left, he is not about to start running off a string of major championships at this stage. Sock is only 24 but is not considered an imminent threat to win a grand slam either.
So the question is: Might any of this change by the 2020s, returning American men to the elite place they once had on the tennis landscape?
Isner is optimistic. “I think the future for American tennis is extremely bright,” he said. “We have some players a lot of fans, and especially casual fans, haven’t heard of, these are the guys who are 19, 20 years old who are very, very good players coming up and who are only going to get better with age.
“The crop of players that are between and 18 and 21, we haven’t seen that in quite some time. All these guys are going to push each other, and it’s a very healthy environment.”
ESPN analysts John and Patrick McEnroe agreed with Isner that there is young talent in the pipeline among U.S. men, but they wonder whether there are any grand-slam champs in the bunch.
“I see some guys that could be top 10,” John McEnroe said on a call to preview Wimbledon. “I see like a (Reilly) Opelka, I see Frances Tiafoe, I see Taylor Fritz a while back . . . I think Jack Sock could make it to the top 10.
“There is going to be a void, obviously, because the top guys that have been winning everything are getting older, so the door is going to open at some point, you’ve got to think soon. There’s an opportunity for young kids.
“Not sure I see guys yet that I believe are going to win majors. There’s a bunch of guys I believe could be, a couple guys top 10, a couple 10 to 20.”
Said Patrick McEnroe, “I think the good news is there’s more numbers in the young American men than we’ve had in arguably 10 to 15 years as far as being top-100 players, and as John said, the potential would be top 10 . . . I try to focus on the positive, which is there’s a whole host of six to eight players under 21 – this would not be including Sock, who I think is certainly at the moment the best capable guy of going deep in a major – that could be legit, consistent Grand Slam players.”
As for Isner, he said he feels good and still believes he can “be a very tough out for a lot of players.”
Wimbledon, he said, remains “incredibly special,” and it is the site of the match for which he is best known, in which he defeated Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68, in the longest professional tennis match in history.
“Of course I have that one crazy match I played in 2010 there,” he said, “but outside of that it’s one of the amazing tournaments we have. It’s the most prestigious tournament.
“It’s a spectacular event and I’m extremely fortunate to be able to play in that event every single year. There will come a time when I’m not going to be there flying to London, so I’m just trying to cherish it as much as I can.”
What: The Championships, the third major of the tennis season, at The All England Lawn Tennis Club Wimbledon, England. This is the 131st edition of the tournament.
When: Play begins Monday. The women’s final is July 15 and men’s final July 16.
TV: Coverage begins Monday on ESPN, 7 a.m.
Surface: Rye grass (height of 8mm).
Last year: Andy Murray def. Milos Raonic, 6-4, 7-6, 7-6, for the men’s singles title. Serena Williams won the women’s singles title, 7-5, 6-3, over Angelique Kerber, and equaled Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 major singles titles.
Purse: A record of about $42.5 million. The men’s and women’s singles champions each will receive about $3 million.
Attendance: 493,928 last year.
Top seeds: Men, 1-Andy Murray, 2-Novak Djokovic, 3-Roger Federer, 4-Rafael Nadal, 5-Stan Wawrinka; Women, 1-Angelique Kerber, 2-Simona Halep, 3-Karolina Pliskova, 4-Elina Svitolina, 5-Caroline Wozniacki.
Most career matches played: Martina Navratilova, 326.
Most titles won: Women, Navratilova won nine singles titles. Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and William Renshaw have all won seven men’s singles titles.
Most singles finals lost: Chris Evert, seven.
Most aces: Men, 213 by Goran Ivanisevic, 2001: Women, 102 by Serena Williams, 2012
Fastest serve: Men, Taylor Dent in 2010 (148 mph); Women, Venus Williams in 2008 (129 mph).
Youngest winners: Women, Charlotte “Lottie’’ Dodd, 1887 (15 years, 285 days); Men, Boris Becker, 1985 (17 years, 227 days).
Longest match: 11 hours, 5 minutes (2010, Court 18, played over three days), John Isner, U.S., def. Nicolas Mahut, France, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.