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By Rod Coffee | Thursday, July 31, 2014

 
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As the top-ranked American, John Isner has impressed the tennis world by making a name for himself one-step-at-a-time.

Photo: Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Holding court with a room full of reporters at the 2014 Citi Open, John Isner was cool, calm and the picture of confidence wearing the crown as America’s top-ranked tennis player.

“I don’t think it puts too much pressure on me,” the world’s 12th-ranked player said, handling a question like a second serve. “I’ve always said I was never pegged to be the next No. 1 ranked American but at the same time as you guys know, American tennis isn’t the best it’s been so it’s a little different than in the ‘90s. You had three or four guys in the top 10.

“I’m just worried about myself and trying to get back in the top 10 where I’ve been before, and I’m pretty close. It’s certainly an honor to be the No. 1 American, but for me, I don’t feel too much pressure. I just control what I can control and do everything in a professional way and let the results speak for themselves, and so far in my career, I’ve been pretty proud of what I’ve done.”

What the 29-year-old from Greensboro, N.C., has done is impress the tennis world by making a name for himself one-step-at-a-time.

Far from a tennis prodigy, Isner wasn’t wooed by major sponsors to turn pro out of high school, and pragmatically chose to attend the University of Georgia, where he majored in speech communication and amassed an impressive but not spectacular record during his collegiate career.

After turning pro, the All-American kid quickly became fond of the ATP summer stop in the nation’s Capital.

“Even though it was pretty close to where I grew up, it really wasn’t on my radar until I turned pro,” Isner said, telling the truth instead of giving a prepared answer. “I was fortunate to get a wild card here straight out of college and had some success that year in 2006. Ever since then I’ve always come back and tried not to miss it. I think I missed in 2012, but outside of that I think I’ve been here every year and I feel very comfortable here. For the most part, I’ve always played well and I like the court a lot and a lot of things seem to work in my favor here.”

Despite losing in the second round at this year’s event to fellow American Sam Johnson fans flocked to the Citi Open to see super-sized star continue his trek through the tennis universe.

Seth Hoesman, an Ellicott City, Md., resident who plays tennis for Goucher College near Baltimore, sees Isner as a role model.

“I think he’s an inspiration to play college tennis and not just come straight out and go pro but to go through the college process,” Hoesman said. “It’s really cool.

“We came Isner’s first year and we saw him play Roddick in the finals, and ever since then I’ve been a pretty big fan and we’ve just kept coming.”

Isner has always said he tries to play as many U.S. tournaments as possible. Armed with his 156-mph serve and immeasurable desire, the 6-foot-10 power player believes he knows what he needs to do take his game to the next level.

“Just do what I’ve been doing,” Isner said. “I think the best thing for me or for any player is winning matches; that’s what gives you the most confidence. It’s not necessarily the X’s and O’s for me, I have to stay as aggressive as I possibly can, especially when I’m returning serve. It’s not rocket science, I try to hold my serve as much as I can so that should free me up to play more aggressively outside of that, something I’m always working on.”

Meanwhile, the man with the hopes and high expectations of his fellow Americans looming large is taking it all in stride while taking in the sights and sounds of the Citi Open’s historic surroundings following an early morning practice session.

“I spent a lot of time walking around,” Isner said. “Went to the War Memorial, the Holocaust and all that stuff, so I love this city.”

 

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