Posts Tagged John Isner

Unexpected Chit Chat With Champion John Isner

Chris (holding Champion's trophy), Ira and John chit chat at Newport—7/15/12

I’m texting in my seat near the end of the singles finals being televised live at Newport, RI last Sunday, when a distinguished man in a blue blazer taps me on the shoulder and asks me if I’d like to go on the center court with him as soon as the match is over and meet the players, John Isner and Leighton Hewitt. John is ranked number 11 in the world and defeated Djokovic and Federer this year. He only turned pro in 2007, has one of the fastest consistent serves in the game (130-140 mph) and is 6’9″ tall. Leighton is a former number one making a comeback after major toe surgery just two months ago. Puzzled and surprised, I say “Sure.”

Five minutes later, I am “plucked from anonymity,” (as a friend said), and walking behind shoulder-tapper Chris Clouser, Chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, with a couple of others right onto the grass court in front of 3700 people to watch the awarding of the trophies and super-sized (3 X 5 feet?) prize checks. The view from right next to the umpire’s high chair is definitely more intimate. And I am definitely a bit self-conscious. But however this is happening, I am enjoying it.

Skylar (glasses on head) collects John Isner's autograph—7/15/12

Leighton leaves quickly, but my daughter, Skylar, obtains his signature on a tennis ball, as well as Champion John’s ten minutes later. Chris brings John over to me. As we shake hands, I tell him that at Skylar’s 21st birthday last year at a hotel in New York, she recognized him in the bar. Also that she’d almost caught one of his kick serves that flew over his opponent’s racket, when he won the same tournament in 2011. Small world.

Life is full of surprises, and this was really a good one. Totally upbeat, memorable and captured for posterity.

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Newport’s Colors, Contrasts and Confounding Surprises

Newport Casino has the world's oldest competition grass courts since 1880

Just spent four days in Newport, RI watching an ATP tennis tournament and the people there. You are greeted as you cross the bridge to town by the bay’s deep blue waters supporting hundreds of slim white sails. At the Newport Casino, one enjoys the green of grass courts played on generally by fit athletes in thin tennis whites.

But the fans and tourists are more diverse. The affluents who live in the costly houses and condos for a month or two each summer are there for the social scene and to be seen. They are also thin as a species and wear intense, solid colors from the animal kingdom: flamingo pinks, hot canary yellows, and startling-salmon-flavored rusty-oranges.

There are other visitors who prowl the T-shirt shops and other touristy stores on Thames Street in paler, less eye-attracting costumes that drape enormous bodies enlarged by years of over eating. We watched a huge woman down a large apple crisp with two scoops of vanilla BEFORE starting to eat her dinner! Breathtaking.

My visit there stimulates numerous stories that I will recount over the next few days. Just let me tease you with wondering how I ended up unexpectedly on center court at the conclusion of the sold-out final in front of 3700 fans shaking the hand of the winner, John Isner, whom I have written about earlier.

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Why I Admire Fabrice Santoro’s Tennis Game By Joe Marshall

Joe Marshall loves Fabrice Santoro’s ultra-unorthodox style, and many of Joe’s opponents have complained to me how maddening it is to play against him. It’s full of lobs, spins, surprise placements and drop shots, and a ball that lacks all the speed and force of what most modern power tennis is about. Maybe you’d find it works for you. In the video above, Fabrice is the guy who keeps returning the balls that the other guy just can’t seem to put away. There is another video that won’t embed. This is Joe’s fifth article in a series about winning tennis strategies for doubles.

The magician, Fabrice Santoro. He played for 22 years on the pro tour, the only man in the open era to play in four decades. His highest rank in singles was 17, yet he was as high as 37 in his mid-30’s, a year or so before he retired.

Fabrice beat more #1 players at some point in their career than anyone else (tied with Andre Agassi). He was 3-4 against Pete Sampras, 3-3 against Andre, 8-3 against Marat Safin, 1-0 against Jimmy Connors….he beat a total of eighteen #1’s. It was Pete who named him The Magician.

No one had more joy on the court, no one had a more original style (his main shot was his two-handed, cross handed, righty forehand slice, which he hit primarily with his left hand! Sound impossible? Watch the video).
In an age of power and more power, Fabrice hit the ball softly, neutralizing power, and using his opponent’s aggressiveness to confound him…..like Judo the way the monks invented it. He was a showman and a great sport, quick to compliment his opponent on a great shot with a bow or applause.

He could beat you many different ways….great defense, tricky spins, looped passing shots, drop shots, lobs, sneak attack volleys, and gentle but confusing approach shots….he was afraid of no one. He has the record for the most singles losses in the open era (more than 400), but he won more than he lost (more than 450 matches), and was a great doubles player, winning a couple of grand slam titles. He had the record for the longest match ever (beating Arnaud Clement at the French open in 6 hours and 40 minutes over two days) until it was eclipsed by the famous John Isner-Nicolas Mahut three day affair at Wimbledon. I doubt that they will let him on the senior tour….he would wear them all out…..Enjoy!

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Goliath Beats David At Newport

John Isner launches his 140 mph serve

The finals at Newport were between 6’9″ John Isner and a much shorter Olivier Rochus. How short? Bud Collins said at a luncheon I attended that he was 5’4.” When I told him afterward that the ATP website said he was 5’6,” Bud said his number was right. Wikipedia says Rochus is 5’5.”

Regardless it was a tense match, even though the scores might not reflect it: Isner won 6-3 and 7-6 (6). I like watching both players. Isner reminds me of a slow-moving giraffe, and Rochus is the fast and wily fox. Isner has incredible height and power, and his 140 mph serve is totally dominating. When he puts a kick on it, the ball often bounced over Rochus’s head and extended racket. Even Ollie smiled sometimes…though it was almost impossible to break him.

Isner’s serve is so powerful and accurate—he had 22 aces in the two sets and, I believe I heard 72 in the tournament— that the hope was for Rochus to just hold his serve and somehow win in a tiebreaker. You can imagine what an achievement it was to lose 6-8 in the tiebreak. But Ollie kept delivering his slice backhand low over the net to John’s backhand, and picking up points as John would hit the small-bounce-on-grass ball into the net. Quite exciting.

Rochus (left) and Isner at Newport—2011

Rochus (left) vs Karlovic in an earlier tournament

The tallest player on the ATP tour, Ivo Karlovic, was also at Newport, though he lost early on. Ivo is 6’10,” and I stood next to him and also watched him play. Karlovic holds the fastest serve recorded in professional tennis, measured at 156 mph, and he is considered one of the best servers on tour. His height enables him to serve with high speed and unique trajectory.

Editor Patrick Hruby faces the Isner serve in 2008

Incidentally, Isner’s ATP ranking was 46 at the time of this tournament. Rochus was 73. Karlovic was 127. And Rochus has beaten Karlovic two of the three times they have played.

I found an adorable article describing editor Patrick Hruby’s 2008 stunt of facing the Isner serve and living to write about it:

For the first time in my writing life, I feel a genuine kinship with a shooting range target silhouette.

Isner tosses the ball. I bend my knees, shift my weight to the balls of my feet, make sure the racket face is positioned squarely in front of my groin. I hear a pop, see Isner’s lanky right arm swing down like a guillotine blade. The ball hits the ground in an eye blink—thud!—then rises toward me, appearing to accelerate while doubling in size. Before my brain registers the second sound, I’m acutely aware of a third: the thwack! of the ball striking my racket strings, right in the synthetic cat gut sweet spot, without which I now would be in considerable physical anguish…

A University of Virginia senior and the reigning college singles champion, Somdev Devvarman, beat Isner in last year’s (2007) NCAA final. The two became friends and even played doubles at an ATP tournament in Washington, D.C., last summer.

So, I asked, what’s the best way to break Isner’s serve?

“I never broke his serve,” said Devvarman, who captured the NCAA title in a pair of tiebreaks. “I didn’t even get to deuce. He dropped 24, 25 aces on me.”

Devvarman sighed.

“The motion on his serve is so good, so hard to read. You have absolutely no idea where he’s going on any serve. You’re always trying to guess.”

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Tommy Haas Has Abs

Tommy Haas

Off to an ATP tennis tournament this week in Newport, RI. I hope to hit balls on that surface myself. On Saturday, I will applaud Andre Agassi, when he is inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

The highest ranked player in the match is John Isner (#46), who beat Nicolas Mahut (#95) at Wimbledon last year, 70-68. This was the longest pro tennis match ever. I always felt sorry for Mahut…to lose such a marathon of a match. Mahut is also in the Newport draw. I hope he does well.

Tommy has abs

Another player whose name I recognize is Tommy Haas, who in 2002 was ranked 2nd in the world. What an achievement! However he has had numerous injuries over the years and even been unable to play for long stretches, so that now at age 33, he is ranked 768. But in tennis, 33 is ancient. What is it like to have been so high in the rankings and then to fade out so low. I feel sad for him too.

In reading about his career, I bumped into some pictures of him that show he has—or had—very pronounced abs. What do you think?

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How John Isner Trains For Long Tennis Matches

I wrote recently about the dangers of playing sports like tennis in hot weather. Doing it is much more difficult than watching it. I remember during the 2009 Australian Open that announcers were commenting on record temperatures over 100 degrees—it reached 111 one day. I had trouble in Miami, where I grew up, when I visited last year and played in just 87 humid degrees. How do players survive it for hours?

Isner and Roddick—2007

I heard that John Isner trained for this year’s Wimbledon by practicing heavily at Saddlebrook Resort in Florida’s mid-day heat. He spent up to 3 ½ hours a day on strength training and endurance. He also drinks coconut milk. By the way, he is 6’9″ and weighs 250 pounds. You can get some sense of his size in these pictures.

John Isner

So I looked up his specially designed training program and found this story by Joey Johnston of the Tampa Tribune:

… Before Wimbledon began, Craig Boynton, Isner’s coach, told the player he was strong enough to play for 10 hours. It was meant as confidence-building inspiration. But he wasn’t far off the mark.

“We develop programs for a lot of different players – some of them follow the plan and others don’t as well as they should,” said Jason Riley, Saddlebrook’s director of sports performance, who serves as Isner’s strength and conditioning coach, along with Kyle Morgan.

“John is meticulous about it. He implements the plan. He really takes care of his body. Coming out of college, it’s just speculation, but I’m not sure if his body would’ve held up. Physically and mentally, I’m not sure if he could’ve withstood a match like that.”

The essentials:

Diet: Riley is a big proponent of coconut water, which mimics electrolytes. He stresses food that provides sustained energy, such as fish, chicken, brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta and “a ton of vegetables.”

“When you go 70-68 in the fifth set, there’s going to be a lot of inflammation in your body,” Riley said. “The more antioxidants and vegetables you put in there, the better off you’re going to be.”
Does Isner ever stray from his diet, perhaps getting spotted as a fast-food drive-thru?

“I’m sure he does – but not very often,” Riley said with a smile. “You’ve got to know the times you can do those things – and the times you can’t do those things. He’s in a good place with his body now and he doesn’t want to mess that up. That could mean gaining weight or losing weight.”

Strength and conditioning: Isner alternates between the weight room and exercises to aid his movement and agility. Read the rest of this entry »

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Isner-Mahut Match Like Running Two Marathons Or Doing Jumping Jacks Throughout 11 Hours

While we admire John Isner winning the longest-ever tennis match against Nicolas Mahut—70-68 after 11 hours over three days, and 7 hours five minutes for part of the fifth set alone on the second day in 81 degrees—it’s the fitness, endurance and determination to keep playing by both men that impresses me the most. Even if Isner was looking and acting like a zombie with no idea of where he was and what was happening.

John Isner

How did they survive it? Here is what : Lauren La Rose wrote for The Canadian Press:

…So just what would it feel like to play that much tennis over the course of three days? Imagine expending the energy equivalent of running two marathons, says Brendon Gurd, an assistant professor in the school of kinesiology and health studies at Queen’s University.
Gurd says the intensity of tennis is probably on par with a light jog.

“It was separated by two nights, but they essentially jogged for 11 hours total, so it’s a huge demand,” he said from Kingston, Ont.

“What goes along with that is as they’re exercising, they’re using stored fuels, so they’re using carbohydrates stored within their muscles, they’re using fat stored in their fat cells, so a lot of that as you continue to exercise will become depleted.”

Lance Watson of B.C.-based LifeSport, who has been coaching triathlon and distance runners for more than 20 years, including Canadian Olympic triathlete champion Simon Whitfield, said the big difference with tennis is that it’s a stop-and-go sport.

“Eleven hours of that would just be brutal because there would be so much muscle teardown,” he said from Victoria.

“I guess for the regular person if you could imagine doing sets of jumping jacks on and off for 11 hours I think that would be a comparison.”

Nicolas Mahut

Gurd said in a rough estimate, the players were probably burning somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600 to 700 calories an hour, but those figures could potentially be higher.

Both Gurd and Watson said staying nourished and hydrated while competing is critical.

Watson said in working with Ironman athletes, a huge part of their preparation and training is becoming systematic about the way they consume calories and fluids. For example, many will set their watches to go off every 15 minutes to ensure they’ll remember to eat a certain amount of carbs, he said.

“They would be probably preparing their hydration and their nutrition for their typical length of match and they wouldn’t have probably preloaded and kept the calories coming in in anticipation of that kind of an endurance match.”

Gurd said Isner and Mahut were probably eating as many carbohyrdates as possible to stay fuelled, while also guzzling Gatorade, which is source of both carbs and hydration. Read the rest of this entry »

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