NEW YORK – The top-ranked American man John Isner will say it himself: he’s had a tiring but successful summer. Isner claimed his third consecutive title at the beginning of the month in Atlanta, a place he’s considered a hometown hero since he went to school at the nearby University of Georgia. He also advanced to the finals of the Citi Open where he was halted by eventual champion and 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori.
But the slew of matches in a row appeared to take a toll on the 6’10” big-serving American. His form fizzled as the summer hardcourt stretch wore on and he lost in the quarterfinals of Montreal to Jeremy Chardy in three tight tiebreakers and at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, he bowed out in the first round to compatriot Sam Querrey (he reached the final there against Rafael Nadal in 2013). Notably, Isner notched his career-best showing at the U.S. Open in 2011 by advancing to the quarterfinals, but the past three years he’s seen his runs halted by Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Round of 32.
Currently ranked No. 13 and with ambitions to best his high ranking of No. 9 from back in 2012, Isner sat down with SI.com ahead of the U.S. Open and before an exhibition match.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
SI.com: Heading into the Open, how are you feeling?
Isner: I feel pretty good. I did have a good summer, a very tiring summer. I was a little out of gas my last tournament [at Cincinnati], but it’s a good problem to have. I’ll definitely be rested up for the U.S. Open.
SI.com: To go back to Atlanta, you’ve owned that tournament for the last three years. Can you talk a little bit about what it is about that place that gets you going?
Isner: I really do feel at home there. I went to school just a little more than an hour northeast of Atlanta. I have a lot of support there, a lot of friends and family. That combined with the surface that suits my game always just sort of worked out for me there.
SI.com: And then, of course, there’s the Citi Open final against Nishikori, who did a great job to get to the final of the U.S. Open last year. Can you talk about that?
Isner: That was right after Atlanta so I didn’t have much time to rest but I played well there and had some good wins. Ran up against Nishikori and losing to him is not really a bad effort. He’s an incredible player. But it was a close match—three sets. It could have gone either way, but he got me that day.
SI.com: And then Querrey at Cincinnati. Tough match, probably not a result you want to see, but he’s a friend of yours.
Isner: I played Montreal and I think I played prior to that Cincinnati match 13 matches in 15 days or something. Something crazy like that. Fortunately, I left it all out there on the quarterfinals and didn’t win. I was physically beat up and mentally beat up and I just couldn’t quite recover for Cincinnati, but again playing against Sam is always a tough one anyway.
SI.com: And then the decision to not play Winston & Salem. You’re a hometown hero there. Can you talk about your decision?
Isner: It was a tough decision for sure. I’ve played that and I’ve won it twice. I feel like I really have two hometown tournaments: Atlanta and Winston-Salem and Winston-Salem is my true hometown since that’s where I grew up. So that was a tough decision for me not to play, but it was the right decision, I think.
SI.com: You’re ranked near the top 10. Is that on your mind heading into the U.S. Open?
Isner: I don’t set up performance goals for myself at the beginning of the year, but now that this year is 75% done, the goal for me is to try to make that tournament in London [the ATP World Tour Finals in November]. I’ve put myself in a decent position for that….I want to beat my personal high ranking. I’d love to finish in the top 10 and right now I’m on pace for that.
SI.com: You’ve lost to Kohlschreiber of Germany the last three U.S. Opens in the third round. Thoughts?
Isner: You know, it’s weird. I’ve lost to him three times here, but I think I’ve beaten him more times than he’s beaten me in my career [Isner leads 4-3 in their head-to-head]. It just happens. I don’t know; I could potentially play against him, but I don’t forecast anything [They are, notably, in the same quarter of the bottom half of the draw].
SI.com: This is Mardy Fish’s last tournament. Can you talk about what he’s meant to you and to American tennis?
Isner: He’s been really great for American tennis. He’s been great for me and my career. When I first came onto the tour, it was him, James Blake and Andy Roddick who were the guys I really looked up to. Even though they’re really not that much older than me, they had more experience since I went the college route. Mardy is a good friend of mine and I hope he has a great Open, I hope he plays well and he’s definitely going out on his own terms which is really good to see.