Wednesday February 15th, 2012

John Isner, fresh off a victory against Roger Federer in Davis Cup, is up to a career-high No. 14. (Reuters)

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- John McEnroe was in his element on Monday night, headlining a doubles exhibition at the SAP Open. McEnroe showed off his incredible touch, got a standing ovation and was presented with a birthday cake (he turns 53 on Thursday).

"This is beautiful for me," McEnroe said after teaming with 19-year-old Jack Sock to beat tournament top seed Gael Monfils and NCAA champion Steve Johnson of USC. "I'm not saying I could go out and win things, but I'd be comfortable going against anybody right now playing doubles.”

Talk eventually turned to the Americans’ big Davis Cup victory in Switzerland, and specifically the prospects for John Isner, who upset Roger Federer on Friday and moved up to a career-high No. 14 in this week's rankings.

"I think Isner is a guy that when [the top four] look at a draw, they go, 'Where’s Isner? 'Cause we don’t want any part of him,'" McEnroe said. "They believe they would beat him, but they realize that they'd prefer someone else to beat him.

"I really believe he could get to a semi or final [of a Grand Slam tournament], given the right set of circumstances. I always thought he could get to the top 10. I don't know if he can win something, but believe me, he's the most dangerous guy out there."

If it were up to McEnroe, though, the big server would be trying to emulate Pete Sampras, rather than Juan Martin del Potro.

"The problem with John is that he makes it a little more difficult for himself," McEnroe said. "He wants to show that he can hit groundstrokes with these guys. I think he would be better off playing more like Pete Sampras, unnerve these guys, not give them rhythm and drive these people absolutely bananas.”

It’s an interesting observation given the events of the weekend. In the past, Isner seemed caught between wanting to finish points at the net or grinding  from the baseline. But the biggest win of his career came after he took all of his offensive skills to Federer in hopes of terminating the rally as quickly as possible. That tactic really did seem to drive the Swiss "absolutely bananas." By the time the fourth set rolled around, Swiss captain Severin Luthi reportedly was advising Federer to just hope Isner’s level drops and he starts missing. When Isner plays aggressively, he has the capacity to neutralize even a player like Federer. The question is whether the 26-year-old's Davis Cup performance was a one-off or a sign of things to come. His rivals better hope it's not the latter.

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