Welcome To The Club! Isner Strikes 10,000th Ace
John Isner coolly steps to the baseline like he has thousands of times before. He bounces the ball between the legs of his 6’10” frame, and then again off the court three times with his racquet, and four times with his hand. Just as he lifts his left arm to toss the ball into the air, slightly in front of him, his racquet-wielding right arm begins its own upward motion simultaneously. The 32-year-old eventually launches toward the sky and at the last moment, Isner turns his wrist so the stringbed meets the ball, producing a devastating result.
Isner sends the ball flying as if he is wielding Thor’s hammer. The result is a blazing 138 mile-per-hour ace down the 'T' on a damp Houston night.
In fact, that ace on Friday in the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship quarter-finals to start the fourth game of the deciding set (1-2) against defending champion Steve Johnson gave Isner 10,000 for his career. The American is one of just four players in history to enter the elite club, joining Ivo Karlovic (12,622), Roger Federer (10,463) and Goran Ivanisevic (10,131). After the history-making ace, there was a slight delay as the ball was passed to chair umpire Simon Cannavan for safekeeping.
"Ten thousand aces is an incredible achievement," said Isner after losing the match, despite hitting 28 aces. "It is bittersweet to hit it in a loss tonight, but that’s just how it goes sometimes."
So, how did Isner get to that milestone?
According to the World No. 9, he has made very few if any changes to his serve over the years. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?
“That’s something that fortunately for me I picked up at a very early age. I’m sure if I watched footage of myself in college, my serve’s a little bit different,” Isner told ATPWorldTour.com. “But for the most part, maybe I used to move my front foot a little bit. I used to start back, take a step forward. My front foot stays still now. But the overall motion hasn’t changed a bit. I’ve seen footage of me as a freshman in high school, it’s the same serve.”
It has certainly done its job over the years. Isner has led the ATP World Tour in aces six times (2010-13, 2016-17) according to Infosys ATP Scores & Stats, striking over 1,000 aces in a season on five occasions (2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017). That all led him to his 19th ace of the evening against Johnson to reach the extraordinary milestone.
“I’m joining a pretty small club. It’s very cool,” Isner said. “It shows how fortunate I’ve been to be able to stay on the court for this long.”
Only one player, Karlovic, has broken the 11,000-ace mark. The Croatian has hit 12,622 aces in his career. Only the 39-year-old has hit more aces per tour-level match than Isner.
"He has a little bit different serve than me, he stays back more after it so after, he's able to hit his forehands," Karlovic told ATPWorldTour.com. "But it's a pretty similar bounce, pretty similar angles. It's also a really good serve."
The big question is, how has Isner managed to find his best serving under the greatest of pressure? When the American clinched his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title on 1 April at the Miami Open presented by Itaú to become the oldest first-time champion at that level, he did so with an ace.
“When I feel loose, when I’m not thinking and you have a lot of adrenaline,” Isner said. “Adrenaline does everything for you… I can go through a match and not hit a serve over let’s say 132 and then I’m serving for the match and next thing I know I’m in the 140s. That’s just what it does.”
It has worked for Isner for years, and it doesn’t appear he is slowing down. The American is third on the ATP World Tour in aces so far this season.
“If I can reach 10,000,” Isner said. “Hopefully I can get to 11,000.”
As part of Infosys ATP Match Stats, ATP began recording ace tallies in 1991. The tally comprises aces hit in singles main draw matches from ATP World Tour tournaments, Grand Slams and the Olympics (from 2008 on). Aces in Davis Cup competition are not included.