John Isner, More Than Just A Pretty Ace

Former World No. 8 won 16 tour-level singles titles
August 31, 2023
John Isner spent 17 years on the ATP Tour.
ATP Tour/Getty Images
John Isner spent 17 years on the ATP Tour. By Arthur Kapetanakis

John Isner's retirement ends a recurring on-court nightmare for his colleagues on the ATP Tour, who were aced a collective 14,450 times by the American throughout his career. In his final singles match against Michael Mmoh Thursday at the US Open, he fired 48 aces. But no one will be happy to see the all-time ace leader leave.

The 38-year-old has been the ultimate professional since leaving the University of Georgia in 2007, stretching his 6-foot-10 frame to its limits as a stalwart of the game. The No. 1 American in the year-end Pepperstone ATP Rankings for eight of nine years from 2012-20, Isner was also inside the year-end Top 20 for the entirety of the 2010s. He finishes his career with 489 wins among the top 60 in ATP Tour history, bowing out to Mmoh in a fifth-set tie-break.

“Being the top American, I don't know how many years it was, just maintaining my ranking for a very long time, is something I'm very proud of,” said Isner in New York prior to the final event of his career. “I took great pride in the preparation it took day in, day out, year after year after year. I really truly enjoyed that.

“I think I've overachieved. I never imagined myself having this much success for this long… Of course, there's so many matches I wish I could have back, but I prepared in my mind as best as I possibly could for 17 years. I don't have many regrets, that's for sure.”

Gracious and thoughtful both in the press and with his peers, Isner always carried a sense of humour about his serve-dominant game. He was also generous with his time, which will now be spent in his Dallas home alongside his wife Madison and their four young children.

The full Isner gang made the trip to Wimbledon earlier this year, with the American keen for the whole family to experience The Championships before his retirement.

The All England Club has been a special place for the American throughout his career. In his second Wimbledon appearance in 2010, following his maiden ATP Tour title earlier that year in Auckland, Isner played in the longest match in tennis history, beating Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set after 11 hours, five minutes.

John and Maddie Isner with Hunter Grace (4), Hobbs (3), Mack (1 1/2) and Chapel (2 months) at <a href=''>Wimbledon</a>.
John and Maddie Isner with Hunter Grace (4), Hobbs (3), Mack (1 1/2) and Chapel (2 months) at Wimbledon this year.

That iconic match was forever linked with Isner, especially at Wimbledon, but he made more personal history at the event in 2018 by reaching his first major semi-final. That run, which only ended after a 26-24 fifth-set defeat to Kevin Anderson, helped lift him to a career-high Pepperstone ATP Ranking of No. 8,  his rise also aided by his ATP Masters 1000 triumph in Miami earlier that season. Isner capped off his breakthrough 2018 season by making his debut at the Nitto ATP Finals.

By winning Miami just before turning 33, rallying past Alexander Zverev in a three-set final, Isner became the oldest first-time winner of an ATP Masters 100 event. One year later, he came within one match of repeating in South Florida before being turned back by Roger Federer in the 2019 final. Isner reached a total of five Masters 1000 singles finals, also finishing runner-up to Federer at Indian Wells (2012), to Rafael Nadal at Cincinnati (2013) and Andy Murray at Paris (2016).

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In addition to reaching the final at all three ATP Masters 1000 in the United States, Isner also made two quarter-finals at the US Open, in 2011 and 2018. The American never missed his home Grand Slam after making his major debut there and reaching the third round in 2007. In 17 appearances from 2007-23, Isner finished with a 32-15 record in New York, his wins total and 68 per cent win rate at the hard-court major both standing up as his best at the Slams.

Fourteen of Isner's 16 tour-level titles came on home soil, including a record six in Atlanta, where he won his final ATP Tour singles crown in 2021. He also owns a tournament record four singles titles in Newport, as well as two each in Winston-Salem and Auckland and one in Houston.

Isner won another eight ATP Tour titles in doubles, including five at the ATP Masters 1000 level. His big serve and his deceptively soft touch at net, combined with his imposing presence in the frontcourt, helped Isner reach a career-high Pepperstone ATP Doubles Ranking of No. 14 in 2022, when he won the Sunshine Double with Jack Sock (Indian Wells) and Hubert Hurkacz (MiamI). He also reached the Rome final that season, finding success in an unlikely pairing with the 5-foot-7 Diego Schwartzman.

Isner also had a strong 4-1 doubles record at Laver Cup, where he competed in each of the first four editions for Team World. Isner was an equally permanent fixture for the United States Davis Cup team, competing in 18 ties from 2010-21 and notching 15 singles wins and two doubles victories.

“I've had a lot of great moments. A lot of moments not so great," reflected Isner. "Some awesome moments in Davis Cup. I beat Roger Federer in Switzerland one time. That was cool. The court was really bad, bad bounces were everywhere. He didn't like that. I loved it. The worse the court, the better for me!

“It's not so much individual matches that stick out. It's just the memories I have with my friends on Tour. Then the last three, four, five years, my family on Tour. Very special.”

Players Reflect On Isner's Career

Taylor Fritz
"John was the guy basically from when I started playing to until a year or two ago. He was always really nice and really welcoming to all the young American guys like myself and Reilly [Opelka] and Tommy [Paul] when we came on Tour, so it was awesome to have him as our top guy and someone to look up to for all these years."

Hubert Hurkacz
"John was super nice. First time I think I had a warm-up with him, he didn't know who I was. Obviously I knew who he was. It was at Roland Garros, I think it was my first main draw there. He brought so much to the game. He's the best server of all time, and the success that he had, the fighting spirit... He played the longest match that's ever going to [happen].

"I also had the pleasure to play a couple of times doubles with John and he is just such a great guy, such a great person and also really smart and just really nice, really great. It was really great to share some moments, we won some doubles matches together, won a title in Miami. It's just a huge pleasure to know him and he had so much success in his career. It's been a really awesome career for him and just fun to be around him."

Reilly Opelka
"John has been my idol ever since I was a kid, for not the obvious reason. Everyone assumed since we were both similar in size and play a similar style of play, that's why I've always looked up to him, which couldn't be further from the truth. I started watching him for the first time when I was nine years old. And I had no clue, you know, at that age when I was barely able to look over the net, that I would be his height. What I just loved about his game was how tough of a competitor he was and how clutch he was on such big moments and such big points.

"On top of that, he's the most modest guy ever. I remember watching him beat Roddick at the US Open when I was little and it almost looked like he had felt bad that he had beat Andy. After I got to know him, as fierce of a competitor as he is, he's one of the nicest people I've ever met and I couldn't have asked for a better role model. I'm going to miss having the GOAT bot on tour."

J.J. Wolf
"John was one of my idols growing up. I remember watching him play in the Cincinnati final and just cheering as loud as I could for him. Him kind of being able to be one of my mentors now when I'm playing has been a dream come true for me. He's the nicest guy I've ever met. One of the most unbelievable athletes and he's just an overall great guy."

Steve Johnson
"John Isner is someone that I've looked up to since I was a kid, going into college. Following someone that took the same path that I did to get to the professional tours was super meaningful to me. John, even at such a young age in my professional career, he always helped mentor me, gave me advice, things that he did, things that worked for him and whatnot. So, for me, he was somebody that I first and foremost looked up to and took his advice.

"It was very serious to me, because he had done it and done it successfully. And I've been super lucky the past 10, 12, 15 years to get to know him, to call him one of my closest friends, to see how he goes about his business on the inside, how much of a true professional he is in this sport. And the longevity of his career really speaks for that. So, it's been an absolute pleasure battling and playing against John. I've played with him, against him, watched many of his matches. It's just something that I'm extremely proud of, to call him a friend, and [he is] someone that has held the flag high for American tennis for the better part of the last decade.

"Now I get to enjoy the big guy off the court a bit more. Hopefully, we get more time to just spend away from the courts with the family and the kids and kind of see this next chapter of our lives. So thank you, John, for all you've done in this sport and for me personally. You're a true American legend of this game, and I can't thank you enough for all you did. Thanks, buddy."

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