Isner's Biggest Win Yet: Fatherhood
The 2018 ATP Tour season was the best of 33-year-old John Isner’s career. It was a year of firsts for the American: he became the oldest first-time ATP Masters 1000 champion in Miami, earned his maiden qualification for the Nitto ATP Finals and finished inside the year-end Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time.
But none of those accomplishments were the most important to him. That’s because on 15 September 2018, his wife, Madison, gave birth to their daughter, Hunter Grace.
“That’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve experienced, ever. Being a father, anyone who’s a father or mother out there could probably tell you that it’s pretty amazing,” Isner said. “Watching our daughter develop, it just seems like it’s been something new every single day and it’s been amazing. She’s five months now and so it’s pretty remarkable. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my life or my wife’s life.”
At the time, Isner still had plenty to play for. The 14-time ATP Tour champion was ninth in the ATP Race To London after the US Open. He didn’t play the Asian Swing to stay with his family, but a spot at The O2 was still on the line.
“It was pretty hard [getting back into tennis mode], actually. I didn’t go to Asia. That of course was an easy decision because I’d been going there for a very long time. I wasn’t about to leave my wife at home and I missed Davis Cup as well,” Isner said. “But once she was born, I still had a few weeks at home to get back into the swing of things. Duty unfortunately did have to call. It was pretty tough the first week on the road away from my family. That was the most difficult.”
But Isner broke through, and the rest is history. Now, it has all began to settle in for the American: not only is he trying to back up a career year, but he’s a dad, too.
“He’s such a great father. He just loves being with little Hunter and Maddy, so it’s going to be a big help to him as he does the last quarter of his career or whatever. He’s always going to have that great sense of peace and purpose from being a father,” said Isner’s coach, David Macpherson. “Tennis is a pressure-cooker and he’s accomplished a lot of great things and he wants to keep striving to do better, but when you have a baby, it gives you great perspective as well. That’s going to be a big help for his tennis.”
At the Australian Open, Isner was upset in the first round by compatriot and fellow big-server Reilly Opelka. But while he still takes his losses hard, he had his wife and daughter in tow, softening the blow.
“I definitely had a tough loss there [in Melbourne], but getting to go back to see a smiling baby that you love very much is pretty special,” Isner said.
Macpherson wants Isner to help use that to his advantage, both off the court and on it. If the 6’10” right-hander can keep the tennis in perspective, remembering who he has waiting for him off the court, that could help his performance.
“He’s hard on himself when he loses, as all champions are. But I’d like to see him gain even more perspective. Sometimes you can be too hard on yourself, be too negative, be too gloomy, when the difference between winning and losing so often is really a very small margin,” Macpherson said. “Champions always burn when they lose, but I’d like to see him just continue to be easy on himself and enjoy his tennis.”
Judging by Isner’s 2018, the American has plenty of tennis left in him. So with new inspiration, he hopes to keep showing just that and more in the new season.
“I had a good year last year. I had some big results, which is important. I would have liked to have been more consistent last year. That’s something I’m going to try to do better this year as well,” Isner said. "But now that I’ve finished inside the Top 10 and I’m 33, turning 34 in April, I still physically feel great… with how I feel physically I think this year could be another good year. So I’m going to try to build off what I did in 2018.”