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    Biofile with Tennis Newcomer John Isner
    by Scoop Malinowski - Sunday, August 5, 2007

    Biofile: The John Isner Interview

    Photo By Getty Images


    His courtside chair is not a rocking chair, he represents the ATP rather than the AARP, with only two Tour level matches to his credit he's hardly a senior statesman on court and at the age of 22 he's still young enough to get carded in some states yet John Isner has already made his mark as an established tennis Grandpa.

    The Greensboro, NC native's methodical manner off court earned him a unique nickname in college: Grandpa.

    "In college I was Grandpa, and it's because I just do everything so slowly, like getting ready to go out or fixing my hair," Isner says with a smile. "I take so long, just get spaced out sometimes."

    When the 6-foot-9 Isner launches into one of his lethal serves the ball becomes a blur looking as large as a ping pong ball dropped off the side of a satellite. Isner cracked 30 aces against only two double faults to defeat eighth-seeded Benjamin Becker, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(6) in Wednesday's second-round match of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC.

    That memorable victory came 24 hours after Isner stunned four-time Wimbledon semifinalist Tim Henman, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) in the opening round in just the second ATP Tour match of his career. In beating 2003 tournament champion Henman, Isner delivered 18 aces, including a 141 mph missile, saved two of the three break points he faced and surrendered only eight points on serve in the match leaving Henman feeling a bit like a target trapped in the wrong end of a shooting gallery.

    "You can't really give away too many opportunities on your serve because he's capable of serving that well for a long period of time," Henman said.

    Isner, who only gained entry into the main draw when Fernando Gonzalez withdrew from the tournament, takes on qualifier Wayne Odesnik on the grandstand court today for a spot in Friday's quarterfinals.

    It has been a rapid rise for the all-time winningest singles and doubles player in the University of Georgia’s tennis history. Just two months ago, Isner led the Bulldogs to the NCAA title, a moment he calls "my greatest tennis memory so far" and now the 416th-ranked Isner stands one win removed from a place in the final eight of his second career ATP tournament.

    Growing up in North Carolina, Isner was not exactly a tennis fanatic. In fact, he did not begin playing competitive tennis until age 11 and seldom watched the sport on television. While his future opponents may have spent their spare time watching Agassi and Sampras, instead, Isner's interests centered around the pursuits of the Snake and the Mailman: Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and Jazz power forward Karl Malone.

    "Gosh, to tell you the truth, I didn't really watch tennis growing up that much," Isner says. "[I was] always a big fan of Jack Delhomme...I always admired Karl Malone."

    An avid poker player and fisherman, Isner has showed a steady hand under the pressure of two successive third-set tiebreaks in beating Becker and Henman. He recently relocated to Tampa where he's practiced with both James Blake and Mardy Fish.

    Scoop Malinowski, who once went toe-to-toe with another heavy hitter — former heavyweight boxer Big John Tate — and is in Washington covering the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, caught up with Isner after his victory over Becker for this Biofile interview.

    (Note: Isner went on to win third set tiebreak matches against Wayne Odesnik, world #12 Tommy Haas, Gael Monfils before losing in the finals to Andy Roddick on Sunday 6-4 7-6. In just his second ATP tournament Isner won five matches - all in third set tiebreaks - an unofficial professional tennis record.)

    Childhood Heroes: "Gosh, to tell you the truth I didn't really watch tennis growing up that much. I loved — I followed the Carolina Panthers. Always a big fan of Jake Delhomme. That was when I was a little bit older. I guess, growing up, for some reason I was always a huge fan of the Utah Jazz. I always admired Karl Malone, he was always my favorite player for whatever reason. But right now I'm paying more and more attention to tennis because it's the sport I'm entering now on the pro level. For me it's Roger Federer, he just does it all and he's brought so much to this game."

    Nicknames: "In college I was Grandpa, and it's because I just do everything so slowly, like getting ready to go out or fixing my hair, I take so long, just get spaced out sometimes [smiles]. Then Lloyd. I got a really bad haircut one time, it just went straight across (his forehead) and I looked like Lloyd Christmas from Dumb & Dumber [smiles]."

    Hobbies/Interests: "Off the court, I like to play poker. I love to fish. I like to play golf whenever I can. And pretty much watch sports all day also [smiles]. Whenever I'm watching TV, it's always on SportsCenter."

    Favorite Non-Tennis Sports To Watch: "Hockey and football."

    Favorite Movies: "Gotta go with Rudy. And I really liked 300."

    Favorite TV Shows: "Around The Horn on ESPN [smiles]. Curb Your Enthusiasm. And The Sopranos."

    Musical Tastes: "Country and classic rock. (Name a few names.) George Strait, Alan Jackson, Allman Brothers, Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller."

    Last Book Read: "Was The DaVinci Code. Actually two months ago. I was really late, the only one who hadn't read it. So I decided to pick it up. I need to get a new (book). I need to start reading more. It's been two months since I read a book."

    First Tennis Memory: "I guess my first big tennis memory was winning the national doubles in the 18s (with Dabir). First tennis memory I really can't remember. I started kind of late. (How old?) About, I started playing competitively when I was 11 or 12."

    Pre-Match Feeling: "I don't think about much. I try not to think about tennis. I just try to get away from everything. Go through my routine. Try to stick to the same routine every time and just relax before the match and take my mind off the tennis. Then when I get out there it's all tennis from there."

    Favorite Meal: "It's gotta be steak, sweet potato, vegetables and like salad."

    Favorite Breakfast Cereal: "Wheaties."

    First Job: "Working construction with my dad."

    First Car:  "Chevy Blazer (blue)."

    Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: "Butter pecan."

    Greatest Sports Moment: "In college, in May we won the national championship as a team. That's my greatest tennis memory so far, just winning that. In Georgia, with all our fans there, that was awesome. This week — I would put it right behind that. This week, so far, beating Tim and beating Benjamin — my greatest tennis moments. These have been the biggest matches of my life and my career."

    Most Painful Moment: "Losing the NCAA singles championship, 7-6 in the third (to Dev Varman)."

    Funny Tennis Memory: "This past May we were up 3-0 in the team championship, in the race to four. And our guy on court 4 — we thought he had won it all — and he really was only at 30-love — and we all started celebrating — our coach, our no. 2 and no. 3 players. It was awful. It was so embarrassing. The match was still going on. I can't imagine what would have happened if the guy had come back."

    Favorite Players To Watch: "Federer. I've actually become pretty good friends with James Blake and Mardy Fish. Whenever those guys are on I enjoy watching them because they're pretty good friends of mine. (Practice with them before this week?) Yes. I've moved down to Tampa, that's where they live, that's where they're based out of. I hang out with them, off the court too. So they're great guys."

    Funniest Player Encountered: "Mardy [smiles]. Mardy Fish has got a great sense of humor. (What is it about him? A lot of players say him.) He'll give you crap in a good way. He's just a really funny guy. If you do something stupid he'll always remind you of it. He gives you crap about little things but it's all in good fun."

    People Qualities Most Admired: "Honesty. I like competitiveness. I like intensity, on, say, the tennis court or on the football field. On anything. I love great team leaders who I really admire. I love watching football and hockey. Leadership and intensity I'd say."

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    Biofile: The Carlos Moya Interview
    Biofile: The Paul-Henri Mathieu Interview
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    Biofile: The Elena Dementieva Interview

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    Scoop Malinowski created the Biofile interview in 1992. Scoop is a Tennisweek.com contributor, noted boxing expert and accomplished recreational tennis player who has competed in the USTA Nationals and the National Public Parks Championships at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. He captured the 2006 Tennis Week.com singles title with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory over one of tennis journalism's top players, Dan Markowitz, surprisingly smashing only two racquets in the process. His previous features for Tennis Week include Has Nadal Conquered Federer?, Marcelo Rios: The Man We Barely Knew, Players Make The Call On Commentators, The Jimmy Connors Interview. Please check out his redesigned web site www.thebiofile.com to read Biofiles of Cal Ripken, Jr., Roger Federer and Miss Latina International.




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