First Ball In, 7/25: The Isner Perplex

Friday, July 25, 2014 /by
Former University of Georgia standout John Isner is into the weekend at the BB&T Atlanta Open. (AP Photo)
Former University of Georgia standout John Isner is into the weekend at the BB&T Atlanta Open. (AP Photo)

Watching John Isner serve can create conflicting feelings in fellow tennis players, depending on which side of the court we imagine ourselves to be on. If you imagine yourself trying to return it, you might wonder, as so many of Isner’s opponent’s surely have, whether the rules of tennis are as fair as they might be. Should we really get two serves? Isner erases all of your hard work with one swing of his racquet. Even against players much more accomplished than he is, that shot alone allows him to remain in control at all times.

But if you imagine yourself serving, Isner shows you how easy the shot, which in reality is the game’s most complicated and difficult, can look. By the time he reaches up to smack the ball at its apex—what, nine, 10 feet in the air?—he appears to be halfway to the net already. From up there, it looks as if he can reach over and place the ball on the other side of the net, wherever he wants it to go. 

On Friday morning, while waiting for a court at my tennis club, I watched Isner beat Robbie Ginepri in a rerun on Tennis Channel. The big man saved a match point at 4-5 in the third with an ace, held serve in that game with a second-serve ace that left Ginepri doubled over in frustration, and held for the match at 6-5 with four more aces. On the last one, Ginepri, shell-shocked, could only wave at a simple slice serve from Isner down the T. Isner broke Ginepri’s serve just once, but he broke his spirit with his own serve. 

When I went out to play a few minutes later, unknowingly inspired by Isner, I found myself serving with a more relaxed motion. It worked, for a set anyway, and also made me wonder if I shouldn’t keep video clips of great shots—Isner’s serve, Federer’s forehand, Li Na’s backhand—with me to look at on changeovers.

Either way, tennis fans will probably be seeing quite a bit of Isner over the next five or six weeks. I know he’s not the most popular player around here. May I suggest, if you want to improve your own game, watching him serve—and then closing your eyes until the next point begins.

*****

OOP Analysis

See Saturday's Order of Play for Umag here, Gstaad here, Atlanta here, and Baku here. It's semifinal day in all four places.

Marin Cilic vs. Tommy Robredo: A quality semi—Cilic leads their head to head 3-2

John Isner vs. Jack Sock: The U.S. No. 1 vs. the U.S. player who looks most poised for a breakthrough. Isner is 4-1 in their head to head, but Sock won their last match, in Newport, earlier this month.

Fernando Verdaso vs. Pablo Andujar: Verdasco pulled off an impressive double on Friday, beating Struff and Troicki in one day to make the semis. His secret? The man known to himself as FeVer said that after he lost the second set to Troicki, he went into the bathroom and let out 10 or 15 good long screams.

Elina Svitolina vs. Francesca Schiavone: One of the bigger age gaps you’ll see in tennis—Schiavone is 34, Svitolina 19. They’ve never played before.

*****

For Further Watching

It hasn’t been the best week for tennis journalists. We found out that one of the best and best-known among us, Neil Harman, had been plagiarizing his colleagues’ work in Wimbledon's yearbook, and that he has resigned from the International Tennis Writers’ Association, been suspended from his job at the Times, and even shut down his Twitter account. The reporting on the story, by Deadspin, Private Eye, The Changeover, and especially Ben Rothenberg in Slate, was essential, and the punishment was justified and inevitable. Sadly, though, for the many of us who like Neil, the game won’t be quite as fun if he’s not around it in the future. 

With that in mind, I will offer the video below as a Friday pick me up. Delpo is hitting backhands again:

Have a good weekend.

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