The lifeblood of American tennis has been in a sustained state of anemia since the disappearance of days dominated by men known sufficiently only by their last names, such as Agassi and Sampras.
However, after his performance at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, John Isner is poised to win a Major in 2012, as well as be the regenerating player that American tennis has long sought.
The result this past Sunday against the surging Swiss Roger Federer—a 7-6 (7), 6-3 loss in the final—was not so much the most relevant takeaway for Isner, as his play throughout the tournament and appearance with a shot to compete in the final was revelatory.
Thus far in 2012, having already competed in his first ATP Masters 1000 Final—and cracking the top 10—it looks like Isner’s emboldened mantra displayed on his web page is undeniably accurate: John Isner—The Future is Now.
As such, here are five reasons why the American can make a serious run at capturing the first major of his career in 2012.
Being known as the man who competed in and won the longest match in Wimbledon history is a significant achievement, but not one that Isner would like to top his list of accomplishments at the conclusion of his tennis career.
Being involved in such an unrelenting undertaking implies by its duration that both men were unable to finish such a match at various intervals, including the man who ultimately finished the victor, Isner.
In the early stages of the current calendar campaign, Isner has defeated two of the top three players in the world, in significant competitions. This includes his semifinal defeat of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic during his run at Indian Wells and a victory in February over No. 3 Roger Federer, on the latter’s home turf in Switzerland, in Davis Cup action.
Each of the above mentioned victories represented the first career wins for Isner over Djokovic and Federer, and the Davis Cup win coincidentally was the first singles loss for the salient Swiss in eight years of competing in the Cup.
Regardless of the repercussions that Djokovic and Federer take away from such defeats, the residuals for a player on the rise like Isner after such wins are copious indeed—not only from a short-term confidence standpoint of being able to compete with and finish off such titans of tennis stature, but in the long term it means that Isner’s path of progression is validated with such prolific wins.
Granted, getting into a confrontation with these players in a Grand Slam is a whole different beast. It is important that Isner realizes his ability to play a consistent match from start to finish against them and ultimately understand the sensation of meeting them across the net for the conclusive handshake as a winner.
Isner has been steadily climbing towards the top of the rankings crest since his arrival on the professional scene in the summer of 2007, when he started out ranked No. 839. By the end of the 2007 tennis calendar, he had already surged to No. 107 in the world, including an impressive inaugural run at the US Open where he lost in the third round to Roger Federer, taking a set off the eventual champion in the process.
Despite a setback in 2009 where he dropped to No. 144 in the world, by the end of 2010, he had reasserted himself climbing 110 spots to No. 34. He was named the ATP Most Improved Player, becoming the first American tennis player to secure the award since Andre Agassi over a decade before, in 1998.
In 2010, Isner continued his rankings ascent, finishing in the top 20 for the first time in his career, by ending the year at No. 19 and then climbing one more spot to No. 18 in 2011. Currently ranked at No. 10, he and Mardy Fish, at No. 8, are the only Americans in the top 30 in the world.
Isner's incline in the rankings is made more impressive by the fact that he devoted three years of his tennis life to getting an education and playing as an amateur at the University of Georgia. It is also indicative of a consistent drive that is not as evident in other more-hyped but less productive American players like Donald Young.
It is possible, based on his current level of play, that by the French Open in late May, Isner could be within distance of a top-five ranking. If he is able to put together strong showings at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, as well as some of the clay court tuneups, the current point differential between the current No. 5 David Ferrer (4,700 pts) and Isner (2675 pts) could shrink significantly.
In his career to date, Isner's previous highest finish at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event was in last year's Paris Masters. He made it to the semifinals before losing to eventual runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga despite having three match points on the Frenchman.
Advancing to the finals in the first Masters 1000 event of the year—and in the process defeating the world No. 1, defending champion Novak Djokovic—is proof of Isner's dedication to not only competing in these events, but being in a position to win one this year.
Similar results in upcoming events, starting with the Sony Ericsson in Miami, can only help enhance Isner's confidence level at the remaining three Grand Slams in 2012.
A recent historical template for the ways in which early match success and a continually honed arsenal, along with burgeoning confidence, can result in monumental results, was Novak Djokovic's 2011 season. Although it would be impossible to replicate for Isner, it could at lease be emulated, to produce career-year type results.
Following the recent final against Federer and the tournament that buoyed him into the top-10 in the world, Isner remained clear-sighted in his forward moving approach to the rest of the year.
"I'm going to remember this one for a long time, so getting into the top 10 is nice," Isner said. "The hard thing now is staying inside of the top 10. That's what I've got to work on."
This is the kind of sound byte that is reflective of a player who has catapulted from being ranked No. 839 at the beginning of his professional career to his current No. 10 status, and these words will surely serve as a slogan for the extensive campaign that lies ahead for the hard-serving colossus.
After reaching the quarters in the 2011 US open before losing to Andy Murray in four sets, the last Grand Slam of the 2012 season represents the most ideal setting for Isner to break through in a major.
Throughout his career to date, the Queens, NY-based Slam has been the site of Isner's most consistent results of all the four majors. Since his unexpected run in his initial US Open in '07, he has been a sentimental favorite, even in comparison to other American players in recent years.
If his current success rate is sustainable, even in spite of his potential showings at the French and Wimbledon, by the time late August rolls around, Isner should be poised to add a deep run in New York to his current list of firsts on the season