John Isner, like the initial Apple iPhone, has become increasingly outdated and less likely to keep pace each of the last few years, but an upgrade appears underway.
Why does the top-ranked American man and the No. 14 player in the World need to improve?
Isner has developed a reputation for expending too much unnecessary energy in early rounds of tournaments, and playing down to his competition—a far stretch from 2009.
Since then, the big man has won some minor titles, but has slowly started to fade off the radar of many American fans.
2013 will be the most pivotal year of Isner's career, and it remains to be seen if he will take a step forward or a step backward, but he will not be same man by the time the U.S. Open rolls around.
Isner's first step in improving his game was to change the blueprint to his success entirely, and hire a new coach.
New face in the Isner Box
Craig Boynton out, Micheal Sell in.
Fans can be sold by Sell, because like Isner, Sell was a four-year Georgia Bulldog tennis player. The 27-year-old feels that Sell's tutelage will be a welcome change to help him prevent plateauing.
“I had a great run with Craig, learned a lot and felt like I improved every year,” Isner said in an e-mail. “I just felt like it was time for a different voice. CB and I will remain great friends, and he will always be someone I can go to for help or advice.”
Sell has also worked with American's Mardy Fish and Donald Young, but Isner's skill-set and potential gives Sell a bigger canvas to work with—not just literally.
The coaching change makes a lot of sense on paper, but the two former Bulldogs must be able to execute and sustain a more efficient game-plan in 2013.
Ultimately, the blueprint for his success will manifest itself in how he beats opponents—recognizing when he needs to pull the reigns back on his physical gifts, and outsmart the other guy.
The fear of joining the fraternity of recent American men who's legacy is that they kept fans holding their breath should be a major factor in propelling Isner to raise his game.
This country's fans don't want another Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent, Jan-Michael Gambill, Mardy Fish, Sam Querry, Donald Young or James Blake.
Perseverance and Patience
Not only is Isner one of the biggest guys on the ATP Tour, but he is a late bloomer—two things that work in his favor with American fans.
His imposing figure coupled with his untapped potential still has tennis enthusiasts in his corner pulling for him.
His meteoric rise that took off in 2009 has since flattened out a bit, but as Isner puts it, fans need to exercise a little more patience with the big guys.
"Big guys take longer to develop," he said. "For me it's just doing some improving every year. I still need to get stronger."
"And then doing the things to tailor my game to each surface. For example, on grass, I need to get lower because the ball doesn't bounce as high, it skids. On grass you want to be aggressive, you don't want to play long, drawn-out points. The attacking player usually wins."
It's encouraging statements like that by the North Carolina native that should have fans excited for an Isner that is a year older.
Ultimately, he has to do those things in addition to just saying them, but it's still premature for fans to cast Isner as another American to fall short.
Scheduling and Consistency
Every player struggles with bouts of consistency, and not due to a lack of effort, Isner admits how puzzled he is for the reason of his inconsistencies of late.
“I was consistent in 2010 but not last year and not this,” he said. “I’m not sure why.”
A fair rationalization for Isner's lack of consistency is his poor awareness of scheduling and traveling to tournaments. This is often overlooked, but it clearly factors into separating the good from the great—exhibit A—Roger Federer.
“Scheduling is very important,” Isner admitted. “The top guys like Roger Federer scheduled themselves best. I overscheduled myself this summer. I made seven trips to Europe this year what with Davis Cup and the Olympics. That’s too much.”
Considering Isner hiring a new coach, his reflection on the little things he needs to do to get better and his overall maturity, he should be on the radar of every American fan in 2013.
The anticipated rise of Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison will only push Isner to keep as much separation between them for as long as he can.
Fans can find solace in the fact that things haven't truly clicked for Isner yet, and when he figures out the mental and physical balance of this silly game, watch out.
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