WIMBLEDON, England — It could be said that John Isner is a late bloomer when it comes to breaking out in his tennis career.
In the past six months, the 33-year-old has won the most prestigious title of the 13 in his career at the Miami Masters in March. And now, in his 12th year on tour, Isner’s journeyed to his first career Grand Slam semifinal where he’ll play South African Kevin Anderson on Friday.
Also new to Isner is his changed marital status. He married his wife, Madison, in December, and they are expecting their first child, a daughter, at the end of the year.
Standing a lanky 6-10, Isner’s games’ always been dominated by his serve, which is similar for Anderson. That fact made many think Wimbledon’s grass courts would be an ideal surface for Isner, but until this year the grass played faster, which made covering the court more challenging for someone so tall.
This year, the grass is playing slower, and the ball is bouncing higher, providing better conditions for the lone American left in the men’s draw. He’s used that to his advantage, putting up statistics that would make anyone believe Isner’s well positioned to win the title.
Of course, that’s ignoring the fact that either 17-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal or 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic will advance to Sunday’s final.
Take Isner’s serve. In five rounds, Isner’s served the most aces of any competitor at 160, including 25 in his 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4, 6-3 quarterfinal win over 13th-seeded Milos Raonic on Wednesday.
If you look at it in technical terms, with only four points required to win a game at love, Isner’s ace count could’ve added up to 40 games won. Even with that being a highly unlikely development, it still adds up to a lot of free points.
Perhaps an even more impressive statistic is that Isner heads into the semifinal with a 100 percent winning record in 95 service games at this Wimbledon.
“This is amazing,” Isner said. “It’s by far the best Grand Slam I’ve ever played in my career. I’m super happy. To do it here at Wimbledon makes it even a little bit more special.
“Certainly I’m definitely surprised to be in the semifinals now. But with how I’ve played this whole tournament, it’s not that surprising.”
For most tennis fans, Isner is thought of as the guy who was the survivor of the longest match in tennis history, which took place in the 2010 Wimbledon first round. Isner eventually won the 11-hour, 5-minute marathon that spanned three days 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 over Nicolas Mahut of France.
Despite that distinction, Isner doesn’t enjoy universal popularity with tennis fans on social media. Part of the problem seems to be that it’s known Isner’s political leanings tend towards conservative. In fact, after his fourth-round match Monday he was asked if he would like President Donald Trump, who was going to be in London later in the week, to come watch him play.
Isner responded: “Certainly. I’d love to have Trump come watch me. That would be awesome. Maybe I’ll tweet at him if I win on Wednesday. I know a lot of people won’t like that, but I don’t care.”
Politics, however, doesn’t seem to receive much focus on the tour, and Isner gets along well with the other players. And within the sport, Isner’s charitable work gets way more attention than his politics.
Isner’s made it his personal mission to raise money for the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, where his mother, Karen, was treated twice for colon cancer, and is now cancer-free.
Good deeds and political preferences are hardly on Isner’s mind at the moment with a Wimbledon semifinal looming.
There is a unique aspect to his semifinal match with Anderson that is rarely seen in today’s game. Both forged a path to the pros via college tennis. Isner was a Georgia Bulldog from 2004-07, Anderson a Fighting Illini from 2005-07.
The last Grand Slam semifinal contested between two players who attended college happened here at Wimbledon in 1996. Malivai Washington, a Michigan Wolverine, defeated Todd Martin, a Northwestern Wildcat, to reach his lone Grand Slam final.
The last time a Grand Slam final featured two players who spent time in college was at Wimbledon in 1984. John McEnroe, a Stanford Cardinal, defeated Jimmy Connors, a UCLA Bruin.
McEnroe and Connors spent only one year at their respective schools, and both emerged as NCAA singles title holders.
Isner believes his history with Anderson, which dates back to college, could have an impact on the semifinal.
“There could be a little mental aspect in our match,” Isner suggested. “I say that because our rivalry goes back way before the pro tour. We played each other in college probably three, four, five times.
“For me, this matchup, and I think for him as well, is especially cool. It’s a very nice spotlight on college tennis, that one of us, no matter what, is going to be playing in the Wimbledon final.”