When you think of dedicated athletes, John Isner comes to mind. Once ranked the number eight tennis player in the world with 16 career titles under his belt, Isner is a legend on and off the court. His commitment to tennis, philanthropy, and family has solidified him as one of today’s superstars in the sports community. On December 5th, Isner will accept the World Hospitality Award at the 2021 American Group Travel Awards gala at the Nobu Hotel in South Beach Miami. HotelPlanner, a leading group and individual travel technology platform, created the American Group Travel Awards Gala to honor the best in group travel, and all net proceeds will benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Reimagining Group Travel” will be this year’s gala theme to honor group travel planners in the ever-changing post pandemic era. Impact Wealth Magazine sat down with Isner to discuss his acceptance of the award, along with his latest ventures on and off the court.
Q: What are you most looking forward to and what does it mean to you to be accepting the World Hospitality Award at the 2021 American Group Travel Awards in Miami on Dec. 5th?
A: It’s a super amazing honor for me. And a year ago, I never would have envisioned myself as the recipient, but I’ve been lucky enough to create a relationship with Tim Hentschel, the CEO of HotelPlanner. It’s a great opportunity for me to get down there and I’m very excited to be a part of it.
Q: How did you get involved with HotelPlanner as a Brand and Hospitality Ambassador?
A: Tim Hentschel, the CEO and avid tennis fan, connected with me on Twitter and we struck up a relationship. We created this cool campaign where his company gives out $100 for each ace I hit along with hotel vouchers to people that play along with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The hope is that I eventually break the all-time record for career aces. And if that happens, one lucky person will get $10,000 in hotel vouchers, which is a great opportunity to reward my fans.
Q: What are you most proud of with the Isner Family Foundation and its commitment to cancer treatment efforts?
A: When I moved to Dallas and got settled here with my wife and three children, I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people and got my name out and started the Isner Family Foundation in February 2020. Due to the pandemic we had to pause many of the events we were planning but now we are back up and running. This is something that I’m looking forward to doing while I’m still playing. When I’m not playing professional tennis, we have a great partnership with the with Children’s Hospital in Dallas and will help many children with their cancer treatments.
A: One thing I’ve learned throughout my whole life, and especially in my professional career, is that the losses really do hurt a lot, and I wish sometimes that I can get some of the matches back and replay them. There have been many sleepless nights in my career where I have been in a weird country far away from home and I lost a match that day that I felt like I should have won and it’s very difficult to swallow. But the flip side of that, I’ve had great results and great wins. I think I’ve definitely matured and maybe it’s helped a little bit but it’s a tough line, but one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Q: Is there any particular win or loss that has really caused you to grow or is memorable?
A: The match I lost in the semi finals at Wimbledon was a long five set match. I was inches away from making the finals of Wimbledon to give myself a chance to win a Grand Slam. I fell short there, but I was proud of how I competed. I’ve had a lot of a lot of good wins as well. The Miami 2018 win sticks out to me as it was a very big tournament full of all the best players in the world and I emerged victorious at the end.
Q: Who have been the most influential individuals in your life and why?
A: I grew up with two incredible parents that encouraged me to play tennis and go after what I what I wanted to do. They encouraged me to work and train hard while balancing my studies as well. My mom was the one that was schlepping me around to towns in Georgia and Arkansas to compete in junior tennis, increase my ranking and get on the college radars. My mom almost lost her life to cancer when I was a freshman in college. Luckily she was able to persevere and is an amazing inspiration to me, because no matter what I do on the tennis court, it pales in comparison to what she went through fighting for her life, and she will always be my hero forever.
Coach Manny Diaz at the University of Georgia was also a huge help to me, because I didn’t have pro aspirations until my junior year of college, and he pushed me each and every day. In college I learned how to be professional and take care of myself the right way, which in the long run adds up to be a lot. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great people on my side.
Q: These days we are starting to hear a lot about the mental aspect of the game. There was the Mardy Fish documentary that discusses his issues with mental health issues and there is Naomi Osaka. I understand in tennis there is a lot of pressure. What makes competing on the professional circuit that much more taxing and how have you been able to cope with the increased pressure?
A: It’s very, very hard. This an individual sport, you’re a Gladiator on that court, all by yourself. If you’re not having your best day, you’re probably going to lose and you don’t have other teammates on the court to hide what you’re feeling out there. All eyes are on you when you’re on the court, from people on the street and the stadium to people on TV and there’s nowhere to hide. People cope with pressure in many different ways, and it has taken a toll on me too, and there have been some times where I’ve been super down on myself. You have to pick yourself back up as best as you can and truly believe that there are going to be some better days ahead. I have gone on three, four or five match losing streaks, and you just really feel down in the dumps and you’re worried about your ranking dropping while constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve on the professional tour. It’s as taxing physically as it is taxing mentally.
Q: What are your mental tactics for staying in control when competing?
A: Over the years, there’s been so many times where I’ve just quite simply cracked under the pressure. I think the most important thing is knowing that there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of about losing and cracking under pressure. But I realize that no matter how well I compete, I can’t really control the result of the match. I have to put the best version of myself out there on the court and hope and trust that it’s going to be good enough. But if it’s not, that’s okay.
Q: Did you always want to be a tennis player or were there any other passions you had in life that would have led you in a different direction?
A: No, I did not always want to be a tennis player. I’m almost seven feet tall and basketball was a huge part of my life until I was about 14 or 15 years old. I was a pretty good basketball player as well as a tennis player, but I had to choose one sport. I didn’t really have professional aspirations until I was a junior in college. I always thought that after college I would break into sports journalism whether it’s hockey, football, basketball, baseball, that is my passion.
Q: What was the x factor for you in college to take tennis to the next level?
A: During my freshman year at the University of Georgia, I hurt my back, which kept me out for a few months and I missed a lot of matches and did not play 100% and I let my team down. I told myself that I did not want that to ever happen again, and I flipped the switch. A lot of it had to do with what my mom was going through. After my freshman year, I became very focused and dedicated to my craft. I rarely ever take a complete day off where I don’t exercise or try to improve myself in some way, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since which has served me very well.
Q: Do you think the sport of tennis is losing its best athletes to other sports? As you said basketball might have been an option for you. What are your thoughts?
A: Absolutely, I think there has to be a way to get the stigma off of tennis that it’s a country club, elite sport. It has to be more accessible to more kids around the country. Many kids growing up are not dreaming to be professional tennis players, but NBA, NFL or baseball players, and tennis in America is falling behind in that regard. It’s just about getting rackets in the hands of kids at a very young age in America. One of the reasons why you’re seeing the Europeans dominate in tennis, is because tennis is the second most popular sport in Europe behind soccer. I don’t think we will get back to the days of the 1980s or 90s, where you have five Americans in the top 10 in the world rankings, but I think we can get back to a better place than we have been in the last 10 years.
Q: What do you feel is the trick to serving the perfect ace?
A: Being my height does help, but my serve is something I’ve always worked on. It will always be my best shot but there’s a lot that goes into it and a lot of repetitions. My service motion in my opinion is one of the best there is and I have a very natural service motion which has been a very big boom for my career.
Q: When you step on the tennis court what goes through your mind initially?
A: Nowadays I have a pretty good perspective on things, I think maybe now I take to the court with a lot more appreciation because tennis for my life is certainly secondary. Whereas 10 years ago, it wasn’t. The most important thing I have going for me is my family, which is my main focus all the time and also a huge blessing. I try to remind myself of that each and every time I take the court and tell myself that this is not life or death, win or lose, everything will be alright, and I think that that’s helped me. Win or lose, I have an amazing wife and three amazing kids at home, and that’s what I always can come home to. I’m very blessed to be in the position that I’m in right now.
Q: A lot of people want to know, what was it like handling the nerves in one of the longest tennis matches in history at the 2010 Wimbledon that lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes?
A: Truthfully that match was a literal nightmare to play in, because it was just so physically and mentally taxing. It was brutal to be a part of and it really messed me up quite a bit afterwards. I was a wreck mentally and physically. It was an incredibly special match to be a part of, and somehow I was able to persevere in the end. I don’t think it was because of my opponent giving in by any means. I was just very proud of how I competed because that was a first round match, and to come out on the right side of that match is something that I’m certainly very proud of.
Q: What are some of the life lessons that tennis has taught you?
A: There are a lot of things that I sacrificed in junior tennis, but it is an important life lesson to learn that you can’t always get what you want. You have to go out there and work at what you want to be good at and learn to sacrifice a lot of things along the way. Find out what’s important to you and how much you want it and just go after it, make the tough decisions that you will have to live with.
Q: If you could make any changes to junior tennis and the development of American tennis players what would it be?
A: I think there’s a lot of talk about how the rankings have changed over the years in Junior Tennis and you can be rewarded for not playing. I think there should be some reform to the ranking system that could help and encourage players to play more instead of trying to protect their ranking otherwise.
Q: Of all the matches you have played, who is your favorite adversary you played against? And what moment of your career did you love the most?
A: Playing against Roger Federer has been the coolest because when you see your name on the schedule you know you’re going to be on the big court which will be absolutely packed. It is also an incredible opportunity to go out there and try to be the greatest player of all time. I played him 12 times, and was able to beat him twice. The moment when you step on the court against Federer, it’s just a little bit different.
Q: Congratulations on the birth of your third child this past week. What has fatherhood taught you?
A: Fatherhood has been amazing, it can be very exhausting when you have a three and a two-year-old with a new newborn running around, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. My wife and I realize how lucky we are to have this family and we want to raise them in the best way possible.
Q; Do you want your kids to be involved with tennis?
A: I would love for my kids to be involved with tennis, especially for my daughter. I think women’s tennis can open up a lot of great avenues. I would encourage them to follow their passions, whether it’s other sports, music, or whatever it is. Sports has always been a massive part of my life, but we will see what my kids gravitate towards, and I’m going to be their number one fan.
Q: Of all the places you have traveled to for tennis what has been your favorite place?
A: Australia was so cool, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained a huge appreciation for Europe. Initially, I didn’t really love traveling to Europe, but I just played a number of tournaments in Vienna, and I just find that city so special and steeped in history. It is just amazing weather to walk this beautiful city in and see the museums and the architecture.
Q: What does the future have in store for John Isner?
A: I’m still playing and my rankings are still high. I played a very limited schedule this year, but the tournaments I did play, I played very well. My next event is the Davis Cup, which will be in Europe. And then after that I might be looking forward to playing in the Australian Open in January.