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The Tall American
Elizabeth Newman
September 17, 2007
Fresh face: Roger Federer's looming opponent
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September 17, 2007

The Tall American

Fresh face: Roger Federer's looming opponent

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John Isner, the 22-year-old, 6'9", 236-pound tennis giant from Greensboro, N.C., who turned pro in June, right after leading Georgia to the NCAA title.

After earning a wild card to the U.S. Open, Isner won his first two matches to set up a match with Roger Federer—then he took a set off Federer before losing the next three.

His huge serve. Isner fired 18 aces against Federer, the fastest at 140 miles an hour. "It's not so much the speed," said Federer after the match, but rather that "because of his height advantage, the ball is coming down at such a high angle." At the Legg Mason, Isner's second ATP tournament, he hit 144 aces and went to the finals. Tenth-ranked Tommy Haas, whom Isner beat in the Legg Mason quarters, said, semiseriously, "The tour should come up with a system where if you're over 6'6", you can't play."

No. He's edged out by 6'10" Ivo Karlovic of Croatia (a.k.a. Dr. Ivo), who is ranked 30th. "People think we're the same height," says Isner (who is ranked No. 144). "But they measured us in Cincinnati. We stood back-to-back, and I was a little shorter." Karlovic leads the ATP this year in aces (886) and percentage of service games won (94%). "People are dying to see us play each other," said Isner. "That would be one for the record books."

Isner first picked up a racket at age nine—"Most kids are getting ready for the juniors around then," he points out—after his older brother Jordan turned him on to the game. Not surprisingly, he also played hoops. "Karl Malone was my idol," says Isner. "There were times when I was 13 or 14 and I would have to leave a tennis tournament early to fly across the country and play in an AAU basketball tourney. Too demanding. I finally gave up basketball my freshman year of high school. I thought I would fare better with a racket."

U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe has invited Isner to be a practice partner at the Davis Cup semifinal tie against Sweden, later this month. "He'll learn a lot practicing with Andy Roddick and James Blake," said McEnroe. "And he's certainly a breath of fresh air for American tennis."

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