May 15, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. --- With the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships just days away from returning to Athens for the 30th time, we checked in with someone who is familiar with the scene. John Isner is currently the top-ranked American tennis player, coming in at No. 10 in the world. Isner was a four-time All-American at Georgia, and still holds the UGA record for singles and doubles victories. He led the Bulldogs to the 2007 NCAA title and was a national doubles champion in 2005.
Before he heads to the French Open next week, Isner took time to talk NCAA Tennis, his best memories of the tournament, and what every player should know.
Georgiadogs.com: With the NCAAs back in the Athens this season, what is your best memory of playing in the tournament there?
John Isner: My best memory is of course winning the (2007) championship there. To do that my senior year was pretty special, especially because my junior year we had been so close and lost in the national championship match. Everything about the tournament in Athens is so special. Even when Georgia isn’t playing people come to watch, and when Georgia’s playing you’ll see 5,000 people in the stands, and for college tennis that’s pretty special. I think all the guys that have played at Georgia looked forward to getting the chance to experience that and when it’s time to compete they know they need to relish the opportunity and have a lot of fun.
GD: What was so special about the team that won here in Athens in 2007?
JI: Our team was really talented. Coach [Manuel Diaz] put together a solid lineup 1-8, and on top of that we really worked well together. Everyone liked each other, we enjoyed every single we went out there for and played like it. We never lost focus all season. I think our closest match all year was 5-2 or 4-2. No team ever had three points on us. More often than not, the talent we had should win a national championship, but more than that Coach Diaz kept us together and kept us focused all season long.
GD: What advice might you have for players experiencing an event of this magnitude for the first time?
JI: Don’t over-think it. Don’t get too hyped up before your match. Don’t waste energy getting too hyped up. Stay as calm as you possibly can beforehand, and when you go on the court just lay it all out there. With that crowd and that pressure and the expectations put on you, it will take a lot more out of you than a normal match would, so it’s important that before the match you stay calm. Then just lay it all out there.
GD: How did playing in the NCAA Championships in Athens prepare you for your professional career and situations you find yourself in now?
JI: I’ve always said I think college tennis and team tennis in general is a lot more pressure-filled than anything I’m doing today. I’m playing now for myself and my coach, so there’s not necessarily as much pressure on me. If I don’t do well, that’s on me. When I was playing at Georgia, I felt pressure not to let my teammates down. The worst feeling in the world is losing your match and knowing it affected the team. I think that college tennis – especially during the NCAAs – is as big a moment as I can think of. There’s so much riding on every match and every point, but with that pressure is a lot of fun.
GD: How do you feel about this Georgia team? Have you been keeping up?
JI: I think they’re a gritty group. I’ve never seen a team play more 4-3 matches than Georgia had earlier this year. Every time I’d follow the score, it seemed like it was 4-3. All the credit goes to Coach Diaz and Coach [Will] Glenn for that, and teaching those kids how to be clutch. You see everyone picking each other up. To look in the past at UGA’s championship teams, “the pit” – the 4,5, and 6 courts – has played a crucial role. This year the Georgia pit is strong. They are playing great and to have that strength at the bottom of the lineup is definitely a big advantage.
GD: Any early predictions?
JI: I don’t really want to predict, but you UGA seeded No. 2 – that’s just an unreal effort they’ve put out. What they’ve done this year is pretty incredible. They only have two losses, one of which was to USC and they’re obviously the three-time defending champions. I think you really need to peg USC as the favorites, but crazier things have happened in Athens. Playing Georgia in Athens is always a tough task, with the crowd on their side. I know Will and Manny will have the guys making sure they don’t over-think things and just to focus on the task at hand. Getting to that round of 16 with Georgia still in the tournament almost has a football feel to it more than tennis, and that’s special. I’m going to be in Europe playing in the French Open during the tournament, but I will be streaming the matches. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll definitely be watching Georgia all the way through.