WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — John Isner is in Winston-Salem and is ready to play his first match at the Winston-Salem Open, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Isner, who is the top seed, won’t play his first match until Tuesday night when he will play the winner of the match between Wake Forest signee Noah Rubin and Bradley Klahn. Isner won the first two championships at the Winston-Salem Open, but he did not play here last year.
However, he wanted to show off his football skills Sunday at BB&T Field, home of the Wake Forest football team, adjacent to the Wake Forest Tennis Center.
Isner, a 6-10 native of Greensboro and an unabashed football fan, came out on the field shortly after Wake Forest finished its scrimmage. He threw many different pass routes to Wake Forest receivers Jared Crump, E.J. Scott and Matt James. And his passing skills were under the watchful eye of Coach Dave Clawson of Wake Forest.
Isner said he used to come to watch Wake Forest football and basketball games as a child.
Isner, who played college tennis at Georgia, said he was thrilled at the opportunity to throw passes to the Wake Forest receivers. Isner said he grew up an N.C. State fan — but once he went to college, it was all Georgia for him.
“I love football more than anything,” Isner said. “Really, I like it more than tennis. It’s one of my passions. I love Georgia. I love the Carolina Panthers. I was able to come out here and throw to some balls to some fast wide receivers.”
Isner downplayed his skills afterward, saying he has an advantage with his height.
“I’ve got a lot of leverage,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s not something I do very often, but whenever I can get a football in my hand I love throwing it.”
Crump said he was thrilled to catch passes from Isner.
“It’s such an honor just because he’s so well-known and such a big-time star and he kind of represents USA very well on the tennis court. He is such a great person and he’s just well-known,” said Crump, a redshirt sophomore from St. John’s, Fla. “I watch him on TV all the time, so it’s just great to get to meet him and catch passes from him and kind of combine our sports together.”
Isner added that he was going to be at his parents’ home in Greensboro watching the Panthers’ preseason game tonight.
Isner comes into the Winston-Salem Open struggling somewhat. After winning the BB&T Atlanta Open last month, he lost his first match in Washington to Steve Johnson, lost his first match in Toronto to Ivan Dodig, and lost his second match in Cincinnati to Andy Murray. He won the first set against Murray but lost after losing a third-set tiebreaker.
“It’s a tough loss, but it’s one of those where it’s sort of an encouraging loss,” Isner said. “You hate to have those, but I feel like I played the right way. I had two match points. I feel like I gave myself the opportunity to win, and that’s really all you can ask for.
“With all those match points, I played them pretty well. You can sleep better at night if you played the right way and didn’t win. I feel like I did that. It’s the best match I played really all summer. Hopefully, I can keep trending in the right direction.”
Isner also spoke of having to constantly carrying the weight of being the highest-ranked American at No. 14 in the current ATP Tour rankings. Donald Young is No. 48 and is the next highest-ranked American. Jack Sock is No. 56 and Sam Querrey is No. 61. Young, Johnson and Querrey are all scheduled to play at the Winston-Salem Open.
“It’s not the best American tennis has been in a while, but we have a lot of great players,” Isner said. “I feel like we have a lot of players who are extremely under-ranked right now….
“We have a lot of good players, and a lot of good players you guys will be hearing from a lot in the future.”
Isner just hopes it isn’t a long Hail Mary pass before American tennis improves.