Career High 18
John Isner is the #18 player in the world. This is his highest career ranking. Isner followed a disappointing Wimbledon with titles in Newport and Winston-Salem. Isner was also runner-up in Atlanta and a semifinalist in Washington, DC. Those four events alone netted Isner 830 points. He garnered 360 points from his best ever Grand Slam showing with a quarterfinal finish at the 2011 US Open. 1190 of Isner’s 1815 rankings points come from just 5 events.
The Blake-Fish Path Forward
James Blake spent significant time ranked in the top 10. Mardy Fish is currently there. Each man reached such lofty heights by primarily performing well in events played on North American soil. It is no secret that most of today’s elite players hail from Europe and that many events on US soil after the Australian Open but prior to Indian Wells boast less than difficult fields. If Isner can max-out his best countable results from 250 point events on US soil, he can keep his top 20 ranking without much effort. All he needs to do is add one or two solid showings at the first 3 slam events of 2012 and/or Indian Wells and Miami to climb close to the top 10. If Isner puts in a good showing at the 2011 Paris Indoor, his ranking will continue to climb. He is currently only 1005 points behind world #7 Mardy Fish. It is not hard to see how Isner could combine some weak fields and 250 point results with solid Masters 1000 event showings or a big Australian Open and suddenly find himself in the top 10.
Could There Be More for Isner?
I am not knocking Mardy Fish or James Blake’s paths into the top 10. I do think that until a player has one massive win he is not viewed as a legitimate threat for Grand Slam glory. I do not think Blake or Fish have ever reached that level as a contender. Since Roger Federer began winning so many majors and 1000 point events, the gap between top tier and top 10 has grown. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have added to this phenomenon. I do not see Isner as a contender for Grand Slam titles.
Still, there could be more to his rise than the lower portion of the top 10. Isner is easily the least favorite draw or match-up outside of the top 5 for many players. No one wants to face him in an early round. Isner led Nadal 2 sets to 1 at the French Open this year. He is one of the few guys who can pound enough service winners and aces to ride the 1990’s strategy of hold serve until the other guy gives you a look or the tiebreaker begins. Being able to ride a now unorthodox strategy to victories gives Isner a puncher’s chance against anyone.
Breaking into the top 10 is a realistic possibility for Isner. To be in the top 10 in any profession is an otherworldly accomplishment. Never the less, Isner could be a guy just outside of the slam contenders that no one wants to play. Isner could however be a bit of throwback Monster of the Midway player who is a match-up nightmare for the next 24 months. I think this goal is more of a stretch, but he could carve out a greater legacy for himself if this is where the next two years lead.