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In a New York Minute with John Isner

John Isner rips a backhand in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
By Sandra Harwitt
Sunday, August 31, 2014

John Isner ended the past two seasons as the top-ranked American man in the game. One of the few men currently on tour to graduate from college – the University of Georgia – Isner has won nine career titles, with two coming this season at Auckland, New Zealand, and Atlanta. The 29-year-old is well known for his 2010 Wimbledon first-round victory over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut that spanned three days, 11 hours and 5 minutes and ended at 70-68 in the fifth set. Isner’s best result at the US Open has been a quarterfinal showing in 2011. He fell in his third-round match to Philipp Kohlschreiber in four sets Saturday. John, when you first get to New York, what do you like to do?

John Isner: I like to settle into wherever I am. I settle into the hotel and unpack since I can’t stand to see luggage hanging around. So that’s the first thing I like to do. And then I try to get out because the food in New York City is arguably the best in the world. You can find anything you want. So I try to do that and try to enjoy the city but not enjoy it too much and get caught up in that. It’s obviously a big party town if you want it to be. For me, I just try to enjoy it because I’m not there too often, and it’s so much fun to be there for a week, two weeks, whatever it is. You mention restaurants. Do you have any favorites?

John Isner: Yeah, La Esquina. It’s sort of a Mexican-type restaurant that means, “The Kitchen.” That’s a good restaurant. I don’t go there too much, but I do try to go there every time I’m at the US Open because it’s very good. I don’t like to eat in the same place, especially not in New York City, where you have everything to choose from. It’s just whatever I’m in the mood for. Do you remember your first trip to New York City?

John Isner: Yeah, I was kind of young. I was probably like eight or nine. We went to Madison Square Garden and saw the Knicks. I have an aunt and uncle who live in New York City. My dad is actually from New York, from outside of the city, in Tarrytown. I don’t remember too much, but I do remember watching the Knicks play in Madison Square Garden. I guess when you’re 6-foot-10, shopping for clothes isn’t all that easy. Do you do a lot of shopping when you’re in New York?

John Isner: Yeah, I have because New York is one city where I can actually shop. I can go to New York City and find clothes my size, so I do try to go shopping. When my girlfriend (Maddy) is with me, it helps because I don’t love shopping, but she’ll drag me out. I find a lot of the stores that basketball players shop at for stuff, and it’s kind of custom-like stuff, too. Do you like to play tourist when you’re in New York?

John Isner: Yeah, I have. I’ve been to New York quite a bit. The last few years I’m not too touristy. But, you know, I’ve seen the Empire State Building, the Twin Towers when they were up. I’ve been to the top of the Statue of Liberty. What I like to do is I like to watch some baseball if I can, go to Yankee Stadium. I’m not a Yankee or Mets fan. I just like baseball. I haven’t been to Citi Field, even though it’s right beside Flushing Meadows. If you were going to have some famous person show you around New York, who would you want that person to be?

John Isner: This is tough. I think like a Spike Lee. I feel like he’s “Mr. New York City.” He knows what’s going on there, so that would be kind of cool. Do you have a favorite area of the city to spend time?

John Isner: No, not really. But I think Chelsea is pretty nice, and the West Village has a lot of good restaurants, too. I’m not partial to any particular area of the city. I just know there’s good food wherever you look, and I love to eat. Have you had an opportunity to ride the New York City subways?

John Isner: Yeah, I have to watch my head getting into the cars. In the summer, it gets kind of humid and smelly down there. I try to ride them – I have ridden them before – but I love the taxis. You can always get a taxi, and it’s so cheap. So I actually try to avoid the subway if I can. I go to Yankee Stadium by subway, that’s how I get there. But I usually find myself hopping in a cab. Have you seen many celebrities on the streets in New York?

John Isner: I remember a while back staying at the same hotel as the Boston Red Sox when they were playing the Yankees, but that’s about it. But out at the Open, the first thing that comes to mind is meeting Will Ferrell. He wasn’t even trying to be funny, and he was funny. So many celebrities come out to the tennis. I met Kevin Spacey there and Will Ferrell. So I guess when I run into mega-celebrities, it’s out at the Open. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen in the city?

John Isner: I’ve seen a taxi driver either pass out or fall asleep and run into the side of a building, which was pretty scary. Which tennis player would you be most comfortable buying a hot dog from off a street cart in New York?

John Isner: Roger Federer. I just think he could do it. He’s the jack of all trades – he can do it all. He could probably sell a hot dog better than anyone else could, too.