Empire State of Mind: Isner joins WTT in Flushing

John Isner played his first game with the NY Empire on Sunday night, leading the team to a season-opening victory over the Philadelphia Freedoms.
Photo courtesy of Rob Loud
By Laura Amato

John Isner planned on being in Queens this summer — he just got here a bit earlier than expected.

Isner, currently ranked No. 23 in the world, joined the New York Empire Sunday night as the squad opened up its World Team Tennis schedule on Court 17 at the National Tennis Center. It’s an opportunity for Isner — considered one of the best servers in the game — to showcase his skills and prepare for a possible return to Queens when the US Open gets underway next month.

“Any time you get to come to this city, it’s very special,” Isner said. “It’s the greatest city in the world, so to come here and play World Team Tennis isn’t something I thought I’d be doing, but I’m very, very excited about that.”

Isner is familiar with Court 17 and the Tennis Center. He reached the US Open quarterfinals in 2011 and has spent plenty of time on the Flushing grounds. This time, however, things looked a bit different, particularly with the construction across the site and the notable absence of Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“It’s very weird,” Isner said. “You’re used to coming in here and seeing Louis Armstrong be there. It’s gone now, so it’s a very surreal experience right now. But I think in some time it’s going to look real good.”

Isner was quick to point out, however, that Court 17 offers its own appeal to both players and fans.

The court, which opened in 2011, is small, seating just 2,500, but it’s an intimate setting with fans practically on top of the action. It’s also one that brings the crowd just a bit closer to the game and, for an event like World Team Tennis, that proximity is exactly what the season is all about.

“It’s really cool actually,” Isner said. “This court is a pretty unique court in a lot of ways and I think it’s one of the best at the US Open. The atmosphere is always great on this court and the players always play well on this court as well.”

Of course, Isner also has experience with World Team Tennis. This summer marked his seventh season with the league and the North Carolina native particularly enjoys the team aspect of the game, with a chance to compete for one goal as a group instead of just focusing on the individual aspects of tennis.

“The format is very different [from usual matches] which is great,” Isner said. “You have your coaches, your teammates and a lot of different people to support you and pull you through. That’s, of course, different from a regular match where you’re just sort of on an island by yourself.”

Isner, often regarded as the top American male player throughout the 2010s, enjoyed his time with the Empire, leading the team to a victory over the Philadelphia Freedoms, but his focus is, always, on his own career. He’s set to spend a good chunk of his remaining summer on the court and although he was happy to be in Queens in July, he’s also anxious to return in August, determined to notch a strong performance at the US Open.

“I hope I’m still in the prime of my career,” Isner said. “You really just want to come out here and give it your all. I could play horrible, but I hope not. I’m just hoping to play as well as I can.”

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