UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- John Isner entered this week's New York Open tournament without a win this season, which, as recent history suggests, isn't all that surprising.
The top-ranked player from the U.S. had a horrible start in 2018 as well, recording one measly singles tournament match-win in the first 2½ months of the year. He was only 1-6 when he made his way to the Miami Open in mid-March.
That's when his fortunes changed. Isner won the event, the biggest title of his career. That performance propelled him to his finest year. Isner qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals, hit a career-high ranking of No. 8 and ended the year at No. 10.
Despite his slow start, the 6-foot-10 Isner, who plays Aussie Bernard Tomic on Wednesday night in New York, is in a position he couldn't have anticipated a decade ago, when he was a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. He's rapidly closing in on 34, yet says he's as healthy as he's ever been. He's been inspired by 37-year-old Roger Federer ("What he's doing is remarkable," Isner said). The stability provided by his relatively new role as husband and father has helped Isner overcome the tendency to lose focus and to obsess about unsatisfactory results.
And while Isner, who last year lost in the first round of the New York Open to No. 91 Radu Albot, will certainly face a certain amount of pressure to turn his season around, he isn't letting it get to him. "Maybe if I were younger, it would be different," he said. "But I know everyone will gain and lose points. There's a good chance I'll lose points come Miami unless I win it again. But everyone's ranking fluctuates, even Novak Djokovic's -- last year he was No. 18 at one point. It will happen to me certainly as well this year."
Isner said he can't put his finger on exactly why he can't get off to a better start in the past few years, but was philosophical about fluctuations in his rankings. He's learned that with his quick-strike, shutdown game, frustration can turn to triumph as quickly as his monstrous serve. A shrewd judge of his own strengths and weaknesses, Isner knows he'll have plenty of opportunity to beef up his ranking if he can improve his tournament-to-tournament consistency.
"I had some big results last year," he said. "But really, I had only about four good tournaments [wins in Miami and Atlanta, semifinals at Wimbledon and quarterfinals at the US Open]. Sometimes, that's all it takes to get your ranking pretty high."
This season has been anything but auspicious so far. Isner lost consecutive first-round matches to young Americans. He lost to No. 50 Taylor Fritz in Auckland and No. 97 Reilly Opelka at the Australian Open. The Grand Slam loss seemed particularly trenchant, because Isner fell to a player who is an inch taller, is armed with an equally explosive serve, and, at 21, is a dozen years younger. Unsurprisingly, it was a match decided by tiebreakers, Opelka winning three of four.
"This is, unfortunately, the third year in a row where I started off poorly down in Australia," Isner said.
It is, but as he showed us a year ago, it's just a matter of time before the real Isner shows up.