John Isner, the clay-court BEAST!

Third Serve

Talk Tennis Guru
I’ve spoken at length in another thread about how Andy Roddick is actually a force to be reckoned with on clay courts (it’s true). It’s been a year, and now that his compatriot John Isner has reached the clay-court Houston Open final with a win over defending champion Cristian Garin, I feel like it’s time to review a couple of stats and make the case to you all that Isner is not only an underrated player on clay but actually a natural talent and one of the best we’ve ever seen on the surface.

For starters, let’s look at his 2017 Rome Masters run, where he reached the semis and lost in three sets to Zverev, the eventual champion.

He took down a shockingly brutal draw consisting of Ramos Vinolas, F. Mayer, Wawrinka, and Cilic. Ramos Vinolas had just made the Monte-Carlo final (where, along the way, he'd beaten defending RG finalist and top-seeded Andy Murray), so we know he was in pretty good clay court form at the time. Cilic would go on to reach the Wimbledon final playing blistering tennis. Stan was in fine form as his RG final showing would later demonstrate, and Isner took him to the cleaners with a straight-sets thrashing. This is just a sliver of what he was really capable of on clay, but the tough draw (one of the toughest I've seen in a clay court tournament honestly) prevented him from ultimately winning the tournament. Still, he took a set off of peak Zverev, the only person to do that during the tournament. Even defending champ Djokovic couldn't manage more than seven games across two sets: Isner took that many games in one set.

It would be easy to dismiss such an inspired performance as merely a fluke. Understandable, considering I have only cited one tournament. But I'm far from done.

At the Monte-Carlo Masters in 2015, Isner nearly beat Nadal on clay. Were it not for a couple of points in an 8-6 tiebreak that went the way of the Spaniard, we could have seen the Bull fall to defeat in straight sets to Big John. One might even say that Isner helped soften up Nadal so that Djokovic could later nab a 6-3 6-3 win. But real tennis fans know who really deserves the credit.

Take note that none of these matches were on servebot-friendly Madrid clay courts. These were all on pure, raw Monte-Carlo and Rome clay courts.

Isner's lack of success accruing clay court titles undersells his ability as a dirtballer, but we can point to some helpful clues. In his win at the 2013 Houston Open, he took down accomplished claycourter Nicolas Almagro as well as Juan Monaco and, as a bonus, a pre-prime Jack Sock.

Lastly, take this match:


Yes, you're reading the scoreline right. John Isner nearly beat prime Rafa on clay, and not just clay, but Roland Garros clay. Roger Federer in all his career could never manage this, and it would take five attempts for Novak Djokovic to stretch Nadal to five sets on Philippe Chatrier. Isner did it on the very first try. It's a shame they never met again at the tournament, as I feel Isner would have liked his chances given the added experience of having played Nadal at the tournament.

The evidence is overwhelming. John Isner is a clay-court beast.
 

TennisLurker

Professional
I was very disappointed by Brooksby and Wolf this Houston tournament
I thought that since Brooksby loves to rally and doesn't rely on his serve, he would be good on clay, but he lost in str8 sets to Wolf, only for Wolf to get trashed by some Brouwer guy, ranked 360, who had beat 41 years old Feliciano Lopez in the worst match I remember seeing outside challengers

Perhaps Brooksby has a problem like Hewitt and his groundstrokes don't have enough penetration and weight on clay?
It's weird how the giant huge servers ended up the best American clay courters
 

NoleFam

Bionic Poster
Underrated on the surface for sure. His greatest performance on the surface has to be RG 2011 though where he seriously challenged 25 year old Nadal. Yea I know it was faster balls but still a great performance.
 

jga111

Hall of Fame
I was very disappointed by Brooksby and Wolf this Houston tournament
I thought that since Brooksby loves to rally and doesn't rely on his serve, he would be good on clay, but he lost in str8 sets to Wolf, only for Wolf to get trashed by some Brouwer guy, ranked 360, who had beat 41 years old Feliciano Lopez in the worst match I remember seeing outside challengers

Perhaps Brooksby has a problem like Hewitt and his groundstrokes don't have enough penetration and weight on clay?
It's weird how the giant huge servers ended up the best American clay courters

This is well raised point. Also noticed it with Fritz. It seemed a bit “easier” to get his ball back watching the Garin match. I guess this is what it comes down to - their opponents have a better defence because of the surface.
 

clayqueen

Talk Tennis Guru
Istomin beat Djokovic at the AO does that make Istomin a hardcourt beast? I do accept that Djokovic at the AO is a far cry from Nadal at RG.
 

AnOctorokForDinner

Talk Tennis Guru
Isner's DC exploits in 2012 were legendary. Playing every round on clay, in BO5 format, he ROFLMAO'd Federer (!!) in 1R, took down Tsonga & crushed Simon in QF, and nearly beat peak Almagro in SF. Only Ferrer won fairly easily and even then Isner took a set. Frankly I can't picture Tsitsipas or Zverev doing it.
 

Start da Game

Hall of Fame
I’ve spoken at length in another thread about how Andy Roddick is actually a force to be reckoned with on clay courts (it’s true). It’s been a year, and now that his compatriot John Isner has reached the clay-court Houston Open final with a win over defending champion Cristian Garin, I feel like it’s time to review a couple of stats and make the case to you all that Isner is not only an underrated player on clay but actually a natural talent and one of the best we’ve ever seen on the surface.

For starters, let’s look at his 2017 Rome Masters run, where he reached the semis and lost in three sets to Zverev, the eventual champion.

He took down a shockingly brutal draw consisting of Ramos Vinolas, F. Mayer, Wawrinka, and Cilic. Ramos Vinolas had just made the Monte-Carlo final (where, along the way, he'd beaten defending RG finalist and top-seeded Andy Murray), so we know he was in pretty good clay court form at the time. Cilic would go on to reach the Wimbledon final playing blistering tennis. Stan was in fine form as his RG final showing would later demonstrate, and Isner took him to the cleaners with a straight-sets thrashing. This is just a sliver of what he was really capable of on clay, but the tough draw (one of the toughest I've seen in a clay court tournament honestly) prevented him from ultimately winning the tournament. Still, he took a set off of peak Zverev, the only person to do that during the tournament. Even defending champ Djokovic couldn't manage more than seven games across two sets: Isner took that many games in one set.

It would be easy to dismiss such an inspired performance as merely a fluke. Understandable, considering I have only cited one tournament. But I'm far from done.

At the Monte-Carlo Masters in 2015, Isner nearly beat Nadal on clay. Were it not for a couple of points in an 8-6 tiebreak that went the way of the Spaniard, we could have seen the Bull fall to defeat in straight sets to Big John. One might even say that Isner helped soften up Nadal so that Djokovic could later nab a 6-3 6-3 win. But real tennis fans know who really deserves the credit.

Take note that none of these matches were on servebot-friendly Madrid clay courts. These were all on pure, raw Monte-Carlo and Rome clay courts.

Isner's lack of success accruing clay court titles undersells his ability as a dirtballer, but we can point to some helpful clues. In his win at the 2013 Houston Open, he took down accomplished claycourter Nicolas Almagro as well as Juan Monaco and, as a bonus, a pre-prime Jack Sock.

Lastly, take this match:


Yes, you're reading the scoreline right. John Isner nearly beat prime Rafa on clay, and not just clay, but Roland Garros clay. Roger Federer in all his career could never manage this, and it would take five attempts for Novak Djokovic to stretch Nadal to five sets on Philippe Chatrier. Isner did it on the very first try. It's a shame they never met again at the tournament, as I feel Isner would have liked his chances given the added experience of having played Nadal at the tournament.

The evidence is overwhelming. John Isner is a clay-court beast.

you forgot to add: he beat fraud over best of 5 on clay in a davis cup tie.....
 

UnderratedSlam

G.O.A.T.
Instead of praising a 37 year-old servebot, how about mentioning the PATHETIC state of men's tennis whereby a 37 year-old American servebot faces another servebot in a CLAY finale.

Sure, the GIANTS' FINAL will be fun, but sort of the way a circus is fun.
 

Jonesy

Legend
Instead of praising a 37 year-old servebot, how about mentioning the PATHETIC state of men's tennis whereby a 37 year-old American servebot faces another servebot in a CLAY finale.

Sure, the GIANTS' FINAL will be fun, but sort of the way a circus is fun.
There must be something in the clay of Houston that made Kyrgios, who isn't even playing RG, play there.
 

Sudacafan

Bionic Poster
Instead of praising a 37 year-old servebot, how about mentioning the PATHETIC state of men's tennis whereby a 37 year-old American servebot faces another servebot in a CLAY finale.

Sure, the GIANTS' FINAL will be fun, but sort of the way a circus is fun.
I can feel your rage.
Would a non-American servebot final calm you down a bit?
 

norcal

Legend
There must be something in the clay of Houston that made Kyrgios, who isn't even playing RG, play there.

Yeah it's called stacks of cash. Houston is the home of Big Oil, Nick isn't playing a 250 on clay to brush up on his dirt game, lol.

Must be pretty rare for a player to get a WC and an appearance fee!
 

Kralingen

Talk Tennis Guru
His serve is still effective on clay and he has more time to set up for groundstrokes. It amazes me how much better Isner is at hitting targets than Opelka. If Riley ever figures out how to serve like Big John, look out.
It is shocking how much better he is technically as a server than Opelka. His kick serve is downright ridiculous on an active clay court.

Opelka has a nice kicker too but he is basically an above average server who just happens to be 6'11" making it an amazing serve.

Isner though is a GOAT tier server technically and placement wise, the height obviously helps but he is one of the most skilled servers ever.
 

jga111

Hall of Fame
Yes, I guess somewhere it will be broadcast.
I might only watch it once the paint of all my walls dry.

Appreciate it’s not Nadal etc but it’s not bad if you take a moment to enjoy their serve ( a lot to take from it ) And the way they rally for tall people is extremely impressive. For me it’s entertaining but I guess I am a bit of a tennis geek
 

Sudacafan

Bionic Poster
Appreciate it’s not Nadal etc but it’s not bad if you take a moment to enjoy their serve ( a lot to take from it ) And the way they rally for tall people is extremely impressive. For me it’s entertaining but I guess I am a bit of a tennis geek
Yes, impressive it is.
 

jorjipy

Semi-Pro
I meant he was the first player who pushed Nadal to a 5 setter
Ummm, didn’t soderling push Nadal to 5 sets as well…..? If only Nadal could have snatched that breaker …..would have been 5 sets! But yeah, isner taking it to 5 sets is definitely better…..lol
 

Fabresque

Legend
I’ve said it before Big John is nuts on the dirt. He’s got a big enough serve where the clay doesn’t cripple it, and he’s got plenty of time to set up his big forehand. Not to mention, they sit up for him, meaning they’re right in his comfy strike zone, being 6’11. Nadal couldn’t exploit him with loopy strokes the way he could’ve with Fed. If Isner didn’t have a brain fart at 1-1 in the fifth, he was winning. Nads wasn’t touching that serve.
 
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