Said Del Potro: “His serves are unbelievable, and nobody wants to play against him.”
But Isner has struggled with his return of serve. He has won just 12 percent of his return games this season, which ranks 72nd. It is why his matches often turn into marathons and end in tiebreakers.
He is, after all, the man whose 2010 Wimbledon match against Nicolas Mahut was the longest in tennis history. It stretched 11 hours 5 minutes over three days, with a final score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-3), 70-68 for a total of 183 games. He leads the tour in tiebreakers with 46.
“No one wants to play this guy,” CBS analyst Mary Carillo said. “He gives you no rhythm.”
“He has one of the best serves in history, and he’s a great competitor,” said John McEnroe, who is working in the booth for ESPN and CBS. “But to win a major, he’d have to string together seven matches and probably beat two of the three top guys. That is extremely difficult to do.”
Nadal, who will face young American Ryan Harrison in the first round, is the favorite.
He is on an amazing run since returning in February from a seven-month injury layoff. He has reached 11 of 12 finals and has won nine titles. His season record of 53-3 is a career best. Once known as mainly a clay-court specialist, Nadal is 15-0 on hard courts this summer.
On the women’s side, American fans have plenty of reason for optimism. Top-ranked Serena Williams is aiming for Grand Slam title No. 17, and outside of No. 2 Victoria Azarenka there isn’t a whole lot standing in Williams’ way.
Maria Sharapova, who considered changing her name to “Sugarpova” to promote her gummy candy line, pulled out with shoulder bursitis.
Though Azarenka is 3-12 lifetime against Williams, she beat her in the Cincinnati final last week and had her 5-3 in the third set of last year’s U.S. Open final.
“I think Victoria Azarenka is the one player that doesn’t fear Serena,” Chris Evert said. “Victoria is like a street fighter out there. She’s hungry. Hard courts are her best surface. It’s a good matchup. What she does better than anybody else against Serena is the moving and court coverage. She can run down Serena’s power and defuse it with her own power.”
John and Patrick McEnroe are hoping someday to find the male equivalent of Williams, an American world-class athlete who could play any other sport and chooses tennis. Preferably, an NBA-sized athlete.
“I think that you could see a 7-footer come along,” John McEnroe said. “We’ve been trying to encourage some kids that were going to play basketball or American football to get out on a tennis court. It’s not that some of these guys aren’t good athletes, but we need truly great athletes.
“We both want to be part of turning this around and getting America to dominate. We could get back on top. Doesn’t look good right now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in five years.”
Patrick McEnroe is the director of player development for the USTA.
“No one wants to see more Americans more than we do,” he said. “The fact is that you got to look at it from a couple angles. The obvious ones are more of the rest of the world is playing tennis now. That’s number one. That’s just a fact. So no one country is going to have half the top 100 players.
“Obviously, France and Spain on the men’s side have the most at the moment. We have the most on the women’s side. But the reality is that it is tougher to get there. As John [McEnroe] has been talking about, we need better athletes and we need them to push each other, [a] lot of times it’s greatness, and great players come out of nowhere or develop on their own. But we’re certainly trying to do everything we can to make the overall level of play in the pipeline stronger.”