Men’s Draw | John Isner

John Isner carrying the banner for struggling American men’s tennis

John Isner returns against Donald Young during the second set of the men's single second round at the Sony Open in Key Biscayne on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
John Isner returns against Donald Young during the second set of the men's single second round at the Sony Open in Key Biscayne on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
PEDRO PORTAL / El Nuevo Herald

Special to the Miami Herald

At 6-10 and 238 pounds, John Isner is a big man with a big tennis serve.

He proved that Saturday when he used his overpowering serves to defeat Donald Young 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-4 on Stadium Court and move into the third round of the Sony Open at the Tennis Center of Crandon Park on Key Biscayne.

“A lot of times, when it comes down to a one-set situation for the match, and having my serve on my side it helps,” Isner said. “So it was one of those things where I got out there and served my hardest, served my biggest and won the match.”

At age 28, Isner has steadily moved up the world rankings in recent years, going from barely breaking into the top 100 in 2008 to his current status of being ranked No. 10 in the world. When Isner moved back into the top 10 this week, it was his first appearance there since September of 2012.

Although Isner’s game definitely looks to be in fine shape, the state of U.S. men’s tennis is definitely not — and Isner half-heartedly admitted that.

How struggling is American tennis? Consider:

• Isner is the highest-ranked American in the ATP rankings at No. 10.

• The next-best U.S. players after Isner are No. 62 Sam Querrey, No. 63 Bradley Klahn and Young at No. 77.

• Of the top 100 players in the world, there are only five Americans on the list.

“The state of U.S. tennis is not the greatest it has ever been,” Isner said. “That’s for sure. We have seen times where you have three U.S. guys in the top 10, something like that. Or 10 guys in the top 50. It’s crazy.

“But it’s not like that now. You know, I can’t really say why. It’s really none of my concern to worry about the rest of the guys. Just focus on myself.”

Things even got worse for the American contingent Saturday night at the Sony when the Querrey lost to Spain’s Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 6-4, and Ryan Harrison fell to Germany’s Benjamin Becker 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2).

It appears the only immediate relief for U.S. men’s tennis is Isner and whether he can keep climbing up the rankings. It’s a daunting task since if you look up to the top of those rankings you see names such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer above him.

Isner said he will ignore the rankings, let them take care of themselves, and that he is more concerned with keeping himself in the best possible physical condition so he can achieve his maximum potential.

“I really don’t set too many performance goals,” he said. “I guess a goal of mine is just to take care of myself as best as I possibly can during the course of a tournament.

“I have a shelf life as a professional tennis player. I want to do it as long as I possibly can. For me, the No. 1 goal is taking care of my body, making sure I’m healthy. It’s just doing the right things on and off the court and let things play out.”

Isner said that formula has worked pretty well.

“I have had some good success over the last four or five years or so,” he said.

The serve has been a huge part of that success, which has netted Isner $6,117,568 in career winnings.

He was involved in the longest match in professional tennis history, defeating France’s Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 at Wimbledon. That final 70-68 score was games, not tiebreaker points, because there is no fifth-set tiebreaker at Wimbledon. The match lasted 11 hours 5 minutes over three days.

Obviously, a match where all that conditioning Isner talks about paid off.

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