By John Delong, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
WINSTON-SALEM - John Isner won the Winston-Salem Open for the second consecutive year on Saturday afternoon, fighting off three match points for a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9) victory over Tomas Berdych.
It was Isner’s second ATP World Tour title of the year, after he also successfully defended his title at Newport, and the fifth of his career.
Afterward, Isner spoke with EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com and talked about a variety of topics, ranging from his Superman imitation after the victory to his chances in next week’s US Open to getting drug tested at the WSO.
Q: How does it feel to gut out this victory and repeat as the Winston-Salem Open champion?
Isner: It’s a great feeling. Actually, both my titles this year are the exact same titles I won last year. Defending a title is not easy. There’s pressure on you coming into the tournament. So for me to do that both here in Winston-Salem and Newport should help me tremendously going forward. I’m just absolutely thrilled. There were certainly some tense times all throughout the match. You know, at times it probably wasn’t the prettiest. But I was able to gut it out and I’m very, very proud of that. It’s a lot of fun to win in front of pretty much a 100 percent home crowd. That’s what I had last year and I had it again this year.
Q: You faced match point on his serve at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, and he put a backhand volley into the net. How big was that point and how fortunate do you feel?
Isner: I was prepared to all out dive if the ball got over the net. Look, I know I’m fortunate to win this match. It could have easily gone the other way. But I don’t know what to say. I always consider myself a lucky guy, and it happened again today. But no shots were really easy today because of the windy conditions. It was hard to get on top of the ball. It was moving pretty much everywhere. So even a routine shot there, it was not that easy, considering the circumstances of match point and the conditions. I was just happy to get into the point and kind of scrapped it out and he made a mistake at the end on a ball he probably normally makes. But at that point, you just want to make him play.
Q: You broke out in a Superman imitation after the match. Who does it better, you, Dwight Howard, or Cam Newton?
Isner: Cam. I’m just an imposter for sure. It’s only the second time I’ve done that. Last year when I won I did the Randy Orton, a WWE wrestler. But this time I figured I would pay homage to Cam, especially since I’m in North Carolina.
Q: How does it feel to be the top-ranked American going into the US Open?
Isner: That’s something I’ve strived to reach, being the top American. Being the top American heading into the US Open, and by a pretty wide margin, it’s going to be pretty special for me. I’ve never had this feeling before. I’ve never been the top American heading into our home Grand Slam. I don’t think it’s going to put any pressure on me. I’m going into the US Open feeling pretty good about myself.
Q: You have won Newport, gone to the quarterfinals of the Olympics, the semifinals at Toronto, and now have won at Winston-Salem. How much momentum do you take into the US Open?
Isner: I’m heading into New York full of confidence. I have played very well ever since my first-round loss at Wimbledon. I don’t know what my record is, I think I’ve only lost three matches, so I’m heading into New York feeling good about myself. Yeah, I’m a little tired, but I have time to recover. I’d rather be a little bit fatigued and confident than 100 percent fresh and not so sure about myself.
Q: You will face Xavier Malisse in the first round in New York, with David Ferrer in your quarter of the draw. How does the draw shape up to you?
Isner: I haven’t really looked too far ahead. I never try to. I know I have Malisse in the first round. I’ve played him three times, he’s beat me twice, so it’s going to be a really tough match. You never know what to expect from him. He’s a shot-maker. He can play really well. But then again, he can not play so well, so I hope I get that side of him. But he’s a talent and he returns really well, his groundstrokes are great, and it’s going to be a really tough match. Everything I do for the next three days is going to be all geared toward that first-round match.
Q: You had 94 aces in five matches here, and you lead the ATP World Tour in aces. How pleased are you with your serve?
Isner: I’ve gotten my serve to where I feel like it’s one of the best serves in the world, so it makes it a lot more simple for me. Really, in my matches it only takes one break of serve or one slip-up by my opponent or me stringing.
Q: How important is it for you to get into the final top tournaments of this year?
Isner:That is my main goal the rest of the year. I’m in the running for that and to make the top eight tournament in London would be very special. As far as the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the year, that was my final goal, to make that final eight. And I’m going to absolutely try my best to do that. There are so many big events ahead for me, the US Open and right after that is Davis Cup, so these next two events are huge. A lot of casual tennis fans don’t realize that after the US Open there’s a lot of tennis to be played. We go to Asia, some big tournaments. So I’m going to try my absolute hardest to get into the top eight.
Q: You got drug-tested early in the week. What do you think about the ATP World Tour’s drug-testing policy and how often do you get tested?
Isner: I think it’s a good policy. I think they test tennis players pretty often. I don’t know how much compared to other sports, but some tournaments, you know the drug testers are around. You see guys come off the courts and they’re signing the sheet and you know it’s inevitable it’s going to happen to you. But there are some tournaments where you don’t see them around, either. They also like to come to my house in Tampa between the hours of 6 and 7 a.m. That’s the time we have to give them wherever we are, because otherwise I’ll be out at practice at 9 and 10. So if I hear my doorbell ring at 6:15, I know who it is.
Q: You obviously had a lot of friends and family at the tournament. Do you have a posse these days? Who travels with you?
Isner: I have a very, very good group. I travel with my coach and my trainer for the most part. My girlfriend has come on the road sometimes. And my mom. Gosh, she’s been doing a lot. She was in Toronto with me. She was here. She’s going to the US Open. She’s going to Davis Cup. So I guess you could say my mom’s traveling with me as well.