Wednesday, June 3, 2009
By Jeff Mills
Instead of hopping on a flight to Paris to hit booming serves on the clay courts of the French Open, John Isner drove home to North Carolina last week.
He scored tickets to Game 4 of the Hurricanes-Penguins NHL playoff series in Raleigh, watched the NBA playoffs on TV and basically took it easy.
The 6-foot-9 Page alumnus has mononucleosis. The illness scrubbed his plans for a second trip to the French Open -- he lost in five sets to Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela in the first round last year -- and it puts his trip to Wimbledon in jeopardy, too.
"I'm right on the bubble (for a Wimbledon main-draw invitation) right now," said Isner, 24, who turned pro in 2007 and is ranked No. 114 on the ATP World Tour. "I think I'll get in, but if not I'll be one of the top one, two or three seeds in the qualifier. If I get in, I know I'm not going to be completely fit. But I'm going to just go over there and try to wing it. No one wants to miss Wimbledon."
Isner already has withdrawn from English grass-court tournaments in Queens and Nottingham. He is still entered at Eastbourne's tournament June 13-20, the final Wimbledon warm-up event, but he admits playing there is a long shot.
"If I get the OK from the doctors and I feel like I'm ready, I'm going to go to England to play," Isner said. "It's been frustrating. I was really amped up to go play the clay and the grass back-to-back. I was playing the best I had in a long, long time before I got sick."
The illness showed up at a Challenger tournament in Savannah, Ga. Isner played Alex Kuznetsov in a quarterfinal May 8. Isner won the first set 7-6 (3), blistering 140-mph serves on a 90-degree day. But he lost the next two sets 2-6, 5-7.
"(Isner) looked a little tired in the first set," Kuznetsov told the Savannah Morning News after the match. "I was a little surprised. But he still has some huge weapons with his serve and forehand."
Even with those weapons, Isner was out of gas.
"I knew something wasn't right with me, because I was so fatigued so early in the matches," Isner said. "I just wasn't myself. I chalked it up to something I ate. After that, I had 10 days to practice before leaving for Paris. So I went at that pretty hard, and my body just broke down. I had flu-like symptoms and just felt awful."
The fatigue wouldn't go away, and that worried people close to him.
"Just to please my mom, I went and had a blood test to rule out mono," Isner said. "Well, guess what? She was right. The test came back positive for mononucleosis. It's a good thing I found out when I did. I was getting on a plane for Paris the next day."
Isner hasn't been on a tennis court or in the gym since then.
Meanwhile in France, it's been a wild week at Roland Garros. Defending champ Rafael Nadal didn't reach the quarterfinals. Neither did Andy Roddick. No. 2 Roger Federer is the highest remaining seed, and either Robin Soderling or Fernando Gonzalez will be a finalist.
"I'd rather be injured than sick, you know?" Isner said. "I'd almost rather have a sprained ankle or something. At least then I could work on my upper body or something. But with this, I haven't been allowed to do anything at all. The only cure is rest. And doing nothing is really, really hard.
"But I think I'm on the downside of it now. I feel much, much better. I just got back to Florida, and I'm going to get some more tests done, and I hope to be back practicing in a week or so."
In the meantime, it's just 18 days until Wimbledon.
Hope John gets healthy before Wimby