Success Is Knowing What You Want
John Isner | Pro Tennis Player

  • Why You Should Care
  • Bio
  • Read It
  • Made By
Why Should You Care

John Isner didn’t let what he calls a “tall, goofy” build deter him from pro tennis dreams. Adamantly avoiding getting a “normal job” after college, Isner pushed himself as a college athlete until he was good enough to go pro.

In this interview, Isner opens up about starting a sport years behind his peers and how he’s catching up, his mother’s battle with cancer, and his journey from a good athlete to a great one.


A Native of Greensboro, North Carolina, John Isner is a professional American tennis player who at 27 achieved his career-high singles ranking of world no. 9. John is currently the highest-ranked male American tennis player. He is widely considered one of the greatest servers in tennis.

John is the only top 20 tennis player to have attended a four-year college. He led the University Georgia tennis team to an NCAA team title and earned All-American honors each season.

At the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, John played the longest professional tennis match in history, defeating Nicolas Mahut in a total of 11 hours and 5 minutes of play over the course of three days.

He also played the then 10th longest singles match – a 5 hour 41 minute encounter in the second round of the 2012 French Open.

Read It

The main part of my 20s has been professional tennis, everything I’ve done in my 20s has been to get myself to be a better player.

My name is John Isner and I am currently a professional tennis player.

I’ve just always been a late bloomer. I was a real tall, goofy kid going to college and I needed to stop growing up and start growing out. I was a good high school player, I was the top 10 player nationally maybe even top 5 nationally. But that in itself does not translate to international success, the games is so deep and so international. It takes big guys like me a little longer to develop. So for me I knew I needed to go to college and develop my game there. There was no pressure on me to go pro, I just wasn’t good enough.

I eventually became the number 1 player in college and I decided that I wanted to try professional tennis, but I also had one more year left and I knew that I was going to stay that last year. I made up my mind that I didn’t want to go work a regular job just yet, I wanted to play tennis and so really I just blossomed from a good tennis player into a very good tennis player by the time during my time in college.

There was not a plan B for me actually, my decision was made to play professional tennis and I believed in my ability to do that.

The road I took was the road less traveled certainly with all the guys i’m competing against now. But when I look at it it was the only choice for me in my opinion.

The prime for a professional athlete is certainly in their 20s. I’m 28, but I believe when I turn 30, I can still be playing tennis at a high level. I feel like a lot of my best tennis is in front of me. There’s a lot of players doing well into their 30s and I believe I can be one of those as well. When it comes to a point that I can’t compete at that high of a level I’ll start thinking about not playing tennis anymore and what to do after tennis.

In your 20s thats for the most part you just go out on your own and you just try to support yourself as best as you possibly can. In high school my parents supported me, in college I had teammates to pick me up if I lost and now I’m mainly supporting myself. This is what I do for a living and you have to deal with setbacks and really it’s how you’re able to bounce back from them.

Seeing someone that you love so much come down with a disease that is very serious and ultimately can be deadly was shocking for all of us. My mom came down with colon cancer during my freshman year in college. Seeing her fight through that has been the most real thing that’s ever happened to me and certainly the most inspiring thing. Anything that I do on the tennis court will always pale in comparison to what she had to go through and trying to fight for her life.

I’ve never grown out of the phase of watching fake wrestling on TV. I grew up watching that, me and all my friends in North Carolina, and I never grew out of it. I think people find that pretty surprisingly that a professional tennis player like myself still sits down on Monday night for 3 hours to watch professional wrestling. Ah between Kane and Undertaker, probably Undertaker, though I’m not a big fan of either of them, but if I had to choose one it’d be the Undertaker.

In college, I knew I wanted to play professional tennis and really I’ve done some stuff on the court that has surprised me quite a bit. A lot of things I do have always surprised me. I never had the aspiration to become a top tennis player in the world but that’s been the case. Some of the milestones that I wanted to achieve are actually stuff that I thought would never be possible.

Made By

Cinematography: Danny Vecchione

2nd Camera: Danielle Calodney

Edited by: Jeremy Brunjes & Joshua Hume

Interviewed by Laura Lehmann

Produced by: Batsheva Lazarus & Laura Lehmann

Danielle Calodney

Danielle Calodney has been called the Chief Content Officer for 20to30, and that is the closest she has ever come to a proper title. She produces, shoots, and edits most 20to30 videos while also taking care of the site. She is grateful to live in a time when playing on the internet and making movies can be combined into one job.

Continue the 20to30 conversation by sharing this video: