NEWPORT — Home in Dallas during the winter for three months, nursing a stress fracture of his left foot back to competitive form, John Isner didn’t just sit on the couch.
He preserved his mighty right arm with a daily exercise plan, just as if he were on the ATP Tour.
“I was able to keep my right shoulder as strong as possible,” Isner said after taking his fourth International Tennis Hall of Fame Championship, 7-6 (2), 6-3 over Alexander Bublik Sunday.
“I was in the gym with my trainer, I wasn’t really off of my (size 15) feet,” said the 6-foot-10 Isner. “I was still able to work on my upper body — my back, my shoulder, my core.”
In taking back to Texas the Jimmy Van Alen Cup and improving his record to 23-5 over nine Hall of Fame Tournament appearances, the 34-year old Isner worked two hours-plus in winning each one of his three previous matches, each one in three sets, but needed less than 90 minutes to put away Bublik for his 15th career title.
Isner relied on his trademark big first service — taking 25, 24 and 15 aces respectively in advancing to the title match for a fourth time, becoming the 20th American champion and the fourth No. 1 seed to win the title.
Against the 22-year-old, No. 83-ranked Bublik, Isner uncorked just five aces, but did win 30 of 38 first service points. He suffered just his second service break of the tournament in the 11th game to trail 6-5 but Isner broke right back when Bublik double-faulted at break point.
Then in the tiebreaker, Isner won the first five points, taking the fourth with a 127 MPH ace and the fifth with a 117 mph ace.“It’s good to win, it’s tough to win,” Isner said, pocketing $100,600 for his week on Bellevue Avenue, the lone existing ATP Tour event on grass in North America. “I need time on the courts, that’s why I came here.”
Granted a first-round bye as a wild card due to his No. 15 world ranking, Isner won 65 percent (65-of-100) of his first-service points in the opening round, 80 percent (48 of 60) in beating Matthew Ebden in the quarterfinals, and won 81 percent (65 of 80) in topping Ugo Humbert in the semifinal round.
Notably too, Isner faced 18 break points and won all but two — being 5-for-5 in the first match, 3-for-4 against Ebden and 7-for-7 against Humbert. He faced just two against Bublik. Isner went on to win the second set when Bublik dropped service in the fifth (double-faulting on game point) and ninth games.
“I didn’t do much lower-body stuff,” Isner said of his rehab and recovery. “I know what to do, to eat well, to hydrate well. If you put the right stuff in your body, hopefully it pays off. I put in the time to keep my shoulder strong.”
Isner made his first appearance in Newport in 2007, while also winning titles in 2011, ’12 and ’17. “I didn’t enjoy the courts that much because I didn’t know how to play them — I just wanted to serve and volley and I wasn’t doing the right stuff.
“This is something I never thought was possible, especially in conditions like this. Wasting energy, getting frustrated on the court is not good — I told myself, just ride it out.
“We’re all different. I need this, I’ve lacked court time the last three and a half months or so. The best way to get back in shape is putting time in on the court, but also playing matches. I haven’t played many tournaments, but even with that being the case, I’m having a pretty good year.
“I’m comfortable here. I know that if I play the right way on this surface, I can be very tough to beat, I think I’ve proved that.”