Before making his debut on the ATP Tour in ‘07, J
ohn Isner was a collegiate standout at the University of Georgia, where he became the Bulldogs’ all-time leader in singles and doubles wins and led UGA to the ‘07 NCAA title. To this day, the 6-foot-9 Isner maintains his ties to the program and its longtime coach Manny Diaz, for whom he earned four straight All-American nods. IT caught up with Diaz just moments after Isner’s historic 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68 marathon win over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut on Wimbledon’s Court 18.
INSIDE TENNIS: Five sets, 11 hours, three days, 138 games, 215 aces and one hard-earned victory for John Isner. What are your emotions?
MANNY DIAZ: That was an amazing feat. I was glued go the TV for three days, especially yesterday. I thought it was never going to end on Wednesday, and it didn’t.
IT: What were your thoughts during the match? Obviously, you have a close relationship with him. It must have been hard for you to watch at times.
MD: It was tough. It was difficult. I started worrying about those two guys, especially John. Once they were into the 40s, I thought, “This isn’t healthy.” Both guys showed tremendous resolve and focus. It’s something I don’t think we’ll ever see again. They say records are made to be broken. I don’t think there’s any way in the world that record is ever going to be broken.
IT: Especially if they institute the fifth-set tiebreaker at Wimbledon. Knowing him as you do, did you know that he had that in him? The mental focus, the concentration was incredible.
MD: I’ve seen that before from him plenty of times, seeing him compete when he had no business still being in the match. At the 2006 National Indoor Championships in Seattle, he had strained the arch in his foot. When he woke up, he couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t walk. He went in the training room and said, “Coach, I’m playing.” On one leg — literally — he beat a very good player in a crucial match for us to give us the title.
IT: So you can imagine what he must have been like, physically, when he got up to finish the match today.
MD: It thought, in a way, he was at a big disadvantage, being 6-foot-9, 250 pounds. It’s just not the same as somebody who’s 6-foot-3, 187 pounds. Mahut’s much smaller, more athletic. John’s body takes a whole lot of pounding compared to everybody else. He was being smart, picking and choosing which balls to go after. But after a while, you would think he was a lot sorer than Mahut coming out today.
IT: Any phone calls to his old college coach for any last-minute advice?
MD: I did talk to him this morning. I called him and couldn’t get through. He called me right back as I was leaving a message. We chatted and I wished him well. He was in a great mood. I knew he had a chance. I wasn’t about to get into any advice. He’s got Craig [Boynton] there. I’m sure they were coming in with a game plan. The worst thing I could have done was to try to give him advice. It was just about moral support. “We’re thinking of you, we’re with you, we’re proud of you, go out there and win it, you’ve waited long enough, you deserve to win it.”
IT: John’s always been a big server, but did you ever in your wildest dreams think you would see someone hit 100 aces in a match?
MD: No. It’s impossible. It’s impossible to have an eleven-hour match, too. That the fifth set took longer than the longest match ever in the books at Wimbledon is incomprehensible.
IT: I can’t imagine that he’ll be able to play doubles.
MD: I can’t imagine that he’s going to be able to walk tomorrow.