Tennis

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Isner's Stunning Run Even Impresses Mom

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By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 4, 2007

With a 141-mph ace, John Isner took the lead in the third-set tiebreak of his quarterfinal match against second-seeded Tommy Haas, creating bedlam in his cheering section.

Isner's two older brothers, family and friends from Greensboro, N.C., and supporters who joined the underdog's cause midway through the match jumped from their seats, their palms red from clapping and cried: "Ye-aaah Johnny! That's it! First serve, baby!"

They began a "Let's Go, John!" chant and even spectators under the shaded seats chimed, getting louder by the second.

But among the revelers in Isner's eventual 6-4, 6-7 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5) victory, one person sat silent, unaffected by the chaos: his mother.

Karen Isner hadn't cheered when her youngest son won the first set, or after any of his 30 aces and she didn't when he teetered on the edge of victory with a 5-4 lead in the third-set tiebreak either.

Instead, she brought a clenched fist to her chin and rested her head as excitement erupted around her.

She hadn't planned to be at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic this week after Isner received a wild-card bid when world No. 6 Fernando González withdrew, let alone thinking she'd listen to the Center Court crowd root for her son as if he was their own.

"When I found out he was getting in, I was thinking that I wasn't going to come," Karen Isner said. "It was a long trip and I thought he'd probably lose in the first round, honestly. I wasn't expecting it."

But there she was, as she had been for each of the 22-year-old Isner's matches this week, watching him play in his fourth consecutive, third-set tiebreak. First came Tim Henman, then eighth-seeded Benjamin Becker and next Wayne Odesnik. But this time it was Haas, who is ranked 12th in the world. "He keeps us on our toes for sure," she said.

Isner and Haas exchanged the next two points, but the 2007 University of Georgia grad still held the 6-5 lead. And once again Karen Isner focused her gaze on the court, ignoring the rapidly increasing volume of the supporters around her.

"You're more confident than me," Karen Isner told her middle son, Jordan, who started losing tennis matches to his brother when Isner was 17 years old.

Said Jordan: "John won a challenger tournament in Lexington last week and I knew he deserved a wild card here. I knew he could beat these guys. I know how well he can play."

But only when Haas failed to return a serve and John Isner arched back pumping his fist in victory did Karen Isner stand, clap and smile. And only after her son strode to the opposite corner of the court to where his family sat and knocked his fist in to his mom's did she turn around and release a pent-up scream that cut through the mid-afternoon humidity.

"I can't believe he's here, competing, playing against people like that," Karen Isner said. "This is amazing. I don't know what to say."


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