Commentary

Can 'Quisner' carry the U.S. banner?

Originally Published: September 2, 2010
By Kamakshi Tandon | Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- At least he didn't have to go 11 hours and five minutes this time.

In fact, John Isner wasn't expected to play the U.S. Open at all after hurting his ankle two weeks ago. But thanks to an improved diagnosis and some intensive treatment, he made it on the court and wrapped up his opening match in a speedy hour and 27 minutes.

[+] EnlargeJohn Isner
AP Photo/Henny Ray AbramsJohn Isner has returned weeks early from an ankle injury to make a surprise appearance -- and perhaps a run? -- at the U.S. Open.

"So for my second-round match, I should be a little bit fresher than I was at Wimbledon," Isner joked.

The buzz from the legendary, longest-ever match that Isner played in the first round of Wimbledon continues to surround the 25-year-old, but he's currently more focused on trying to do what he couldn't do there -- win his second-round match.

Although he won't be utterly exhausted this time, when he faces Marco Chiudinelli on Friday, Isner's physical condition will be an issue. Fellow U.S. hope Sam Querrey reported that his friend's ankle was "still a little swollen," and Isner feels he is lacking a little fitness after having to stay off his feet because of the injury.

"When you hurt your ankle, everything else shuts down," he said. "So I've just got to rebuild the strength in my legs.

"I haven't been training, so my lungs really aren't there."

Isner did at least appear to be moving normally in his first match against Frederico Gil and did an effective job of using his big serve and forehand to keep points short. He hopes he can play his way back into shape during the tournament.

"Physically, I'm not at my best," Isner said. "But I know that I'm going to keep getting stronger. So it's just a matter of me trying to just get through one match at a time."

After rolling his right ankle at the Cincinnati Masters, Isner was initially believed to have a ligament tear, but further tests showed it wasn't quite as bad as first thought. "It wasn't torn," Isner said. "It was everything but torn. It was barely hanging on."

From there, it was a question of going all out to get himself ready to play at Flushing Meadows. He spent hours undergoing machine therapy on his foot to help it heal faster. "I just did not want to miss this tournament," he said. "All my focus, literally, the last two weeks has been on my ankle. That's the only reason I've been able to play. This really was like a four-to-six-week injury, and I got it ready to play in two."

If his ankle, legs and lungs hold up, Isner could make a deep run at this tournament. His draw opened up significantly after the top seed in his section, No. 7 Tomas Berdych, lost in the first round on Wednesday. The man who knocked him out, Michael Llodra, is having foot troubles of his own.

Although Isner accepts that his Wimbledon epic will always be with him, he is shifting his focus back to his career goals. "I want to do well in the big tournaments," he said.

That has been the missing link for both Isner and Querrey this season. The two friends and sometimes doubles partners -- collectively nicknamed "Quisner" -- have enjoyed a lot of success at 250-level tournaments, the bottom rung of ATP events. Querrey has won four 250 titles, while Isner has won one and reached three finals (losing to Querrey in two and to another fellow American, Mardy Fish, in the third). But their success at the bigger events has been relatively limited, particularly for Querrey this season.

Last year at the U.S. Open, Isner defeated Andy Roddick in the third round to reach the second week of a major for the first time. This time, there is the prospect of an all-American quarterfinal against Querrey.

For Querrey to get there, however, he likely will have to defeat one of the title favorites, Andy Murray, in the fourth round. He lost to Murray in the fourth round of Wimbledon earlier this summer, the American's best showing in a major so far, then saved a match point to defeat the British star in the final of Querrey's hometown event in Los Angeles.

Querrey's clutch performance in L.A. has given the 6-foot-6 22-year-old the belief that he can win against big names such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Murray. "You definitely have to learn," Querrey said. "I remember the first time I played Roger, when I was 18. I went out there knowing I was going to lose.

"But the more that I played Roger and Rafa and Andy and practiced with them -- you know, you take the occasional set off them in practice and take a set here or two in the match and you beat a top-10 guy, then you kind of start to get the belief."

This would be an apt time for a "Quisner" singles run to the late stages of a Grand Slam for the first time. With Roddick losing in the second round of the U.S. Open, the hunt is on for new faces to carry the national banner at this event and beyond. Earlier this summer, when Roddick dropped briefly to No. 13, there were no U.S. men in the top 10 for the first time in the history of the ATP rankings.

"I didn't really feel much of a responsibility to be the guy in the top 10," said Roddick, who turned 28 this week. "I figure that should fall maybe on some of the guys who have never been top-10."

Both Isner and Querrey have broken into the top 20 this season, but going higher will require starting to do well in the Grand Slams and Masters events.

Apart from his fourth-round finish at Wimbledon, Querrey has not won consecutive matches at any of the Grand Slam or Masters tournaments. "You've got to organize your schedule to make sure you're not tired going into the bigger events," he said during the summer hard-court season. "I'll definitely take a little more rest, I think, and try to focus more on the larger ones."

As for Isner? "What keeps me going is I don't want to fall behind," he said. "That's something [to do] with the more matches, the more mature you get on tour, the better that's going to become. I think Sam and I are both realizing that now. I feel that both of us are going to keep climbing."

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.