John Isner is known for having one of the best serves in all of tennis. He’s currently sitting on 6,476 aces for his ATP career. If the top players in the world have trouble returning Isner’s serve, how would someone playing at the amateur level fare against the top-ranked American?
That’s exactly what Scott Fowler set out to answer at last year’s Winston-Salem Open. Fowler, a sports writer for the Charlotte Observer, wrote a column detailing his experience on the court with Isner and his attempt to return a serve from the 6-foot-10 pro.
Fowler’s column earned him the 2015 Tennis Media Award given by the Tennis Industry Association (TIA), in conjunction with the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA). He will be officially recognized at the 56th annual NSSA Awards Weekend in Salisbury, N.C., on June 6-8.
The showdown with Isner was an eye-opening experience for Fowler to say the least.
“He’s a giant. It really was a bizarre feeling. I’ve played a lot of guys over the years, but just to see someone so big, I felt like the court had somehow been stretched out,” Fowler said. “The angles he can hit, it’s almost inconceivable. He just makes guys look so silly on TV, and he made me look silly as well. I never had quite the appreciation for it until I watched his serve wiz by.”
Fowler isn’t just your average USTA player. He’s currently playing leagues at the 5.0 level. He said he bounces between 4.5 and 5.0. Fowler, a former student at UNC-Chapel Hill, moved back to North Carolina in 1994 for take a job with the Observer. He’s been playing tennis ever since.
Over the past two decades, Fowler’s league teams have won multiple state championships. He plays out of The Club at Westport, a community that has enjoyed plenty of success in league play in recent years. Despite a considerable amount of experience under his belt, though, the self-described “patient groundstroker” couldn’t quite manage to get a clean return on an Isner serve. But he came close.
“I felt tremendously good just being able to hit one. I only got my racquet on two. One of them was close to being in, but it went in the doubles alley. I asked him not to take it easy on me,” Fowler said. “It was the angle more than the speed. It’s hard to catch up to it, but there’s times where he hits the ball and I’m literally 20 feet away from it.”
Fowler covers the Carolina Panthers and other major sporting events for the Observer. He’s seen all kinds of action firsthand, but he said his challenge with Isner was his favorite experience of all.
“It’s cool when you get to see something like that up close. I’ve ridden in a racecar at full speed and done a couple other things to give you an indication of what it’s like. This was my favorite of all because I think John tried to give me my money’s worth. I wanted to see it as close to real life.”
Charlotte writer wins 2015 Tennis Media Award