It’s been three years – and three kids – since his last Davis Cup appearance, but John Isner is back in Mardy Fish’s side, leading the line as USA’s No. 1 at the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals.

Life has certainly changed for the world No. 24 as he prepares to face Group E hosts Italy and Colombia at the Pala Alpitour in Turin.

“Truthfully, I didn’t know if I was ever going to be back in the Davis Cup team – I’m just in a different stage in my career,” said the 36-year-old. “Things worked out in a way this year that I really wanted to play, so I’m glad to be back.”

Isner returns to a different squad – only Jack Sock was playing Davis Cup when he made his last appearance against Belgium in 2018 – as well as a different captain in Fish and a different format for the Finals, but the team vibe he thrives on remains the same.

“We’re super-chill. We don’t take things too seriously,” Isner admits. “Of course, we get the work done in practice, but we try to keep it light. Most importantly, all of us really are good friends, and it’s fun to cheer teammates on rather than having to play against these guys.

“It brings out the best in everyone. Everyone here playing is a good competitor – you have to be a good competitor to play at this level. But when you’re playing for something that’s way more important than yourself, your country, it normally brings out the best in you.”

When you’re playing for something that’s way more important than yourself, your country, it normally brings out the best in you

Rejoining the side is not without its sacrifices. The Isner family welcomed their third child, James ‘Mack’ McKinley Isner just six weeks ago, while Isner himself is missing Thanksgiving on home soil for the first time in his life. 

“It’s my favourite holiday: you eat and watch football and be thankful for a lot of things. Back home in America, we have so many things to be thankful for. It’s definitely different this year, but we’re out here playing this prestigious event, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Fatherhood has recalibrated the former world No. 8’s priorities, but 2021 has gone to show that sometimes less can be more.

There’s no doubt that tennis is secondary in my life right now. You definitely have to maximise your time. But at my age, I don’t need to be on court three hours a day

“I played well, I just didn’t play much,” he says of his season, which featured his first singles title win in two years in Atlanta, where he is now a six-time champion, and doubles victory in Los Cabos with Mexico's Hans Hach Verdugo. “My win-loss record was pretty good, I just didn’t play much for various reasons – most importantly family stuff, having another kid.

“There’s no doubt that tennis is secondary in my life right now, so we’ll see how it goes as my career winds down. You definitely have to maximise your time – I don’t have as much time to put into my craft. But at my age, I don’t need to be on the court three hours a day.

“When I’m home I’ve tailored my schedule around the kids. I drop them off at 8:30 and then boom – from 9:00-11:00 that’s my time to practise, then I can pick them up. I try to get my work in around their schedule.”

Reviving a Davis Cup career that stretches back to 2010, Isner believes the Finals format could help USA upset the odds against an Italian side he deems favourites in Group E.

“Even without Berrettini, they’re throwing a very good team at us and Colombia,” he said. “But this format can be unpredictable. We’re going to like our chances when we take to the court against them and Colombia, but at the same time we know it’s going to be very difficult.”

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Main picture: Susan Mullane/ITF