John Isner Is Always Looking for Extra Leg Room

The tennis player John Isner is tall. Very tall. 6 feet 10 inches, to be exact. Which means that traveling on a plane to tournaments around the world, which the Dallas resident does roughly 11 months a year, can be a daunting task. And the biggest annual challenge comes every January, when the Australian Open is played, requiring Mr. Isner, who lost in the first round this year, as well as many other American tennis players, to spend many hours in the air on their way to Melbourne.

Ahead of the Open, Mr. Isner talked about his travel strategies. Over time he’s learned not only how to keep his legs stretched but also ensure his body is in top shape for the tournament ahead. The following is an edited version of the conversation.

What kind of traveler are you? When you go on vacation, are you looking for adventure, relaxation, culture — all three?

Usually I’m traveling for tennis, so the most important thing for me is to not get jet lag. Over the years it’s stopped being an issue. What I do, the first very thing once I’ve gotten settled in a hotel, is break a sweat. You have to sweat it out; the airplane is too gross. I’ll practice tennis or go to the gym. If I don’t have time I’ll use the sauna or steam room. I used to do the opposite. There was one time I flew back to Dallas from Asia, and I started partying a bit. I was so messed up with the time that I didn’t feel that tired. But it was the absolute worst thing I could have done. I felt awful for a week.

Do you sleep on the plane? Read? watch movies?

I’ve learned how to sleep on airplanes. When I’m taking a trans-Atlantic flight or going to a different continent, I will always read because reading puts me to sleep. When you watch a movie, you have all that light coming to your eyes, but with reading, I can’t get through 15 or 20 pages. In addition to sleeping, I also need to make sure I can stretch my legs a lot. For the most part I’m traveling in business class, but the toughest part for me is travel within Europe. Going from country to country, there really is no business class on these flights. I went from Stockholm to Vienna, and that flight was miserable. The leg room was extremely limited. I folded up like a lawn chair. I got up and walked around and made sure I drank a lot of water to make myself use the restroom to get up even more. It wasn’t the most enjoyable two hours, but I got through it.

Are there certain things you always take with you?

I try to bring a lot of water on the plane with me and eat a really good meal. I stopped eating airplane food; it’s not that good. I’ll eat a nice meal somewhere, and then I’ll just bring snacks on the plane — nuts and some fruit and some protein powder. I don’t dread long flights anymore.

What’s been your favorite trip?

I played an event in Thailand twice, and it’s always around New Year’s. Just getting there is hard. We flew into Bangkok from Los Angeles, which was long, but turned out nice. From there we (my then-girlfriend, now wife) took a private plane to this absolutely amazing resort in the city of Hua Hin. That was probably one of my favorite times ever. It was at the beginning of the tennis season, and I was there for tennis, but I actually got to have a lot of fun as well.

When you are on a tennis tour, do you get to see any of the cities you’re traveling to, or are you just in and out?

It all depends. For instance, in Stockholm, I had no time to see anything. I arrived late and played every match at night, finishing at 11 o’clock. It all depends on how the tournament goes. If you are doing well and winning, you don’t have any time at all. If, unfortunately, you lose early, it opens up time to see these amazing cities.

What has been one of your favorite side trips?

I was in Paris for a tournament, and I had time before it started. So my wife and I went to Normandy, which is two-and-a-half hours away. We left at 6 a.m., and we got there around 9 a.m. We stayed until around 3 or 4. We went to some of the beaches, and to this day it is the coolest thing I’ve done with my time on the road. It’s incredible. It’s super windy. It’s hard to explain; there is this cold wind, and you wear a beanie, and it’s great.