USC sophomore Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson in action at the ITA National Indoors
© Jon Eilts
USC Associate Head Coach George Husack (l) and Steve Johnson at the ITA National Indoors
USC sophomore Steve Johnson, from Orange, Calif., is ranked No. 18 in singles and No. 3 in doubles (with his partner Robert Farah) in the ITA pre-season rankings. Johnson is already off to an outstanding start in the 2009-10 season,
claiming the singles title at the ITA National Indoor Championships earlier this month
. During the 2008-09 season, he was named an ITA All-American in singles and doubles and was also selected to the All Pac-10 First Team.
Johnson, who turns 20 on Dec. 24, was named one of six college players who will represent the United States in the fourth annual Master’U BNP Paribas, an international collegiate competition that will be held Dec. 9-14 in Poitiers, France. He recently took time to answer some questions for USTA.com.
USTA: Since May, you’ve had a pretty good run, winning the NCAA team title and being named an All-American, then this fall reaching the semis of the ITA All-American and winning the title at the ITA National Indoors? What have you learned from all of these experiences?
Steve Johnson: These past few months have been pretty special for my tennis career, and from all of these tournaments I have learned that pretty much anything is possible.
USTA: This winter you will travel with the U.S. team to compete in the Master’U event in Poitiers, France. Are you excited about the trip? How are your mixed doubles skills?
Steve Johnson: I am very excited about the trip to France and the opportunity to compete for the United States. I haven’t played mixed doubles for awhile, but I have done pretty well in the past.
USTA: What is your favorite thing about being a Trojan?
Steve Johnson: Being a part of the long history here and hopefully creating some history during my time at USC.
USTA: As a student-athlete, free time is tough to find. What do you like to do in your “spare” time?
Steve Johnson: Spare time is hard to come by, but I just like to relax and hang out with the team.
USTA: You are definitely an exciting player to watch. Who have been your major influences on the court?
Steve Johnson: My idols growing up have always been Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
USTA: Your coach, Peter Smith, is one of the most successful coaches in college tennis. What have you learned from him since coming to USC?
Steve Johnson: The biggest thing that I have learned from my time here is to play aggressive while playing within myself and to never give up because every dual match could end up being decided on your court.
USTA: What are your goals for yourself and for your team this season?
Steve Johnson: My goals this year are to help our team win another NCAA title, and my personal goals are to continue the success I have had this fall into the dual season.
USTA: As defending national champions, you’ve got a bit of a target on your back. How do you and your teammates deal with the pressure?
Steve Johnson: That has been the big question so far this year, but the team doesn’t feel like the target is on our backs yet because we have yet to deal with the pressure as a whole team. Peter and our coaches have tried to get across that it is a new season for us and what we did last year is in the past and we have to be ready to go do it again this year.
USTA: There are a lot of great rivalries in the Pac-10. Which match do you look forward to the most?
Steve Johnson: I am really looking forward to playing Stanford because of the three great matches we had last year and UCLA just because it is a great rivalry.
USTA: You were one of the top recruits in the class of 2008. Tell us a little about the recruiting process and why you chose USC?
Steve Johnson: The recruiting process is not an easy thing to deal with because choosing a college to go play for is the biggest decision most of us have made in our lives. I chose USC because I felt like I had a great relationship with Peter and I got along with the team really well.
USTA: What advice do you have for junior tennis players who want to play in college?
Steve Johnson: College tennis has been the best thing for my tennis career so far. I have the ability to practice with 10 other guys who want to succeed, which really motivates you to push one another to get better.