U.S. Men's Clay Court Wrap:
Johnson defends title
Arthur Kapetanakis | April 15, 2018
For the second straight year, Steve Johnson won a three-set final to lift the trophy at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston. Sunday, at the River Oaks Country Club, the 28-year-old edged an all-American battle, topping Tennys Sandgren, 7-6, 2-6, 6-4, to claim his third career ATP title.
It was an emotional victory for Johnson, whose father passed away 11 months ago. The 2017 Houston final was the last time his father saw him play.
On a more positive personal note, this was also the last tournament before Johnson's wedding, which is set for next weekend.
All five of the world No. 51's Houston opponents were American, as he battled past Ernesto Escobedo, Frances Tiafoe, No. 1 John Isner and Taylor Fritz to set up his final matchup against No. 8 Sandgren.
Johnson, who was a non-playing member of the U.S. ADVERTISEMENT Davis Cup squad that swept Belgium last weekend, outlasted all four of his teammates: Isner, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison.
The 20-year-old Fritz, Johnson's semifinal opponent, took out Harrison in round two and Sock in the quarters, while Argentina's Guido Pella got the better of Querrey in the second round, before ultimately falling to Sandgren in the semifinals.
The No. 6-seeded Johnson, who went the distance in all but one of his matches (Tiafoe was his only straight-sets victim), recovered from dropping the opening set of his tournament against Escobedo, as he eased his way into his first clay-court tournament of 2018.
In Sunday's final, a spirited Johnson outlasted Sandgren over two hours, 21 minutes. Remarkably, the California native won just one more point than his opponent, with the final tally reading 59 to 58.
Sandgren, of Tennessee, faced 14 break points, saving 12 of them, while Johnson saved two of five break points on the day. The decisive break came in the ninth game of set three, giving Johnson a 5-4 lead and an opportunity to serve for the title.
With the victory, he defends his points from last year and will sit at No. 52 in the new ATP World Tour Rankings.
If Johnson has one complaint about the U.S. Men' s Clay Court Championships, it might be that it is the only ATP World Tour event played on clay in the U.S. After back-to-back titles in Houston, he will look to continue his form on the European clay – though not before his wedding.
While Johnson is not in the draw, the Monte-Carlo Masters kick off the European swing this week.