Roland Garros-Steve Johnson Survives

For the first two sets, it appeared that Steve Johnson was the terre battue expert while his opponent, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, the No. 26 seed, had grown up playing on the hard courts in Orange, California – (Johnson’s hometown). As always seems to be the case with Roland Garros contests, the match flow changed. Garcia-Lopez came to life after dropping back-to-back 6-3 tussles, and took the third and fourth sets, 7-6 and keeping with the day’s theme, 6-3. Johnson went back to doing what he does best. He drove his powerful forehand with authority; sliced his dicing backhand and served forcefully to pull out the final set, by the score (of what else), 6-3.

Steve Johnson  Photo Susan Mullane, camerawork usa

Steve Johnson
Photo Susan Mullane, camerawork usa

Johnson said of losing a two set lead and having to go the distance, “I wasn’t panicking. I was up two sets, and I played good at the end of the third. He buckled down and played some great defense in the last three sets. It was tough for me to hit a winner. He’s very comfortable on clay. Even down two sets, he thought it was far from over.”

He didn’t begin the final set on a positive note, but Johnson admitted, “I was down a break in the fifth and I just composed myself. I played a great game to break back, (it was a long game), and I think that it swung the momentum a little bit in my favor.”

Transitions and frustration are part and parcel of playing on terre battue as Johnson pointed out. “I think a couple years ago, when I was new on the tour, it could have gotten away from me really fast,” he said of losing the lead. “In the fifth set, 1-0, he held, and maybe I get broken again, and the ball might get rolling a little too fast in the wrong direction. I just drew from experience and buckled down. I knew that he still has to hold five more times to get through the end of the match. Fortunately, I got the break right back and righted the ship. I was fortunate enough to play some great tennis at the end.”

Prior to the Garcia-Lopez contest, Johnson had a 1-5 career record in five set encounters. It is ironic that his lone victory came a year ago at Roland Garros against Laurent Lokoli of France. “I’ve had a bunch of tough five-set losses,” Johnson admitted. “A couple of years ago, I played (Albert) Montanes here. He won the first. I won the second. He won the third. I won the fourth. You kind of get this emotion where you’re on this high, like you’re ready to go. It’s just another match. It’s just another set. I’ve played a lot of tennis in my life, and I felt comfortable out there today, in the fifth, just playing regular tennis. (Montanes won that match 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in 2013.)

Steve Johnson Photo Susan Mullane, camerawork usa

Steve Johnson Photo Susan Mullane, camerawork usa

“I didn’t need to raise my game to another level to win this one. I just buckled down and played the way I needed to play. I drew from all those five-set losses. Having a five-set win here last year, in the first round, it was just another day at the office.”

As tennis history indicates, Americans take time learning the complexities of playing on terre battue. Johnson – with a smile – called attention to that fact, saying,  “I feel like I’m getting more comfortable. It’s funny, because all three years I’ve played on the tour full time, once clay season comes along, I’ve struggled. Two years ago in the Challengers in the States, it was winning games, and then in Bordeaux, two years ago, I won three games; I got killed.

“Then, I got to Roland Garros, to play qualies, and the ball started to roll and with that you figure it out. It’s a learning process. Every year, I’ve felt like I’ve gotten here and everything has just started to click. I’ve had some rough practice days and tough matches; you name it, for the last two months.

“Now it’s like, okay, everything I worked on with my coach (Peter Lucassen) happened today. It felt good. So it’s like one of those things where you get more comfortable the more you play on it [terre battue].

“When you first get here, you don’t know what it is about, but it’s a pretty special place to play. I just felt like the clay court game, for me, has clicked, which is good timing.”

Mark Winters

Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark Thoughts”

 

 

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