HOUSTON — Steve Johnson shrugged off numerous missed opportunities to beat first-time ATP Tour finalist Tennys Sandgren 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-4 on Sunday to become the first player to successfully defend the U.S. Men’s Clay Court title in 16 years.
Johnson, a 28-year-old from Palos Verdes, California, won only two of the 14 break points he had against Sandgren’s serve, but the second in the penultimate game of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour match put him in position to serve for the match, his third three-setter in a row.
Johnson then fended off a break point himself and secured the title, only his third at the ATP level, when Sandgren lofted a backhand return a couple of feet long.
“I felt like I could have taken more advantage of all those break points,” Johnson said. “I didn’t play the way I would have liked to play, and then he started to play good at the end of the second set. In the third set, I was just hanging on at the beginning and trying to fight off his momentum. A final is not like any other match, but you try to trick yourself into thinking it is. That’s what the top guys do so well.”
No player had repeated in the only men’s clay-court tournament in the U.S. since Andy Roddick won back-to-back at a different venue in 2001-02. It was the second all-American final since Andre Agassi prevented Roddick from taking his third in a row in 2003, after Jack Sock‘s victory over Sam Querrey in 2015.
Johnson will marry longtime girlfriend Kendall Bateman on Saturday in California. Fellow pros John Isner, Querrey and Dennis Kudla will serve as groomsmen.
“Now it’s all wedding stuff,” he said. “I’ll go home, take a few days to relax, go golf a little bit in Palm Springs.”