Entering the event for the fifth time, the fourth seed, American Steve Johnson finally clinches his first Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship defeating Thomaz Bellucci in Houston.
The 27-year-old, Steve Johnson who had traveled a lot, from covering the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Miami to a Davis Cup tie in Australia in a span three weeks overcame cramps to win the final against the eighth seed, Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5).
In his four previous outings to River Oaks, Steve Johnson had never sailed through the second round.
The first round bye did give Johnson some relief and he was up against the flamboyant Dustin Brown. In a gruesome match which lasted 78 minutes, Johnson managed to tame the German 7-6(12) 6-4 and book the quarterfinal berth.
Next challenge was 2014 Houston winner, Fernando Verdasco who held a 4-0 record against Johnson. However, determined to win, the American downed the Spaniard 6-4 6-2 in one hour and 23 minutes to seize his first semifinal.
Now came the all-American bout against No.1 seed and a man who surpassed Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in most match-wins this year- Jack Sock. Losing the first set, it seemed Johnson is en route to his third defeat against Sock this year but jolting everything he had, Johnson fought back winning the match 4-6 6-4 6-3 and into the final showdown.
“The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are at their worst” – Martina Navratilova
Sunday, the American entered his first ATP World Tour final in a clay court against a player who had won his all four ATP titles on clay- Thomaz Bellucci.
As the first two sets were won apiece, the men headed to a decider. At 5-5, Johnson, serving for the lead, cramps kicked in. Unwilling to quit he struggled to even return Bellucci’s serve as they headed into a third set tiebreak.
With myriads of forehands, Johnson took a 6-3 lead. Even though Bellucci climbed back, the American raised heart beats of the crowd as he pulled off a forehand winner at 6/5 to seal the match in two hours and 24 minutes.