(May 24, 2015) In the first five-setter of the French Open on Sunday, Steve Johnson of the United States knocked out 26th seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-3, 6-3, 6-7(1), 3-6, 6-3 to reach the second round. The marathon match lasted three hours and 26 minutes. For the 56th-ranked Johnson, it’s his second win in five setters all coming in the first round. Last year in Paris, Johnson bested Laurent Lokoli coming back from a two-set deficit.
Johnson took a 6-3, 6-3 lead and was two points away from a straight sets win in the third set, then Garcia Lopez came back in the match.
“I wasn’t like I guess panicking,” Johnson said. “I was up two sets. I played a good end of the third. He kind of buckled down and played some great defense in the last three sets. Felt like it was tough for me to hit a winner. He played great defense. He’s very comfortable on clay; he’s very comfortable out there. I don’t think at any moment, even down two sets, he thought it was far from over. Just fortunate – you know, I was down a break in the fifth – just to kind of compose myself. Played a great game to break back, a long game, and I think that swung the momentum a little bit in my favor.”
“I’ve had a bunch of tough five-set losses,” Johnson reflected. “A couple years ago here I played Montanes. 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, 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 to play regular tennis. You know, I didn’t need to raise my game to another level to win this one. So that kind of mentality. So I just buckled down and played the way I needed to play. You know, drew back from all those five-set losses. Had a five-set win here last year in the first round. So just another day at the office to take care of business and win three sets.”
In recent years U.S men have not been known for their clay court prowess or love for the surface. The last U.S. man to win the French Open was Andre Agassi in 1999.
Asked about if U.S. men have gained confidence on clay courts, Johnson said: “I think it’s just a mindset really. Maybe back in the day after the (Andre) Agassi kind of (Michael) Chang, those guys’ era who won here, there was maybe a bit of negativity. I don’t want to say that in a negative way to guys like James and Andy and Mardy (Fish). Those guys held the torch for American tennis and did more than anyone else really has, in my era at least. I think there was maybe a negative tone to coming here or being on clay in general. So it’s nice to have John (Isner) do well because he’s the leader of our pack right now. If he does well, you know, we all believe we can do well I feel like. It’s one of those things where you see your buddy win and you’re going to feel the same confidence. I think I was the only American to play today, to win. Maybe tomorrow the Americans will come out guns blazing and go out and take care of business. Just one of those things that confidence kind of breeds more confidence, and winning, just amongst the group, is always beneficial.”
Johnson, 25, played college tennis for the USC Trojans won the NCAA Men’s Singles Championship in his junior and senior seasons (2011–2012), and was a part of the USC team that won four straight NCAA Championships.
The Californian rates clay as his third favorite surface.
“I played on hard court my whole life,” Johnson said. “Feel like my game suits well for grass. Maybe haven’t had the success at Wimbledon as I would like, but that’s going to change I hope one day. I feel like I’m getting more comfortable. It’s funny, because I’ve had literally the last three years — all three years I’ve played on the tour full time it’s like once clay season comes I’ve struggled. Like two years ago in the challengers in the States it was like winning games, and then Bordeaux two years ago I won three games; I got killed. Then like I get to Roland Garros to play quallies two years ago and the ball kind of starts to roll and 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, matches, you name it, for the last two months. Now it’s like, Okay, everything I worked on, my coach and I, it happened today. It felt good. So it’s like one of those things where you get more comfortable the more time you play on it. You’re going to get here, and I don’t know what it is about here, 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.”
Next up for Johnson in the second round will be the winner of the Sergiy Stakhovsky – Ricardas Berankis.