Johnson successfully defends Houston title against inspired Sandgren

by: Ashley Ndebele | April 15, 2018

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Steve Johnson clinched the match 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-4 against Tennys Sandren on Sunday. (Getty Images)

When Steve Johnson first won this title in 2017, his father and coach was sitting in the players’ box cheering for his son. A year later, Johnson returned, this time without his father, who passed away in his sleep on May 11, 2017. Johnson has understandably had a difficult time dealing with his loss.

In an all-American final against first-time ATP World Tour finalist Tennys Sandgren, the defending champion retained his title at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, clinching the match 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-4. It was the second time in the past 15 years the tournament featured an all-American final.

Watch Johnson's championship point over Sandgren:

After trading breaks in the first set, Johnson ran way with the tiebreak, giving away only two points. However, Sandren immediately stole the momentum, taking the second set to force a decider.

In the final set, Johnson got the one break he needed in the ninth game, and was able to close it out. With this win, he’s now the second man to win back-to-back Houston titles since Andy Roddick achieved this feat in 2001-2002.

After the match, the two-time NCAA Men's Singles Championship was overcome with emotions, not able to stop the tears.

“This court has a lot of special meaning to me,” said a very emotional Johnson, who had trouble finish his sentence during the ceremony. This was the first title he won since the loss of his father, and his third ATP career title.

Watch Johnson's championship speech:

Sandgren, who reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2018 edition of the Australian Open in January, was playing in his first ever ATP World Tour final after taking out veteran Ivo Karlovic in the semifinal, which happened to be also his first. The 26-year-old American will now be ranked inside the Top 50, thanks to his stellar performance this week in Houston.

"I didn't feel like I could get to the final this week. I was just trying to win a few matches," said Sandgren after his semifinal win on Saturday. "But I put myself in that position." 

For Johnson, this win was a pre-wedding present as he set to marry his fiance Kendall Bateman next week.


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