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Steve Johnson's "new normal" provides clarity on what matters most
Amidst the ups and downs endured this year, the American's mindset shift could see him to a successful North American swing.
Published Jul 12, 2021
Steve Johnson isn’t the same person or player he was ten years ago. Surrounded by luscious grass-courts with a smile on his face, the American has overcome much adversity to find himself right where he wants to be at the Hall of Fame Open.
As he was preparing for the first major of 2021, he was hit with gut-wrenching news. His newborn baby girl Emma was rushed to the hospital after a routine pediatric checkup.
"We’ve spent a few times in the ICU with her and all things considered there’s definitely kids that are going through more heartbreaking things than her," Johnson tells Baseline. "Just seeing the strength from the parents in there, it’s impressive.”
Due to her low oxygen levels, Emma underwent surgery and Johnson flew back home from Melbourne quarantine to join wife Kendall. The harrowing event left him with the clarity that life beyond the baseline is what ultimately matters most.
“It’s been very eye-opening," admits the American. "I figured this would be something that would happen but to see it first-hand has been really remarkable. I look at the sport much differently now. I’m not as consumed with the results as much, or how the day has gone. Whenever I’m home and I’m practicing, or I lost on the road, I can FaceTime with my wife and see her smile and Emma smile and laugh. It’s like the rest of the day really has no bearing on how life really is."
A self-described slow starter, the world No. 83 has rarely come out of Australia with a winning record, but the understandable distraction and delay to his 2021 season led him to struggle on court from March into May.
As Roland Garros neared he hustled to find his footing on the terre battue. Johnson posted an outstanding five-set-comeback over countryman Frances Tiafoe to claim his first victory of the season and backed it up over Thiago Monteiro before falling in the third round.
Amidst the ups and downs endured this year, his mindset isn’t fluctuating.
“A couple matches haven’t gone my way at Wimbledon and Roland Garros in the third round, but that’s life," Johnson says. "So now you come and bring those positives and those experiences to this swing. I feel very comfortable in the U.S. and North American swing. So hopefully I can hit the ground running and get off to a good start.”
This Hall of Fame Open will illustrate his "new normal" as both Kendall and Emma will be on hand to support him from the stands. Seeing his own maturation unfold is surreal for Johnson, but it's what excites him most about being back in the States. It’s also a large component of his decision not to represent the U.S. at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
“I’d really love to go back to the Olympics, I just didn’t want to go in this scenario. With it being locked down you can’t enjoy the village, you can’t enjoy your family coming with you to enjoy the experience. I want to go back to the Olympics and enjoy everything that it has, but you’re not going to be able to do that in Tokyo," Johnson said.
With many fans and media outlets criticizing American players for passing up on Tokyo, it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Aside from the lengthy list of restrictions, Johnson also noted the scheduling of the event that makes it difficult for players to commit. A sizable stretch away from home and interfering with US Open lead-up events can be daunting.
The USC alumnus has already enjoyed a memorable Olympic experience, taking home a bronze medal in Rio alongside Jack Sock. Winning the historic piece of hardware is something Johnson will never forget, but just don’t ask him where it is.
“I’ll forever be an Olympic medalist, It’s one of the coolest things. Speaking of, I don’t know where the medal is right now. We’re moving and I can’t find it. That’s kind of sad because people ask me and I go, ‘Actually I don’t know where it is.’ I know it’s in the house somewhere, but we had to make a baby room and all this stuff.”
No matter what scoreline plays out on court, Johnson feels he's already won: being a father and embracing this new normal has resulted in a major mindset shift that can most certainly see him through a successful North American swing.
Johnson begins his campaign in Newport against countryman Denis Kudla on Monday.