With his old USC Trojan coach Peter Smith by his side, Steve Johnson stepped up and proved his doubters wrong in a thrilling 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over John Isner—a player he’s now beaten on five consecutive occasions. Despite Johnson’s recent dominance over Isner, it was the Georgia Bulldog who was a sizeable (-260) favorite heading into the match. “Stevie” as most everyone calls him, had other plans.
If a 7-6 in-the-fifth victory can be considered convincing, this one was. Johnson and his golden right arm weathered a 52 ace-storm from Isner, and outplayed him from the ground with an incredible 74 to 23 winner-to-unforced error ratio. He broke Isner twice and secured a mini break on the first point of the fifth-set tiebreak.
"I think Stevie plays so well against John because he knows he has to go for his shots," Smith said. "If he doesn't, John is going to be super aggressive, so it forces Stevie to be aggressive first. He has lots of respect for John and they are such good friends, I just think he is relaxed when he plays him."
After the match his coach was understandably pleased, tweeting, “Stevie was well, Stevie.”
Roughly translated, this means that Stevie was the same stud that led the USC Trojans to four consecutive NCAA team championships from 2009-2012, the latter two simultaneous with Johnson’s historic 72-match singles win streak, a record that will stand for quite some time.
Smith and Johnson have always had a special coach/player connection dating back to their time at USC.
“We’ve always just clicked,” Smith told me at the Fairfield Challenger in October, where he was also on the sidelines. “I’ve always been involved in Stevie’s tennis, but this time it’s a little different, there’s no team responsibilities this time.”
Johnson had hoped to “make some magic again,” and perhaps this victory will be the catalyst he’s been searching for. The world No. 64 will face off against Ricardas Berankis in the second round.
Jack Sock also silenced some critics on Day 1 outlasting the rock-solid veteran Pablo Cuevas in a physical, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (2), match that lasted well over three hours. It’s pretty clear on Instagram that Sock and his coach Alex Bogomolov Jr. had been taking their time off tour seriously, and it showed. In his day, “Bogie” was one of the world's fittest players, and he surely won’t take it easy on his player in the gym and on the track. Sock, still ranked outside the Top 300, has been quietly gathering momentum in 2020.
Jon Wertheim seems to be buying some stock in Sock, and maybe we should too.
Keep an eye on this Jack Sock match. If he can grind out a five-setter over a veteran like Cuevas, that's a potential pivot point...— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) August 31, 2020
If fitness is no longer an issue, the comeback is coming. We’ve all seen what Sock can do on the court, and for a player as uniquely talented as the former world No. 8, it won’t take many more wins like this before he starts believing again in a big way. A wise man once said you can't teach sick timing on the forehand.
Sock will face off against Adrian Mannarino in the second round, a player he’s beaten four times already.