Tennys Sandgren and defending champion Steve Johnson battled past stubborn semifinal opponents on Saturday to secure the second all-American final in the past four years at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.
No. 8 seed Sandgren kicked off play with a 7-6(2) 7-6(4) win over 39-year-old Croat Ivo Karlovic. They traded breaks in both sets before the Tennessee native sealed his only straight sets victory this week and his first career final.
“I feel like I’m better at engaging myself after things don’t go right,” said Sandgren, a reference to a dropped service game in the second set. “I have a lot of experience in general at climbing back and not letting my negative side get the better of me.”
The 26-year-old Sandgren qualified for his first ATP main draw here in Houston last year, coming in ranked No. 157 in the world. One year later, following a surprise run to the Australian Open quarterfinals and his maiden final here in Houston, he will make his top 50 debut.
“I feel like it gives me perspective to feel like this could all go away in six months or a year,” Sandgren said of his newfound success. “I don’t know where I’ll be. But I know what I do have today.”
Sandgren will face defending champion Steve Johnson in the first all-American Houston final since 2015 when Jack Sock defeated Sam Querrey. The matchup will also mark the eighth all-American final at this event in the Open Era.
“It’s going to be an extremely tough [final],” Sandgren added. “I have to serve well, have to take care of the things I do well. He does offense well and competes well.”
Less than 24 hours after taking out world No. 9 John Isner in a marathon three-set battle, Johnson notched his fourth win of the week and his eighth straight win in Houston with a 7-5 6-7(4) 6-2 victory over 20-year-old Taylor Fritz.
When he meets Sandgren on Sunday, the 28-year-old Californian is bidding to become the first back-to-back U.S. Men’s Clay Court champion since Andy Roddick in 2001 and 2002.
“Tennys will be a tough opponent,” Johnson said. “He battles hard. He stuck with it against Ivo. It will be really good to have two college guys in the final.”
Though Johnson (USC) and Sandgren (University of Tennessee) never faced each other in collegiate play, Sandgren is 2-0 against Johnson, with their last match coming at the Savannah Challenger in 2013.
The final begins at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.