For the second year in a row, three Americans will take the court on Semifinal Saturday following a Friday full of marathon matches at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.
On a night when top seed John Isner notched his 10,000th career ace, it was defending champion Steve Johnson who notched the win, grinding out a 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(3) victory over the world No. 9. It’s the fifth time the 28-year-old has toppled Isner in the nine times they’ve played, and the third time one of their matches has ended in a third-set tiebreak.
“I was just lucky to get that first-set tiebreak,” Johnson toldmTennis Channel.“It really just came down to a point here and there.”
In Johnson’s second semifinal of the year, he’ll face Taylor Fritz, who served up a significant upset of his own with a marathon 6-3 3-6 6-4 win over No. 3 seed and 2015 champion Jack Sock. Down a break in the final set, the 20-year-old California native broke twice to wrap up the biggest clay-court victory of his career in two hours and 22 minutes.
“I knew I needed to come out with a strong start because I didn’t want to play from behind against him,” Fritz told Tennis Channel.“I wanted to keep it close from the beginning.”
Fritz, who has been ranked as high as No. 53 in the world, will enter the semifinals having won his only previous meeting with Johnson two years ago in Memphis. A first-timer in Houston, he is enjoying support from fans at River Oaks.
“It feels great [to have so many people cheering for me], especially in my first year here,” Fritz said.“I already feel so welcome.”
On the bottom half of the draw, No. 8 seed Tennys Sandgren came from a break down in the final set to defeat Argentina’s Guido Pella 4-6 7-5 6-3 and advance to the first ATP World Tour semifinal of his career.
“Keeping my body healthy has been a big deal,” Sandgren said. “I’ve been up and down with injuries. I’ve been trying to stay healthy and emotionally trying to stay as even as I can. The more even I can stay while still be intense, that’s the goal.”
The 26-year-old Sandgren qualified for his first ATP main draw here in Houston last year, earning his maiden Grand Slam wins in January with a surprise run to the Australian Open quarterfinals. The world No. 58 will face 2007 Houston champion Ivo Karlovic for a spot in the final.
With his 3-6 6-2 6-3 upset of No. 4 seed Nick Kyrgios on Friday afternoon, 39-year-old Karlovic became the oldest semifinalist on the ATP World Tour since Jimmy Connors reached the San Francisco semis at 40 years old in 1993.
When he faces off against Sandgren for the first time on Saturday, the 6-foot-11 Croat will be bidding to become the oldest finalist since 43-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1977.
Saturday action will include both singles semifinals and the doubles final. See the full order of play.