Steve Johnson successfully defended his Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship title, and for the second year in a row, the American had to dig deep to pull out a three-set victory in the final.
Johnson won his ninth straight match at River Oaks when he defeated countryman Tennys Sandgren 7-6(2) 2-6 6-4 in Sunday’s final. It was the third straight three-set match Johnson won this week.
“I’m glad to have won again here in Houston,” Johnson said.
Johnson applied the pressure early in Sunday’s final, forcing Sandgren to save a pair of break points in each of his two service games. Meanwhile, Johnson was hitting on all cylinders with his serve, at one stage winning 11 straight service points during the opening set.
One point after the streak ended, Sandgren hit a tweener while scrambling back from the net that Johnson could not volley. Quickly in a hole in a service game, Johnson would surrender the break to go down 5-6. However, he immediately broke back to force the tie-break, which he won comfortably.
Sandgren, who was playing in his first career final appeared on the ropes early in the second set, fighting off a break point in a long first service game. But it was Johnson who felt the most pressure, and was broken twice while Sandgren won four straight games to force a third set.
The final set was very even. Neither player faced a break point until the second-to-last game. Johnson converted on his first chance to break on a ball that clipped the line. He then served out the final game to claim the title.
Johnson is the first player to repeat as US Clay champion since Andy Roddick did so in 2001-02.
“It means a lot here,” Johnson said. “This is one of the best tournaments of the year. You get this atmosphere of the country club and everything that goes with it. The people are awesome. Everybody involved with the tournament makes it so special. Always happy to come back here and start my clay court season here.”
Sandgren was playing in his first ATP final one year after he made his ATP debut at River Oaks.
“I’m super excited to get to a final and happy the match was highly contested,” Sandgren said. “It definitely could have been a lot easier for him. The fact that it was close, that I fought and got back and got to a third set is certainly a good effort I think.”
Sunday’s title match was the first US Clay all-American final since 2015. Johnson’s path to the win included wins over five Americans, making him the first player to win here by beating five Americans since 1991 when Jaime Yzaga did so.
Johnson leaves Houston to head back home for his wedding next weekend. Sandgren is heading immediately to Monte-Carlo where he plays his opening round match on Tuesday.