Steve Johnson has been giving American tennis fans something to cheer about as of late. The 25-year-old USC College standout reached his first ATP final last week in Vienna, before falling to veteran David Ferrer in three competitive sets. Having turned pro in 2012, the American is having the best season of his career. With last week's result, he has risen 14 spots in the rankings, to reach a career high ranking of world number 32. His good form continued onto the Valencia Open, where he beat Martin Klizan comfortably, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the second round.
On Thursday, Johnson squared off against world number 16 Feliciano Lopez, who received a bye in the first round as he is the second seed. The two player's head to head record was in favor of the 25-year-old, who won their only meeting last year at Delray Beach in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. The American made it 2-0 on the record as he dispatched the Spaniard 6-4, 7-6(5), in 74 minutes.
Johnson Takes First Set Confidently
The first set would be straight forward for the American. It was a good matchup for him, as his 34-year-old opponent is not a good returner of serve. By mixing up his play and keeping the Spaniard guessing, he was able to exploit the second seed's weaknesses to gain the upper hand. The 24-year-old held every service game with ease as Lopez had a bad day on the return side. It would only take him one break of serve to win the first set, 6-4.
Tough Second Set
The second set had more drama and a better level of play from both players. Both held their first four service games as the set became deadlocked at four apiece. Johnson took the first break of the second set as he put the Spaniard under pressure to go up 5-4, giving himself a chance to serve for the match. Despite the positive play from Johnson, Lopez finally striked with his only good return game of the match. The crafty player broke back to level the match at five apiece. The level of the match became heightened as both players battled it out. It finally reached a second set tiebreak.
The American took first blood, taking a commanding 3-0 lead. Lopez did not give up though; he won three straight points to bring the tiebreaker to 3-3. The 24-year-old then made his move, supported by his recently increased confidence, and quickly went on to win the next four points to win the tiebreaker 7-3, and the match 6-4, 7-6.
With the win, his 35th this season, Johnson goes on to face sixth seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the quarterfinals, who is coming off a win over qualifier Taro Daniel 6-3, 6-4.