Emo­tional day at French Open

John­son, for­mer USC star who re­cently lost his fa­ther, breaks down af­ter vic­tory.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS -

PARIS — Steve John­son held ev­ery­thing in, all of it, un­til he sim­ply could not any longer.

Still mourn­ing the re­cent death of his fa­ther, a ten­nis coach who helped John­son learn the game back home in Orange County, the 25thseeded Amer­i­can didn’t al­low the jumble of feel­ings show out­wardly. He didn’t per­mit them to af­fect his abil­ity to smack a ten­nis ball, ei­ther, and man­aged to edge Borna Coric 6-2, 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-6 (6) and reach the French Open’s third round.

For nearly four full hours Wed­nes­day, John­son stayed the course, over and over, even as the on-court par­tic­u­lars grew com­pli­cated. He man­aged to be OK even af­ter his ini­tial four match points slipped away.

And even when he was docked a point by the chair um­pire for what an in­cred­u­lous John­son con­sid­ered an in­nocu­ous ex­tra hit of the ball deep in the fourth set. And yet , when Coric twice was a point from forc­ing a fifth set.

Only when, on his fifth chance to end things, John­son de­liv­ered a clean fore­hand win­ner to seal the vic­tory, did he let go, drop­ping onto to his knees near the base­line, his chest heav­ing, his eyes fill­ing with tears.

“I have no idea what hap­pened af­ter I hit the fore­hand. I just kind of col­lapsed and, emo­tion­ally, it got the best of me,” said John­son, who faces No. 6 Do­minic Thiem next. “The other days, I was able to kind of get to the locker room and kind of com­pose my­self a lit­tle bit. Today was just such an emo­tional match. A long match. Up and down. Just to get through it was some­thing that I know I’ll be very proud of.”

Steve John­son Sr. passed away three weeks ago.

“I know it’s go­ing to be emo­tional for quite some time. Who knows how long it’ll take? I just know he’s with me. He raised me to be a com­peti­tor and a fighter to the last point. And that’s what I try to do with my ten­nis,” said the 27-year-old John­son, who won two NCAA sin­gles ti­tles and four team ti­tles at USC. “I may not be the best ten­nis player. But there’s not go­ing to be a day where I’m just go­ing to let you win. I’m go­ing to try and give it my best.”

There were other win­ners and losers, of course, on Day 4 of the French Open, but noth­ing quite so poignant.

The 12th-seeded French­man Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga left meekly, elim­i­nated 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-4 by 91st-ranked Renzo Olivo of Ar­gentina af­ter only one game Wed­nes­day in a match sus­pended a night ear­lier be­cause of dark­ness. It was 2008 Aus­tralian Open run­ner-up Tsonga’s first loss in the first round in Paris since his de­but 12 years ago.

“Last week, I won my firstever clay tour­na­ment,” Tsonga said. “And today, I lost at the French Open. It’s the para­dox of ten­nis.”

No call for such re­flec­tion from those who ad­vanced, in­clud­ing de­fend­ing cham­pion No­vak Djokovic and nine­time cham­pion Rafael Nadal among the men, and de­fend­ing cham­pion Gar­bine Mugu­ruza, for­mer No. 1s Venus Wil­liams (whose preg­nant sis­ter Ser­ena was in the stands) and Caro­line Woz­ni­acki among the women.

There were a cou­ple of sur­prises: No. 6 Do­minika Cibulkova was beaten 6-4, 6-3 by 114th-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tu­nisia, and 18-year-old Cal­i­for­nian CiCi Bel­lis de­feated No. 18 Kiki Bertens of the Nether­lands 6-3, 7-6 (5).

Two-time ma­jor cham­pion Pe­tra Kvi­tova, who needed surgery on her left hand af­ter a knife at­tack at her home in De­cem­ber, bowed out in the sec­ond match of her come­back, a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) loss to Amer­i­can qual­i­fier Bethanie Mat­tek-Sands.

“It’s weird. I mean, I’m dis­ap­pointed, for sure. I came here to win the matches,” Kvi­tova said. “The fairy tale ended. Now, in up­com­ing weeks, I think it will be busi­ness as usual.”

Tatyana Zenkovich Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

STEVE JOHN­SON RE­ACTS af­ter win­ning his sec­ond-round match against Borna Coric in four sets.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.