19 Feb Americans Rule the Day in Delray
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – The moment he won the final point of the match, Steve Johnson twirled toward the east stands and launched a tennis ball out of the Stadium Court at the Delray Beach Tennis Center. Finally, he could let out the frustrations and exale in relief.
“I was trying to hit it to another planet,” Johnson said after he defeated Jason Jung of Taipei 7-6(3), 6-4 in a first-round match Tuesday afternoon at the ATP Tour’s Delray Beach Open. The win snapped the American’s nine-match losing streak that dated to the second round at last year’s U. S. Open. “You try to not think about it, but if I’d lost today that would have been 10 in a row. Just wanted to get the win and hopefully take a bit of the monkey off the back.”
Johnson’s emotions reached a crescendo during his post-match news conference when the topic of his late father was brought up. Steve Johnson Sr. passed away in his sleep on May 11, 2017, at the age of 58. His son still struggles with the unexpected loss of his father, who was his mentor.
“He was a big part of my tennis life. It’s just hard to compete. Every day’s different,” Johnson said, wiping away tears as he reflected on how important his father was in his life.
Johnson, who is ranked No. 34 in the world and is the No. 4 seed here this week, admitted he’s had to battle negative thoughts during the losing streak, but he was able to maintain positive thoughts during his match against Jung, who was making his Delray Beach Open debut.
“Just very happy to be playing another match,” Johnson said. “I was just happy, relieved, joy, there’s a lot of happy emotions right now. I just want to go process it all and finally enjoy a second round of a tournament in a while. Do as much as you can to stay positive. I did a lot better job of that today. I was a hundred percent positive out there today.”
Johnson has enjoyed some success in Delray Beach, where he now has a 12-5 record and was a semifinalist last year and 2014. Now that the losing streak is in the rearview mirror, he’s hoping he can rekindle some of his fond memories here.
“I just want to keep playing tennis as long as I can,” Johnson said. “I just hope I can kind of turn around this funk and just enjoy the passion of competing and being out there again.”
Johnson was one of three Americans who won Tuesday afternoon on the main Stadium Court. Mackenzie McDonald ousted No. 7 seed Taylor Fritz 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in an all-American matchup to open the second day of competition. John Isner, the No. 2 seed, beat Canadian Peter Polansky 6-3, 7-6(4). Another American, Reilly Opelka, also won his first-round match in straight sets, taking out fellow American Tennys Sandgren 6-4, 6-0 on the outer Court 1.
McDonald overcame what he described as “shaky” serving in the first set to win his Delray Beach debut match.
“Second set I served a little better. I was focusing on the right things, keeping my energy up and playing aggressive,” said McDonald, who bragged that he also beat Fritz in mini-golf last Saturday. “He still owes me 20 bucks.”
The 6-foot-10 Isner delivered 23 aces and saved four break points in the second set and was able to overcome a little fatigue from playing in New York last weekend and then dealing with travel here for his first outdoor match this year.
“It’s a complete 180 from last week,” the world No. 9 Isner said. “It’s just tricky. First match out in the heat and humidity is always pretty tough. Everything was very difficult out there today for me. I do think I’ll be much better physically in the next match. I’m feeling good and strong and healthy and eager.”
Opelka, who has drawn comparisons to Isner because of his 6-foot-11 frame and big serve, arrived here fresh off winning the New York Open on Sunday, his first ATP Tour-level title. What has been a whirlwind week for the 21-year-old Delray Beach resident didn’t seem to affect his play Tuesday.
“It’s tough coming from different conditions, different balls, and my flight was delayed (in New York), but I was really pleased with my level of play,” said the 21-year-old Opelka, who is ranked No. 56 in the world. “I stayed tough in a couple of matches (in New York) I could have easily lost.”
The other winners from a full slate of afternoon matches were Radu Albot of Maldova, Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Aussie Jordan Thompson, Italians Paolo Lorenzi and No. 6 seed Andreas Seppi, and No. 8 seed Adrian Mannarino of France.