FROM THE SAP OPEN IN SAN JOSE — John Isner can attest to it. So can the Bryan Bros., James Blake, Benjamin Becker, Jesse Levine, or any of the guys who played college ball before making the leap to the pros. There are some big adjustments to be made when stepping up to the ATP Tour, no matter how much on-court success you’ve become accustomed to.
Steve Johnson is well aware of that, too. He took the D1 game to new heights at USC, winning four straight NCAA team titles, and back-to-back singles crowns in his final two seasons as a Trojan. In fact, he may just be the greatest college player of all time. But the 23-year-old knows he’s all but starting from scratch in his new role as that of Professional Tennis Player.
“I think I got a little complacent – in college I could get away with a few more things,” he told TennisReporters.net at the SAP Open, where he reached the first ATP Tour quarterfinal of his young career. “I’ve got to learn that’s probably not going to work out here. You’ve got to go out and take every chance you get and maximize what you can do. I’m working on everything to get better, and I think that’s going to be the case from here on out in my career.”
“These guys, if you leave something hanging, you leave something short, they’re going to put the pressure on you and come in and hit winners,” he continued. “In college, you might get away with something short or put a ball where you don’t want to hit it. These guys will take any little mistake and put it down your throat. It’s tough, but that’s tennis. You learn from it and get better.”
Johnson rode his serve to a career-best showing in San Jose, fighting off a pair of match points to defeat the always-dangerous Croat Ivo Karlovic 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(6) in the opening round, and outplaying fellow American Tim Smyczek in the Round of 16 6-3, 6-3. Heading into the quarters, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Davis Cup practice partner had held his serve 26 straight times on the week. But quarterfinal opponent Tommy Haas, at 34 a veteran performer who has worked his way back to the near outskirts of the top 20, had too much experience. The German-turned-American handed Johnson his first three breaks of the week in scoring a 6-4, 6-2 win.
Though it was their first career head-to-head, the two had met before on the practice court. They had hit together on a few occasions in L.A., and Johnson clearly made an impression on the three-time Slam semifinalist.
“I remember him just being a hard worker, a competitor,” recalled Haas. “You can tell if somebody wants something. This is the attitude you must have. I see so many young kids, even 18, 19, who maybe have more talent or better strokes than Steve, but they don’t have the desire. You can see it in their eyes a mile away. It kills me. Sometimes you tell kids to have the desire, to have the will to work. But maybe it’s too late. Why do you have to tell someone that at 19, 20? Either you have it or you don’t. With Steve, you see that desire. I appreciate that. You see these guys who are doing the college thing and are successful and it takes them a little while to get used to the pros, but they figure out a way. He’s moving up in the rankings. I think he’ll be around for a while.”
“It’s big. It’s definitely big for confidence,” said Johnson of his run in San Jose. “I think it’s proves that I belong and I can go out there and compete with these guys. Making a quarterfinal at an ATP event, at least in my mind, is not a fluke. I hope, for those people who think it is, to prove them wrong.....