American Johnson halts Gulbis' birthday celebrations
by Benjamin Snyder
Friday, August 31, 2012
A day after his birthday, Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis would have little more to celebrate besides turning 24. The Latvian was defeated by American wild card Steve Johnson in the third round in front of a packed Court 13 on Friday.
For former University of Southern California Trojan and two-time singles NCAA champion Johnson, the 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4 win marks his best showing at a major, having only played the 2011 US Open previously.
After the match, Johnson said that to win "Feels pretty good. All the hard work I put in since last year losing in five sets [to Alex Bogomolov Jr.] really has paid off. I'm very happy to see that it has paid off."
The No. 245-ranked Johnson, 22, looked to grab the early lead in the first set over Gulbis after the players held serve until 4-5. The Latvian faced two break points, but Johnson’s aggressive game ultimately fell short on those chances. Both would later hold to enter a tiebreak.
With an ace, Gulbis grabbed the set in the sudden death format.
In the second, the players continued to battle and to hold their own on serve in a display of quality tennis to get to a second tiebreak. Johnson and Gulbis would get to 4-all before a costly Gulbis error at net gave Johnson the 5-4 lead heading into his serve. Another Gulbis error gifted Johnson a look at a first set point and the American collected the second set on a particularly poorly timed double fault off the Latvian's racquet, his second of the match.
In the third, it would be the American with a chance to grab the lead as he tested Gulbis’ serve at 3-4 and earned a break point chance. That would be successfully converted on a Gulbis error. To close out the set, the former No. 21 in the world struck a groundstroke that sailed long, prompting the American to let out a roar of a “Yeah!” and pump his fist as he raced closer to another win at a major in his young professional career.
Early in the fourth, it’d be Gulbis with the chance to climb back into the match. He earned a double break point, although the first would be erased by a laser-like Johnson forehand. The second, meanwhile, went away with a series of strong serves for the game. In the middle of the set minutes later, Johnson successfully pushed aside any shifts in momentum by earning two break chances of his own. With a backhand passing shot down the line, he claimed the 4-3 lead a minute under the three hour mark.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Johnson’s continued his fine form on serve as he dropped just one point in the match’s final game to advance on a Gulbis error.
Gulbis, who’s ranked No. 145 but has been as high as No. 21, achieved his best result at the US Open by advancing to the fourth round in 2007. He was bidding to advance to the third round, which would have been his best showing at a major in four years. In 2008, he reached the French Open quarterfinals.
Since then, however, the Latvian, who earned his two career Tour-titles on hard court at Delray Beach and Los Angeles in 2010 and 2011, respectively, has failed to get past the second round of a major.
Next up for Johnson is the No. 13 seed Richard Gasquet.
Follow usopen.org staff writer Benjamin Snyder on Twitter @WriterSnyder.