American Steve Johnson won an unlikely first career claycourt title on Sunday at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, Texas.
The No. 4 seed, who has in the last few weeks been to Australia and back to represent his country in Davis Cup, beat clay court veteran and No. 8 seed Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5) for his second career title.
“My body has just physically run out of gas after this week,” said Johnson, who cramped during the final. “Coming in from Australia kind of put me behind the eight ball and then the nerves of trying to close out the final, a lot of factors go into cramping. I was very fortunate to get out of that.”
Johnson won his first title last June on the grass courts at Nottingham.
Bellucci was also tested physically, winning four three-set matches en route to the final.
“I wasn’t cramping, but I was so tired that I couldn’t think to win the match,” said Bellucci, who fell to 4-4 in career finals. “He was a little bit worse than me [physically], but he was playing unbelievably.”
Bellucci broke straight away in the third set, and saw his opponent start cramping leading 4-2. But Johnson started going for broke on his groundstrokes and evened the match at 4-4. Johnson looked like he cold barely stand when he held serve to force the tiebreak, eventually closing it out.
“I knew I just had to take a few deep breaths and just get enough going in my body to last another five to 10 minutes out there,” the American said.
At 6-5 in the tiebreak Johnson struck another go-for-broke forehand winner to win the title.
He is now 2-1 in career finals, losing his lone championship at Vienna in 2015.
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