Johnson Captures Bendigo Crown Ahead Of Federer Clash
It's that time of year again. The first Grand Slam of 2020 is less than a day away, as all eyes will be on Melbourne Park for the Australian Open.
For Steve Johnson, that means a massive opportunity awaits. The American will open his campaign on one of the game's biggest stages, battling Roger Federer under the bright lights of Rod Laver Arena. Monday's day session encounter will be the tournament's first men's match on the main stadium.
But first, the California native had one last piece of business to take care of on Saturday. Johnson claimed his second ATP Challenger Tour title in five months, lifting the trophy in nearby Bendigo. After kicking off the 2020 campaign with a quarter-final finish at the Canberra International - also held in Bendigo - he improved to 7-1 on the new season with a 7-6(2), 7-6(3) final victory over Stefano Travaglia.
"Any time you enter a tournament, you want to be the last man standing," Johnson told the Bendigo Advertiser. "I was lucky to play a couple of good tie-breaks today and get a win. I feel good going into the Australian Open.
"I felt I started out both tie-breaks very well and that's key. Once you get a lead and with the way I was serving it was very important. Tennis is a game of a couple of points here and there and I was lucky to get on top today."
Johnson, who peaked at a career-high No. 21 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2016, is hoping the new year will bring new beginnings. He dropped just one set in five matches in Bendigo and will look to carry the momentum into Melbourne Park. The 30-year-old will face Federer for the third time, having dropped their two previous encounters in Wimbledon in 2016 and at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells the following year.
"It's going to be fun, it's just another challenge ahead," Johnson added. "He's probably the best ever to do it. I've played him a couple of times before, so I will try and take that experience going into Monday and go out there with no fear."
Johnson, who recently streaked to the semis at the Winston-Salem Open and reached a Challenger final in Fairfield, California, is eyeing his first win over a Top 5 opponent. A four-time ATP Tour champion, he is projected to rise to No. 75 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday.
Balazs Blasts To Bangkok Title
Welcome back, Attila Balazs! On Saturday, the Hungarian captured the crown at the Bangkok Open, marking his first Challenger title in nearly 10 years. He overcame Aslan Karatsev 7-6(5), 0-6, 7-6(6), in a marathon two hours and 50 minutes, clinching the second trophy of his career.
Balazs is back!— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) January 18, 2020
🗣️ "I'm very happy. The last time I won a Challenger was almost 10 years ago in Italy. It's a special victory for me." pic.twitter.com/qiy8L32zRU
Balazs, who retired from pro tennis in 2014 to begin a coaching career, is finding his stride at the age of 31. Last year, the Budapest native earned his first Top 50 win over John Millman and reached his first ATP Tour final on the clay of Umag as a qualifier. And he was not done there. On Monday, he will rise to a career-high No. 112 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Nearly 10 years after lifting his maiden Challenger trophy in Palmero, Italy, in 2010, Balazs is back.
"I'm very happy," said Balazs. "The last time I won a Challenger was almost 10 years ago in Italy. It's a special victory for me."