Sixth Time's The Charm For Johnson Against Cilic In Cologne
The sixth time was the charm for Steve Johnson against Marin Cilic on Monday. The American, who lost their first five meetings, battled past the former World No. 3 7-6(3), 6-4 to reach the second round of the bett1HULKS Championship in Cologne.
"I wouldn't say [my game is] the perfect recipe [to beat] Marin. He's beaten me five times pretty handily, so I'm just happy to get a win today, it works," Johnson said on court after his victory. "Changed some things up in the strategy and every day is a new day out here. You have to give it your all."
Cilic had won 12 of the pair's 13 previous sets entering this clash. But he was unable to find much rhythm on the German hard court, making baseline errors in crucial moments.
"I thought I had to be a bit more aggressive, change up my style of play. Marin is an incredible player, he has been for 10, 15 years," Johnson said. "I thought I made some good adjustments today, served well and served well in the important moments, which is always key. To not lose serve against Marin is goal number one."
Johnson only converted one of nine break points he earned, but he saved all three break points he faced. The World No. 71 confronted a 0/30 deficit as he served for the match, but Johnson won four consecutive points to triumph after one hour and 58 minutes.
"I would have paid a handsome fee for a couple of aces," said Johnson, who will next play Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or Damir Dzumhur. "Got one, just got back to 30/30 and then played a couple points where I got lucky. Today things just went my way."
Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka also advanced with a 6-4, 6-0 victory against Brit Kyle Edmund and eighth seed Adrian Mannarino cruised past Australian lucky loser Alexei Popyrin 6-2, 6-2. The Frenchman set a second-round clash against Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, who rallied past Indian Sumit Nagal 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-1.
The rest of the day's matches ended in straight sets. Former Top 10 star Gilles Simon ousted Australian Jordan Thompson 6-3, 7-5 to earn a match against third seed Denis Shapovalov, and Belarusian Egor Gerasimov cruised past home favourite Daniel Altmaier 6-1, 6-0 to reach a second-round encounter against last week's Cologne finalist Felix Auger-Aliassime. Altmaier recently reached the fourth round at Roland Garros.