Steve Johnson: Slow But Steady Wins The Race
Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers reveals how Steve Johnson's measured and methodical approach has seen him break the Top 30
Breaking into the Top 30 in the world is a milestone achievement in our sport.
Welcome to the club, Steve Johnson.
Johnson, 26, from Redondo Beach, California, reached a career-high No. 29 in the Emirates ATP Rankings last week - eight years, four months, and seven days after gaining his first ranking back on 1 October, 2007.
Success in our sport is predicated on patience, enduring adversity, and getting just a little bit better each and every day.
Johnson’s professional journey to the Top 30 took 3,543 days to plant, cultivate, and harvest, and that’s just what the typical professional tennis blueprint calls for.
Johnson, who was born on Christmas Eve in 1989, tapped into one of the most powerful forces of all - time - to gain his slight tennis edge.
Time for a tennis player is a massive unseen asset, magnifying the daily improvement of mastering the mundane, such as sharpening the essential tools of strokes and strategy.
Johnson’s key performance benchmarks on his pathway to the Top 30 all took about a year to achieve.
In a society that demands instant gratification, Johnson replaced the prevailing “right now” attitude to success by methodically cultivating his progress in yearly stepping stones.
Here’s how he did it:
TOP 1000 2010 (July)
TOP 500 2011 (August)
TOP 250 2012 (August)
TOP 100 2013 (June)
TOP 50 2014 (August)
TOP 35 2015 (October)
TOP 30 2016 (February)
Every part of Johnson’s game is incrementally getting better each season, with the big jumps coming on the returning side of the game.
|1st Serve Return Points Won||24%||25%||26%||+2%|
|2nd Serve Return Points Won||39%||45%||48%||+9%|
|Return Games Won||12%||14%||18%||+6%|
|Total Return Points Won||30%||33%||34%||+4%|
|1st Serve %||56%||59%||60%||+4%|
|1st Points Won||73%||75%||76%||+3%|
|2nd Points Won||50%||52%||54%||+4%|
|Service Games Won||83%||83%||84%||+1%|
|Total Service Points Won||63%||66%||67%||+4%|
2009-2012 - Johnson won four straight team titles at the University of Southern California under coach Peter Smith. Johnson also won the NCAA singles title in his last two years. He was the No. 1 ranked college player in 2011 & 2012, racking up a staggering 72 straight wins in his senior year.
2013 - Johnson lost more points than he won on tour (47 per cent), and was ranked primarily between No. 100 and No. 150 in the world. The jigsaw puzzle was still well and truly being put together.
2014 - This was Johnson’s breakout year, starting at No. 160 in the world, and finishing at No. 37. The move from outside the Top 150 in to the Top 50 is one of the most treacherous journeys in our sport, and Johnson crossed that bridge in a single calendar year.
2015 - This was a year of consolidation inside the Top 50 in the world, finishing the year at No. 32. He reached the final of the ATP World Tour 500 in Vienna, beating Alexandr Dolgopolov, Jerzy Janowicz, Kevin Anderson and Ernests Gulbis, before falling to David Ferrer 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. Johnson was only two points from victory with Ferrer serving at 4-5 in the third set. Experience got Ferrer over the line.
Johnson is currently the third-ranked American player, behind John Isner (No. 11) and Jack Sock (No. 23).
His best performance so far this year was reaching the third round of the Australian Open. Johnson’s baseline game is built around a heavy forehand, and using slice off his backhand wing to buy enough time to hit as many run-around forehands in the ad court as possible. In Melbourne, Johnson hit 35 forehands winners and only nine backhand winner in three matches.
Johnson also won 81 per cent (17/21) serving and volleying, and 67 per cent (39/58) approaching the net. He did not lose his serve in the opening two rounds against Aljaz Bedene and Thomaz Bellucci, saving a combined 5/5 break points.
Johnson’s next big stepping stone is the Top 20 in the world. He currently has 1,240 Emirates ATP Rankings points, while No. 20 Bernard Tomic has only around 500 more points, at 1,720.
That jump can be done in a week, but as always, there is no rush with Johnson. His slow burn approach is a proven best pathway to ultimate success.
Aspiring juniors all over the planet can look to the patient, incremental steps Johnson took to the Top 30 as a very successful roadmap to copy.
Time is your best friend.