Johnson Claims Maiden Title In Nottingham
Steve Johnson earned his moment in the spotlight on Saturday at the Aegon Open Nottingham, winning his maiden ATP World Tour title 7-6(5), 7-5 over Pablo Cuevas.
Johnson, who was appearing in his second final on the ATP World Tour, following a three-set defeat to David Ferrer on the indoor hard courts of Vienna last year, is the third first-time winner in 2016. The American has enjoyed great success in Nottingham, having notched the ATP Challenger Tour crown on the same court in 2013, before the tournament moved to the ATP World Tour 250 level.
"It feels really good, I'm not going to lie," said an elated Johnson. "I had some ups and downs so far this year. To find my groove on the grass is fantastic. I had a good week at Queen's Club and felt pretty comfortable on the grass. Once I got here and played my first couple of matches, I knew I was definitely a contender to win this."
ATP World Tour First-Time Winners In 2016
|Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
|Diego Schwartzman (ARG)
|Steve Johnson (USA)
The first set was a server's paradise, with neither player facing a break point. Johnson would claim 75 per cent of total service points in the opener, clawing back from a mini-break deficit in the ensuing tie-break. Trailing 3-1, the American reeled off six of the next eight points to take a one-set lead. He struck a sublime winner off a Cuevas drop volley, barely avoiding the net post and ball girl, to give himself his first set point and would claim the opener a point later.
Johnson would carry the momentum into the second set, converting the first break of the match for 2-1 when Cuevas fired a backhand long. But the experienced Uruguayan would not go down quietly, breaking back for 4-all with a stunning backhand cross-court pass on the run. Despite the hiccup, Johnson would regain his composure, breaking once again in the 11th game and converting his second match point with a stellar drop volley a game later. He struck 33 winners in total, including 10 aces, over the one hour and 33-minute affair.
Sixth seed Johnson had a strong week in Nottingham, knocking off four seeded opponents, including No. 1 Kevin Anderson in the quarter-finals. He takes home €86,850 in prize money and 250 Emirates ATP Rankings points. He is projected to match his career-high position of No. 29.
Cuevas was vying for his sixth title and first on grass. The last South American to win a tour-level grass-court crown was Venezuela's Nicolas Pereira in Newport 1996.
Both competitors will head to Wimbledon next, with Johnson set to open against Malek Jaziri and Cuevas taking on Andrey Kuznetsov.
"I take lots of confidence from this," Johnson added. "Any time you can be the last guy standing at a tournament is definitely a great feeling. I'm super happy, but pretty tired emotionally from stopping and starting so much with the rain the past few days. Starting Monday comes Wimbledon, so there's no time to relax with another tournament right around the corner."