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A fighter to the last point

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Originally published on 02/06/17 00:00

In a week of French Open storylines that have transcended tennis – from Petra Kvitova’s return after last year’s knife attack, to Juan Martin Del Potro comforting a distraught Nicolas Almagro after the Spaniard re-injured his knee, to Ons Jabeur becoming the first Arab woman to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam – the sight of Steve Johnson being brought to his knees after his four-set victory over Borna Coric in the second round was perhaps the most heart-rending of all.

Three weeks ago, Johnson’s father, Steve Johnson Sr, died suddenly in his sleep at the age of 58. Johnson, 27, had come through a five-set opener against Japan’s Yuichi Sugita to reach the second round, but it was the conclusion of the near-four-hour rollercoaster against ATP NextGen star Coric, with his mother, sister and fiancée in the stands, that saw the American’s emotions take over. After burying one final forehand he fell to his knees, chest heaving, and wept.

“I have no idea what happened after I hit the forehand,” Johnson told reporters following the win, which set up a third-round showdown with No.6 seed Dominic Thiem. “I just kind of collapsed and, emotionally, it got the best of me. The other days, I was able to kind of get to the locker room and kind of compose myself a little bit. Today was just such an emotional match. A long match. Up and down. Just to get through it was something that I know I’ll be very proud of.

“I know it’s going to be emotional for quite some time. Who knows how long it’ll take? I just know he’s with me. He raised me to be a competitor and a fighter to the last point. And that’s what I try to do with my tennis. I may not be the best tennis player. But there’s not going to be a day where I’m just going to let you win. I’m going to try and give it my best.”

One of the standout performers on clay over the past two seasons, Thiem claimed a 6-1 7-6(4) 6-3 victory over Johnson on Friday. But the American has played with the heart of a champion in both Geneva and Paris, something that would have made his father, a prominent tennis coach in southern California, proud.

“I just know this is what he always taught me to just be a fighter, be a competitor,” Johnson told The Tennis Channel. “That’s what I’m going to do, day in and day out.” 

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