Steve Johnson looks back on tough year

Steve Johnson lost his father Steve Sr. in May, 2017.

A year on, the American won the clay-court event in Houston. Opponent Tennys Sandgren knew how he felt.

“I know our dads are watching in the crowd,” said Sandgren, who lost his own father some years ago.

On the ATP Tour website, Johnson writes about the year.

“I’ve panicked. There have been times when my anxiety spiralled out of control. Some weeks it is easier and I can’t explain why,” said Johnson, who was in and out of the hospital for a week after Wimbledon.

Bryan brothers hit the big 4-0

The ATP Tour put together a nice reel of people in tennis – and out – wishing the legendary Bryan brothers a happy 40th birthday.

The pair hit the milestone Sunday (countryman Andre Agassi hit 48 the same day) at opposite ends of the earth. They withdrew from Barcelona this week after winning in Monte Carlo.

Bob spent his day with his wife and three kids at home in Florida. Mike, freshly divorced, hit Morocco with his new girlfriend Nadia Murgasova and even gave her a tennis lesson.

They currently stand at No. 2 in the race to London.

Nadal extends record clay-court streak

Rafael Nadal started slowly against countryman Roberto Carballes Baena Wednesday in Barcelona.

But when it was over, the win extended his current Tour record of consecutive sets won on clay to 38. None of them were closer than today’s dual 6-4 scores.

Per the ATP, Nadal has five streaks of 30 or more clay sets won – the most recent before the current streak occurred during the 2012 season.

Only Guillermo Coria (35) and Ilie Nastase (34) have ever topped 30 straight sets.

Meanwhile, Nadal’s section of the draw opened up with the losses Wednesday by No. 14 seed Kei Nishikori and No. 6 Novak Djokovic.

Shapovalov eats out in Budapest

Budapest is the first time Denis Shapovalov has been seeded at an ATP Tour event and, with the 28-player draw, he’s had to wait around to play singles.

But he’s keeping busy with doubles and promos. His visit to a Hungarian restaurant was chronicled by the ATP.

That’s not fascinating in itself. But it’s interesting that Shapovalov has taken on  26-year-old Hungarian Peter Nagy as a hitting partner through the clay-court season. 

That’s common with the women, less so with the men.

At a career-high No. 445 last week, Nagy has been playing on the Futures tour.

First win for Klizan vs. Djokovic

Martin Klizan, the 28-year-old lefty who has been through plenty of injury comebacks of his own, understood that Novak Djokovic wasn’t at his best Wednesday.

Still, the Slovak was thrilled with his 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 win over Djokovic in their fifth meeting – their first on his preferred clay.

“I know how tough it is to come back. For sure he’s going to come back stronger in a few weeks. But from my side, it was a great match,” he said. 

“I also know he didn’t play top tennis, but the win is the win.”

Monte Carlo birthday for Shapovalov

Roger Federer gets his annual birthday cake in Canada. Rafael Nadal gets his at the French Open.

But if you can’t have a Slam birthday, Monte Carlo is a pretty good second choice.

As long as Canadian Denis Shapovalov plays the event – this year is his debut; he meets qualifier Stefanos Tsitsipas on Monday – he should be good for dessert.

Shapovalov turned 19 on Saturday. There to witness the fireworks was mascot Stormy.

Countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime gave him a lovely shutout on Instagram (note the tennis.life pic to commemorate the occasion).

Isner talks about mom’s cancer fight

John Isner has rolled out a multimedia campaign, as he fundraises for the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Miami Open champion already has raised more than $200,000. And now, he’s raffling off a bucket-list trip for two to Wimbledon to raise more.

In addition to the video below, Isner also wrote a heartfelt piece about his mother’s battle with colon cancer.

“When I think about whining about the heat or about what time I’m scheduled to play, one thought about the courage Mom has shown over the years places everything in perspective,” he writes.

After years away, Soderling is back

“I really want to help Swedish tennis. And he’s is the best player we have right now,” former world No. 4 Robin Soderling says.

Elias Ymer, 22, and Soderling, still only 33, are from the same hometown, went to the same high school. And both moved to Stockholm to pursue their tennis dreams.

Soderling’s dream ended prematurely, as a bout with mononucleosis turned into a chronic health issue that led to his far-too-early retirement.

“I’ve been No. 1 in Sweden since I was 17, and I never really got that guy that I could look to,” Ymer said.

That’s changed now.  

Andujar back in winner’s circle

Three years ago, Spaniard Pablo Andujar was in Vladivostok trying to capture a fifth and deciding Davis Cup rubber against Russia.

Three elbow surgeries later, the former No. 32 is back to basics as he comes back one more time.

While his contemporaries eked out a dramatic Davis Cup win just an hour away in Valencia, Andujar won the JC Ferrero Challenger.

It was a great rebound after a setback in Rio in February, and another 1 1/2 months of rehab.

The win boosted the 32-year-old’s real ranking (his protected ranking is No. 105) 243 spots, to No. 355.

At 40, Andre Sa retires

Andre Sa said goodbye to the ATP Tour last week with a final appearance on home soil, at the Rio de Janeiro tournament.

Sa and countryman Thomaz Bellucci lost their first-round doubles match to Andres Molteni and Horacio Zeballos.

Now 40, Sa had been a pro more than 22 years.

He reached a career high of No. 55 in singles in 2002, but made his mark in doubles with 11 career titles, and time in the top 20. 

Five of those titles came a decade ago with countryman Marcelo Melo, 34, who currently is ranked No. 1.

Sa will now coach.