The ATP tournament in Houston, Texas was the last one Steve Johnson’s father, Steve Sr., saw him play on television.
Less than a month later, aged just 58, Steve Sr. passed away suddenly, in his sleep.
So Johnson’s emotions after defeating countryman Tennys Sandgren in a hard-fought physical battle were completely understandable. And they added an extra layer of pathos to his defence of the Houston title.
Afterwards, he told the media in Houston of the phone call from his father – also a tennis coach who laid down the groundwork for his game – after he won.
“He was just so excited. He’s somebody that I’d still like to call today,” Johnson said. “He’d tell me he was proud of me and be ready for the wedding next weekend.”
Johnson and good friend Sandgren, who was playing in his first career ATP Tour final just a year after qualifying for his first ATP Tour main draw at the same event, were friendly foes.
As Johnson pulled away following their hug at the net, another wave of emotion hit him. So he went back in for a little more love. It was a touching sporting moment between two players who had just gone toe-to-toe for nearly 2 1/2 hours, for a prize that meant everything to both of them.
After that, Johnson headed over towards coach Craig Boynton and his physio for some more love.
Johnson is marrying longtime girlfriend Kendall Bateman next weekend. And so, for the second consecutive year, he’s missing some of the big tournaments on the European clay-court circuit.
Last year, it was for a devastating reason. This year, it’s for a joyous one.
Sandgren had to get going tout de suite to make the long trip to Monte Carlo, where he is due to play Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round.
As he said earlier in the week, that’s a champagne problem.
For Johnson, defending his title is a load off. His ranking drops only one spot on Monday. Had the American, say, lost in the first round, he’d have been down to No. 75 and that changes the dynamic of an entire season.
Sandgren will make his top-50 debut Monday, debuting at No. 47.
(Screen shots from TennisTV)