Steve Johnson captured his second ATP title with victory in Houston as further fulfillment of the promise that he displayed as an outstanding college player. The man who ended his college career with an unbelievable 72-match winning streak rises up the ATP Rankings to 25th place, and will be harboring ambitions of breaking the top 20 before the end of 2017.
It is never easy delivering on early-career hype, and Johnson's college results earmarked him as someone who could become the next great American hope. Johnson is currently the third highest American in the rankings, behind Jack Sock and the declining John Isner. Yet Johnson arrived in Houston with indifferent form and little clay pedigree. His career record of 26 wins and 26 defeats on a clay surface ensured that few were backing him to outlast the first couple of rounds, but Johnson showed extraordinary resilience to persevere
After grinding out a victory against maverick Dustin Brown in the opening round, Johnson dispatched experienced clay-courter Fernando Verdasco as an outsider. The American then delivered another shock against in-form countryman Sock before battling to victory against another veteran of the clay, Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci.
Johnson overcame severe cramp in the deciding set to defeat Bellucci courtesy of a tie-break, albeit with a helping hand from Bellucci's questionable mental fortitude. The trophy from Houston joins Johnson's other ATP triumph on the grass of Nottingham in 2016, and is an impressive demonstration of his steady progress over the past few years.
An indictment of the ability of Johnson is evident in bet365 tennis odds
, where Johnson and Sock are both odds of +6600 to triumph in the US Open towards the end of the year. With a favored hard-court surface and a raucous home crowd, Sock in particular will be expecting to go deep in the competition. Yet Johnson's recent title will give him hope that he can match the American number one stride for stride.
Johnson played college tennis for the University of Southern California, and his aforementioned winning streak culminated in a fourth consecutive title for his team. He is the poster boy for how college players can make the step up to success on the ATP tour, but he is not the only one to translate college success into the professional circuit.
Johnson's teammates at USC included Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz. The Ecuadorian Quiroz has just climbed to a career-high ranking of 225, whilst Hanfmann has similarly scaled to new heights of 261. Hanfmann has enjoyed victories this year against top 100 players Nicolas Kicker and Andreas Seppi, whilst Quiroz impressively made the final in the Leon Challenger courtesy of victories against experienced American Rajeev Ram and current world number 82 Victor Estrella. This serves as evidence as how the college circuit can equip players with the tools to make an impression against some of the world's top players.
Johnson is quick to endorse his time playing college tennis
, proving that college and tennis can co-exist in positive ways. He is certainly reaping the rewards now, and a ranking spot in the top 20 in the world seems like only a matter of time.