Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
Steve Johnson needed the full 5 sets to topple Tennys Sandgren and book his ticket to ride for Melbourne, but he got things done in a topsy turvy battle of a final that ended up with a score of 4-6 6-3 0-6 7-6 6-1.
The first 2 sets were defined by early breaks, Sandgren getting an early first set break, and Johnson getting an early second set break, both of which were mostly followed by consistent holds and a split result as both players generated early momentum by set.
Johnson and Sandgren both relied on powerful serves and good quality forehands, while Johnson came to the net more and Sandgren, for the first 3 and a half sets of tennis, had superior mobility, with his speed allowing him to get to most of what Johnson was throwing at him. They both had a lot of lucky shots as well, some long deuce games, and were rattled by a seemingly equal amount of controversial/blown line calls that went against them at key moments in the match, something that changed the momentum of matches all weekend on the men’s side.
Johnson let the third set go after going down 0-3 on the trot and Sandgren seemed to be fresher and making cleaner shots, as well as serving much better as Stevie J had a few double faults mixed in. Sandgren had called the trainer for his knee, something that seems to be a consistent pattern, after dropping the second set. Despite the bagel, he came back very strong and though they were neck and neck in the fourth set, as Johnson went back to matching Sandgren shot for shot, it seemed that Tennys still was in the drivers seat. In fact, late in the 4th, he had a match point that was erased. He had many chances to close out the match, including in the 4th set tiebreak, but he couldn’t seal the deal and Johnson slowly regained momentum. By the time the 5th was underway, Sandgren, after all the running, was out of gas and cramping a bit, allowing Johnson to cruise and tidy the match up.
It’s also worth nothing Johnson was putting it all on the line out there. He suffered 3, if not more, falls/slips on court, including twisting his ankle after a nasty fall as he changed direction and reached for a ball. He needed a long medical timeout to get it wrapped at 4-3 in the 4th set. He played dangerously but it paid off. Sandgren also had quite a few splits and slips on court.
Steve Johnson struggled mightily in late 2013 but he ends the year on a high note by guaranteeing himself an AO main draw spot and a nice delayed payday. Tennys Sandgren will have to play Aussie Open qualies in a few weeks. They are both talented players who hit their high notes at certain times, but the best of 5 set format produced a very worthy winner in the end. Covering AOWC 13 was a pleasure as always!