By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Steve Johnson stopped short of calling it the best win of his career, but it has to rank right up there.
The 25-year-old Californian knocked off third-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4) in the third round of the Winston-Salem Open on Wednesday night.
He dominated the tiebreak, pulling out to a 6-1 lead and eventually ending the match with a service winner.
It was Johnson’s third career win over a Top 20 player, and his second of the summer after he beat Grigor Dimitrov in reaching the semifinals in Washington. Tsonga, a former World No. 5, is currently ranked No. 19.
“It’s a great win,” Johnson said. “But they’re all great. I beat (Ernests) Gulbis last year when he was 12 or 11, so every win’s important. Jo’s a great player, you know. I don’t think he’s had as successful a year as he maybe wants other than he did really well at the French, but he’s a world-class player to get to the top five, and that’s no slouch. So I’m just glad to get a win.”
The win moved the former two-time NCAA champion into quarterfinal action on Thursday against 2014 WSO semifinalist Yen-Hsun Lu.
“I’m leading up to New York, and so hopefully I can keep my confidence high and feel like I’m playing well at the right time,” Johnson said. “So hopefully I can go play (Lu) and have another win.”
Johnson, the No. 13 seed, beat Sam Groth in the second round on Tuesday. He’s currently ranked No. 49, after getting as high as No. 37 last November.
He got his only break of the night in the fourth game of the first set to go up 3-1. He served out the set from there.
Tsonga won the second set with a break in the final game, and then both players held serve throughout the third.
Johnson got his first mini-break for a 3-1 lead in the tiebreak when Tsonga double-faulted, missing badly on his second serve. Tsonga then missed a forehand long on the next point, and Johnson held twice for the 6-1 lead.
The biggest point of the tiebreaker was Tsonga’s double-fault, his fourth of the match.
“Any time you can win any point on their serve in a tiebreaker is key, and to get it as free as that way, you know, I wasn’t upset, to be honest,” Johnson said. “That’s just the way it goes. Unlucky for him. It wasn’t more than his second or third double fault the whole match. But that’s the way tennis is sometimes.”
Johnson said he was pleased with the way he seized the opportunity.
“It’s always important to win the serves right after that,” he said. “Your sense of urgency can go a little bit down after getting points like that, so I was glad to take care of business and make a good serve at 6-4 and call it a night.”
Tsonga, who went three sets to beat Denis Istomin in the second round Wednesday night, was disappointed with his play.
“It is disappointing,” he said. “I used to be better. But he played a great match, I think. It was great intensity, anyway, on the court. So he deserved it.”
Tsonga was looking for his 12th career ATP World Tour title.
“You know, it’s always disappointing when you lost,” he said. “Of course I came here to try to win. Unfortunately in sports, there are rules, and you can’t win each time. The most important thing is to come to win every time.”
In the only other singles match of the evening, qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert routed Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-0.