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Steve Johnson: College Standout Credits Stamina

Johnson© Getty ImagesSteve Johnson won his first ATP World Tour match at the BB&T Atlanta Open in July.

If Steve Johnson’s college success is anything to go by, the 22 year old will be a force to be reckoned with on the ATP World Tour.

Johnson ended his collegiate career at the University of Southern California by capturing his second straight NCAA singles title in May, capping off a remarkable four years at the institution by winning his final 72 matches. The Orange, California native also became the first player in NCAA history to lead his school to four consecutive team titles.

Making the full-time transition to the professional ranks this summer, Johnson discusses the area of fitness he improved most while in college and how training as a professional athlete will differ as part of Compeed’s Form & Fitness series.


Compeed 

How much of a factor do you believe your fitness level contributed to you being able to win back-to-back NCAA singles titles?
I think it made a big difference. To win the team title and the individual title, it’s 10 straight days of playing tennis. Not many guys on tour get that, cause the longest tournament is a Grand Slam and they get days off. It’s tough anywhere, but I knew I was in good shape. Rodney Marshall, of the USTA, has really played a big role in that. He oversees me and really works hard. It really means a lot.

Can you recall a match where your conditioning was the deciding factor in winning?
You can look at a few of the three setters I played. I felt I was the fitter of the two guys, or I felt like I was stronger. Mentally, it plays a bigger difference. If you feel you’re stronger than the other guy, you’re willing to go the extra mile in the last few games. 

During your four years at USC, what was your training schedule like?
It’s tough during the year because you have a set schedule. You play matches Friday and Saturday for 10 to 12 straight weeks, so you have a routine of working hard Sunday through Wednesday and take a light Thursday to prepare for your matches. It’s going to be different getting used to it out on tour, but it’s a challenge and I’m really looking forward to it.

Which area of your fitness improved the most from your first match as a freshman to your final match, when you won the 2012 NCAA men’s singles title?
Overall, it would be stamina. I was pretty lazy coming into college and didn’t have a work ethic. By the time I left this past May, I had done a complete 180 [degrees]. I was working really hard and I felt I was able to share that with the younger guys who were in my same shoes four years ago.

What is the greatest benefit you took away by going the college route before becoming a full-time member on the ATP World Tour?
Just being able to mature and getting used to life on the road. I had to deal with school, practice and travelling. Now I go through my day on tour and I feel like there’s something missing. I play tennis all day and work hard, but at the end, I’m not having to worry about homework. It’s nice, but it’s a different feeling.   

Last year, you made your US Open main draw debut. How has your game evolved since that experience?
I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable out there playing. Being in my first Grand Slam match, I had chances to win [against Alex Bogomolov Jr.]. I was up two sets and had a break in the fourth. It was the first five-set match I ever played, so the mentality was completely different. I’m definitely looking forward to going back this year and giving it another try.

What do you believe is going to be the toughest challenge in making a smooth transition from collegiate to professional athlete?
Just giving it your best week in and week out. In college, you were able to take a little time off. There were some weaker matches and then some tougher ones. You kind of knew what to prepare for each week. Out here, everyone is good and at a high level. You really have to be at your 'A-Game' all the time.
 
What is an exercise or stretch you’d recommend a recreational player add into their training program?
Glute strength. I’ve done enough of that over my last four years. I have really weak hips, so that’s what I’ve been doing.

Which player on tour do you think…
Is the most flexible?
Novak Djokovic
Has the best footwork? Rafael Nadal
Is the quickest? David Ferrer
Has the best balance? Novak Djokovic
Has the strongest core? Roger Federer
Has the greatest muscular endurance? Rafael Nadal

With assistance from Alison Kim. 

- COMPEED is an official supplier of the ATP.

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