Tearful Johnson Says Dad 'Was Looking Down On Me'
American reaches Roland Garros third round after family tragedy
It would be understandable to anyone if Steve Johnson decided to take time away from tennis after the unexpected and tragic passing of his father, Steve Johnson Sr., on May 11 at age 58. Instead, the American bravely returned to competition last week in Geneva, and completed a dramatic 6-2, 7-6(8), 3-6, 7-6(6) second-round victory over #NextGenATP Croatian Borna Coric on Wednesday to match best result at this event. The events of the past three weeks and tension of the match boiled over after the final point, as Johnson dropped to his knees and burst into tears after the win.
“I just miss my dad. I wish he was following along. I know he is upstairs,” said a visibly emotional Johnson in his on-court interview with Tennis Channel. “I know he was looking down on me on that last point and gave me the strength to finish it off.
“Physically, I’m okay. Emotionally, I’m a mess,” he added. “[My dad] always taught me to be a fighter and competitor, so that’s what I’m going to do day in and day out. That’s all I can do.”
It was standing room only on Court 6 by the end of the match, with the vocal Parisian crowd adding to an already electric atmosphere. Johnson saved two set points in the second-set tie-break, at 5/6 and 7/8, and another pair of set points in the fourth-set tie-break at 7/8. He converted on his fourth match point at 7/6 after nearly four hours of play.
Johnson's path to the third round would have been considered treacherous under normal circumstances. Johnson prevailed on Monday in a five-set win over Yuichi Sugita that spanned two days. The American won the first two sets on Sunday, but darkness halted the match midway through the fourth set. He regrouped strongly after Sugita forced a decider the next day and powered through the final set.
Thank you all for the kind words and messages. Truly amazing. I appreciate and am grateful for every last one of them. Thank you!— Steve Johnson (@SJohnson_89) May 31, 2017
Johnson Sr. worked as a tennis coach and was known as a true devotee of the sport, happy to talk about tennis with anyone who was willing. Even though Johnson has devoted his life to the sport as an ATP World Tour player, he said his father was even more dedicated to the game than him.
“Tennis was his life and his passion, so much more than mine in different ways. He loved tennis and loved to talk about it. I’ll admit it got a little old for me because sometimes I like to get away from tennis,” smiled Johnson during his post-match press conference. “I’ll always look back on these memories and these times we were able to share together tennis-wise.
“He meant a lot to me, but you don’t necessarily realise what he was able to do and who he was able to touch beyond his family’s life,” he added. “I could have told you bits and pieces, but now I’m getting stories of what he was able to accomplish through tennis and how he was able to help a lot of kids. He’s just a remarkable man.”
Johnson will try to channel his emotions as best he can for his next match against sixth seed Dominic Thiem. The match will likely be held on one of the stadium courts at Roland Garros, adding further motivation for what would have been a memorable moment for his dad to witness.
“I’m proud to say he was able to live out some of his dreams. He got to see me on Centre Court at Wimbledon and Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open. The last match he saw me play live was against Roger Federer at the BNP Paribas Open, which was a great match,” said Johnson. “There are some fun memories that I can look back on and know he was there.”
But regardless of the final score against Thiem, Johnson has gained plenty of new fans over the past two weeks for his courage and bravery in the face of adversity.
“A tremendous heart on him,” noted Tennis Channel commentator Mary Carillo. “He’s always wanted to be like his dad and guess what? He’s just like his dad. What a special man.”
Go inside the tournament at RolandGarros.com