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Steve Johnson: America's New No. 1 Tennis Player

California native reaches lifelong dream in Winston-Salem

On 8 June, it would have been hard to believe Steve Johnson would be celebrating a lifelong dream this week at the Winston-Salem Open.

In 's-Hertogenbosch, he had just lost to 18-year-old countryman Stefan Kozlov 6-3, 6-4 in 86 minutes. A day earlier, the young American had won his first ever ATP World Tour match.

“Not my best match of the year by any stretch,” Johnson said earlier this week in Winston-Salem.

But the 26 year old didn't let the defeat derail his season. In fact, the next week, he celebrated a career-high win: Johnson beat then-No. 10 Richard Gasquet at The Queen's Club to gain the first Top 10 win of his career. Beginning with that result, he's gone 20-7 in tour-level matches.

On Monday, he celebrated his biggest accomplishment yet. Johnson, No. 21 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, officially became the No. 1 American. John Isner had reigned at the top every week since 29 July, 2013.

“It's easy to pinpoint now that was the turning point to my season,” Johnson said of the Gasquet match. “Even at that point, deep down I believed that I still was capable of this. Maybe there are doubts that creep in but thank goodness I have people who are close to me who never doubted me. They just continued to push me and that's what you need when times are tough.”

It has been quite the past few months for Johnson. After reaching the quarter-finals at The Queen's Club, he won his first ATP World Tour singles title at the Aegon Open Nottingham (d. Cuevas). At Wimbledon the next week, he reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam championship for the first time (l. to Federer).

In Washington, Johnson beat Isner in the quarter-finals before falling to Ivo Karlovic in the semi-finals. The California native also reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final last week at the Western & Southern Open (l. to Dimitrov).

Johnson started the season 6-14. “That's why you have to stay positive. It can turn around at any moment,” he said.

In Winston-Salem, he'll try to continue his “year of firsts” and win his first title on American soil. He has come close to making the final of a U.S. tournament. Johnson has reached the semi-finals in Washington twice and made the last four in Winston-Salem last year.

But the two-time NCAA singles champion at the University of Southern California said he feels especially comfortable playing at the Winston-Salem Open, which is held at Wake Forest University.

“You want to win on American soil as much as possible,” Johnson said. “It would be fun to win obviously one of our, what we consider our home tournaments so hopefully I'll get a chance to be here at the end of the week.”