Steve Johnson recorded the biggest match win of his career on Tuesday at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2017, when the 27-year-old American knocked out second seed Dominic Thiem in the Tokyo first round.
Johnson was made to work hard throughout the pair’s third FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, but ultimately triumphed 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in two hours and 19 minutes. It was his first victory over a Top 10 player in the Emirates ATP Rankings since August 2016, when Johnson beat No. 10-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Thiem, who is attempting to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals for the second successive year, is currently No. 4 in the Emirates ATP Race To London with 3,715 points (515 points behind No. 3-placed German Alexander Zverev, who plays this week at the China Open). Overall, Thiem is 46-22 on the season.
Thiem struggled for backhand consistency throughout, but in targeting Johnson’s backhand to open up court space, the Austrian broke in the fifth game. Yet, Johnson opted for aggression early in the second set and had two break point chances for a 3-1 lead, before Thiem got back to level terms. Thiem saved one set point at 5-6, 30/40, after he a forehand into the net off a short return at 30/30. But in the tie-break, Johnson’s depth of returns helped him to a 6/4 advantage.
Johnson grew in confidence, creating break point chances in each of Thiem’s first three service games in the third set. Ultimately, the pressure began to tell and World No. 46 Johnson broke to lead 3-2. Although Thiem had his chances to break back – notably at 3-4 in the decider – Johnson held firm and went on to improve to 3-20 lifetime against Top 20 opponents.
Johnson, now 27-18 on the season and bidding for his third ATP World Tour crown, will now prepare to face last week’s Shenzhen Open runner-up Alexandr Dolgopolov of the Ukraine or #NextGenATP Russian Daniil Medvedev, who is attempting to qualify for the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
Earlier on day two at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, eighth-seeded Argentinean Diego Schwartzman needed five match point opportunities to overcome American Donald Young 6-2, 7-5 in 78 minutes to set up a second-round clash against Bernard Tomic of Australia.
Australian qualifier Matthew Ebden lost just five of his first-service points to defeat Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-4, 6-3 in 67 minutes. The pair resumed at 1-1 in the first set after their match was suspended due to rain on Monday night. Ebden will now face fourth-seeded Belgium and Shenzhen titlist David Goffin or Feliciano Lopez of Spain.