ATP HOUSTON: Steve Johnson tops Thomaz Bellucci in a thriller to claim his first ATP title on clay

Tennis - Steve is the 15th different American who won this title in the Open era

by Jovica Ilic
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ATP HOUSTON: Steve Johnson tops Thomaz Bellucci in a thriller to claim his first ATP title on clay

After that crazy Marrakech final, in which Borna Coric saved 5 match points to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber, we got a very exciting final in Houston as well, with Steve Johnson going all the way, defeating Thomaz Bellucci 6-4 4-6 7-6 in 2 hours and 24 minutes! This was the second ATP title for Johnson in his career, after Nottingham last June, and also the first on clay (this is not the same type of clay we have in Europe or South America but it still considered clay), becoming the 15th different American who lifted the trophy at the US Men's Clay Court Championship. It was a very close match and Bellucci also had his opportunities to be the last man standing as well, wasting a 4-2 lead in the final set and missing a chance to finish his rival before the deciding tie break, as Steve was severely cramping in the last couple of games.

Johnson served at only 50% and besides 9 aces he also hit 8 double faults, facing 9 break points and saving 6 to limit the damage in his games. On the other hand, Bellucci played a little bit better on the second serve but he also dropped serve thrice, unable to save any of the break points he was dealing with.

Thomaz made a decent start, cracking a backhand cross court winner to break the American in the opening game, but his advantage lasted only until game 4 when he netted a forehand to lose serve and bring Steve back on the scoreboard.

Steve served at only 43% in the first part of the match and that bothered him a lot, he saved two break points in game 5 with groundstroke winners, and he made a crucial move in game 10 when he broke Bellucci to take the opener by 6-4.

Thomaz was the first who lost the patience in the rally, sending the forehand wide, and he had a lot of work to do in front of him if he wanted to change the scoreboard into his favor. Brazilian took charge in the second set, losing just 7 points on serve and waiting for his chance on the return.

He wasted 4 break points before finally converting the 5th one in game 9 when Johnson fired a forehand beyond the baseline. Thomaz wrapped up the set with a service winner in game 10, happy with the progress he made in the second set and looking like a favorite to grab the overall win in the decider.

Nevertheless, Johnson had some other plans, especially after finding at least decent percentage behind his first serve, but he had to trail from the very first game. Bellucci scored his second break in a row to kick off the set number 3, Johnson hit one of those 8 double faults in the final point put himself in the position of chasing the result right from the start.

In the following 6 games, both players maintained a high level in their service games, facing no deuces or break points, but Thomaz wasted his lead when Steve broke him in game 8, leveling the score at 4-4 and virtually making a sprint race towards the finish line.

Steve started to cramp badly in the last couple of games and it is outstanding how Thomaz failed to break him in game 11, as Johnson served below junior level, but the American at least played a brave tennis, with all-or-nothing shots.

Johnson didn't even bother to return Bellucci's serve in game 12, saving all the remaining energy for the deciding tie break, and he made a good decision, recovering some of the strength to push himself through this final 12 points.

There were 5 mini-breaks in the opening 6 points, Steve scored 3 to open up a 4-2 gap, and he managed to keep it until the end, as they both served well in the remaining 6 points. Home player fired two service winners to move 6-3 ahead and he converted the third match point with an amazing forehand down the line winner, taking the tie break 7-5 to win his first title on the home soil. Final result:

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ALSO READ: ATP MARRAKECH: Coric completes a marvelous cameback over Kohlschreiber, saving 5 MP's to earn first ATP title!

Atp Houston Steve Johnson Thomaz Bellucci
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