After losing the first three matches of the new season (and nine overall), the 4th seed Steve Johnson has finally found the way to score a win, beating Paolo Lorenzi 7-5, 7-5 in an hour and 57 minutes to reach the first quarter-final since Winston-Salem last August.
Playing against each other for the first time, Steve and Paolo delivered an entertaining match that saw only two break points for the Italian, with a home player dropping 16 points in 12 service games to keep the initial shot intact.
The Italian veteran gave his best to stay in touch, facing six break points and getting broken once in the closing stages of both sets to push Johnson over the top and end his run in the second round. Steve saved those two break points in the third game to chase the opportunity on the return, wasting break points in games six and eight before breaking at 15 in the 12th game for a 7-5.
Paolo defended two break points at 3-4 in the second set although he could only prolong the inevitable, dropping a more extended rally in the 12th game to give the serve away and allow Steve to move into the last eight. In the opening round, Nick Kyrgios managed to beat John Millman 6-4, 6-7, 7-6, playing far from his best but prevailing thanks to his initial shot that carried him towards the win.
He couldn't repeat the same today against Radu Albot who ousted the Aussie 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in an hour and 24 minutes for the place in the quarters. Kyrgios won their previous match at the US Open last year and the result came out differently today, starting with a knee injury and losing his focus following all kind of tantrums that he can't leave behind him.
Nick fired 19 aces and that was enough for a set, getting a lot of free points with his initial shot but not being able to endure longer baseline rallies as his knee troubled him again, breaking Radu once and suffering three breaks to close his Delray Beach campaign.
The Moldovan made a perfect start, dropping four points on serve in the first set and breaking Nick's serve in game three after a poor volley from a former top-15 player. Kyrgios was miles from competitive rhythm, slamming a forehand into the net in game five to trail 4-1 and dropping opener after a forehand winner from Radu in game eight.
Out of sudden, Kyrgios found some fuel on the return, saving all three break points at 2-2 and breaking Albot with a volley winner in the eighth game that sent him 5-3 up. Serving for the set, Kyrgios delivered three winners in game nine and despite all the problems he was still in the competition before the decider.
There, Albot was back at his best, avoiding deuces or break points in his games and stealing Nick's serve in the fourth game when the Aussie tried to go with a 122 mph second serve that went long. Radu sealed the deal with another comfortable hold in game nine that propelled him into the last eight for the second time this season.