Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Young ousts defending champ in Aptos Challenger

Donald Young, the 2007 Comerica Bank Challenger titlist,
beat Steve Johnson, the defending champ, on Tuesday.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. -- Steve Johnson's tennis life over the past five years reads like a fairy tale.
   He ended his USC career in 2012 with four NCAA team titles, NCAA singles crowns in his last two years and a 72-match winning streak in singles. He is the only player to win back-to-back team and singles titles in the same years under the current NCAA Championships format.
   Johnson also has made a smooth transition to professional tennis, cracking the top 100 in the world in only one year. Shortly after turning pro, he won the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger here without losing a set and reached the third round of the U.S. Open. This year, he advanced to his first ATP World Tour quarterfinal in San Jose and emerged from qualifying in the Australian Open and French Open.
   Reality, though, hit Johnson hard on Tuesday. Seeded third, he lost to fellow American Donald Young 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the first round of the Comerica Bank Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club. The match ended on a questionable line call.
   Young, the 2007 Comerica champion and 2010 runner-up, repeatedly jammed Johnson with his left-handed serve in the match.    
   "I didn't do what I needed to do, so it's good for him to get the win," Johnson said, adding that he needed to "just return better. I've been struggling with the return the last couple matches. He did the same thing over and over. I let him beat me with it over and over."
Johnson returns serves against Young. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Johnson, 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) and 190 pounds (86 kilograms), has a booming first and even second serve, but they let him down, too. He committed nine double faults, all in the second and third sets.
   "I've been struggling with the serve recently," admitted Johnson, who will plunge from No. 100 in the world to approximately No. 124. "Whatever I had -- nine or 10 double faults -- it's not beneficial to my game. (The serve) is the one thing you can control, so it's disappointing."  
   At least Johnson had company on the sideline. Bobby Reynolds, an American seeded sixth, lost to Yuichi Sugita of Japan 7-5, 6-2.  Second-seeded Evgeny Donskoy of Russia barely avoided an upset, edging qualifier John-Patrick Smith of Australia 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (4).
   Meanwhile, American Brian Baker launched his latest comeback with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Australian James Duckworth, the runner-up in last month's Lexington (Ky.) Challenger. Baker tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee in the second round of the Australian Open and underwent surgery on Jan. 21. He also returned in 2011 after undergoing five major operations, including the Tommy John (elbow ligament replacement) surgery dreaded by baseball pitchers, and missing most of six years. 
   Tuesday's schedule ended on an odd note as the match between fourth-seeded Ryan Harrison of the United States and qualifier James McGee of Ireland was suspended at one set apiece because of darkness even though the court was lighted. But the lights did not meet USTA specifications, tournament supervisor Mike Loo said.
   Johnson is one of the few pros who stayed in college for four years. Young took the opposite approach, turning pro at 14. It has not worked out well for the former prodigy. After struggling for years, he reached a career-high No. 38 early last year but has plummeted to No. 156.
   "You get into tournaments you've never been in," explained Young, who's listed at 6 feet (1.83 meters) but appears to be 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters). "I played all the Masters Series. I played five or six on clay -- Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid ... It's tough. You're playing guys like 14th in the world in the first round. I don't play on clay often, so you take those losses, you feel like you're not playing well, and it can hurt anybody's confidence losing a lot of times in a row."
   It looked like more of the same Tuesday as Johnson bolted to a 4-0 lead in the first set.
   "He was playing well; I wasn't playing well," said the 24-year-old Young, who will meet another left-hander, former Stanford star Bradley Klahn, for the first time in this evening's featured match. "I knew I could play better and make it more of a match."
   Young jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set and held on to even the match at one set apiece. There were no service breaks in the third set as Young survived a tense moment. Johnson was within two points of victory with Young preparing to hit a second serve at 4-5, 30-30. Young jammed Johnson for a service winner and won the next point to hold.
   Both players then held serve at love to force a decisive tiebreaker. Johnson double-faulted for 1-3, and Young scored another mini-break with a forehand volley for 6-2 and four match points. Johnson saved the first one on his serve but then meekly netted a first-serve return. The delivery appeared to be long, but there was no call.  
   "I would almost guarantee that serve was out," said Johnson, who had beaten Young in three sets in their only previous meeting. "It's frustrating to have the match end like that, but that's tennis. What can you do?"
$100,000 COMERICA BANK CHALLENGER
At Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
First-round singles
   Evgeny Donskoy (2), Russia, def. John-Patrick Smith, Australia, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (4).
   Donald Young, United States, def. Steve Johnson (3), United States, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3).
   Wayne Odesnik (5), United States, def. James Ward, Great Britain, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4.
   Yuichi Sugita, Japan, def. Bobby Reynolds (6), United States, 7-5, 6-2.
   Jimmy Wang (8), Taiwan, def. Greg Jones, Australia, 6-0, 6-0.
   Brian Baker, United States, def. James Duckworth, Australia, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
   Daniel Evans, Great Britain, def. Mitchell Krueger, United States, 6-1, 6-2.
   Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan, def. Olivier Rochus, Belgium, 6-4, 7-5.
   Tennys Sandgren, United States, def. Maxime Authom, Belgium, 6-1, 6-4.
   Denys Molchanov, Ukraine, def. Hiroki Moriya, Japan, 6-4, 6-2.
   Ryan Harrison (4), United States, vs. James McGee, Ireland, 3-6, 6-3, suspended (darkness).
Today's schedule
Center Court
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Mischa Zverev (7), Germany, vs. Dennis Novikov, United States.
(Not before 11 a.m.)
   James Cerretani, United States, and Michael Venus, New Zealand, vs. Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram (3), Israel.
   Ryan Harrison (4), United States, vs. James McGee, completion of suspended match.
   Marcos Giron and Raymond Sarmiento, United States, vs. Jeff Dadamo and Dennis Novikov, United States.
(Not before 3 p.m.)
   Ruben Bemelmans, Belgium, vs. Evgeny Donskoy (2), Russia.
(Not before 5:30 p.m.)
   Bradley Klahn, United States, vs. Donald Young, United States.
Court 5
(Starting at 11 a.m.)
   Wayne Odesnik (5), United States, vs. Denys Molchanov, Ukraine.
   Purav Raja and Divij Sharan (1), India, vs. Maxime Authom and Olivier Rochus, Belgium.
   Mikhail Kukushkin, Kazakhstan, and Denys Molchanov, Ukraine, vs. Bjorn Fratangelo and Mitchell Krueger, United States.
(Not before 4 p.m.)
   Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan, and Malek Jaziri, Tunisia, vs. Wayne Odesnik and Tennys Sandgren, United States.       
(Not before 5 p.m.)
   Andre Dome and Jordan Kepler, United States, vs. Tatsuma Ito and Hiroki Moriya, Japan.

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