By Jay Betsill
It has been just over a month since Steve Johnson’s dominating victory at the Challenger of Dallas and it appears he has picked up right where he left off at the Irving Tennis Classic, the annual ATP Challenger event held at the prestigious Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas.
Johnson, currently No. 119 in the ATP rankings, has marched through to the semifinals with an opening round 7-6,6-3 win over wild card entry Jean Anderson and a 6-3, 6-2 second round win over No. 97 Daniel Gimeno-Traver. After falling in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Johnson has overpowered his opponents in this event.
His most impressive win so far in Las Colinas came on Friday evening under the lights against No. 90 Benjamin Becker. While known to many tennis fans as the man who put an end to Andre Agassi’s historic career by beating him in the third round of the 2006 U.S. Open, Becker will be known in Las Colinas as the guy that Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki came to watch in 2014. Becker, who played from 2001-05 at Baylor University and earned All-America honors last three years that included an NCAA singles title Baylor’s first team title in 2004, had already ousted the Irving Tennis Classic’s top seed 27th ranked Vasek Popisil.
On this night, Becker was no match for Johnson as he was dominated in every phase of the game. Johnson, the 24-year-old from Orange, CA who was a four time NCAA titlist during his time at USC, was in complete control whether he was holding serve with relative ease or ripping forehands down the line en route to a 6-3, 6-1 win.
“It feels great to be back here in the Dallas area,” Johnson said, looking to become the first player to win both of the Dallas-area Challenger events in the same year. “Obviously the two tournament are completely different with that one (the Challenger of Dallas) being an indoor event and this one being outdoors with all of the elements and the field here is very tough. This was a good win tonight.”
Next up for Johnson, the lone American remaining in the singles bracket after No. 117 Ryan Harrison and No. 105 Tim Smyczek fell in the quarterfinals, is a semi-final match 94th ranked Tobias Kamke. The other semi-final features third seeded Lukas Rosol taking on Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Saturday’s matches get underway at 1 p.m. With rain in the forecast, check out the Irving Tennis Classic’s Twitter for updates.