Where Are They Now?
A Conversation with Steve Johnson
by Colette Lewis
, 7 May 2014
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For college tennis fans, Steve Johnson needs no introduction. After completing his four years of eligibility at the University of Southern California in 2012, the 24-year-old from Hermosa Beach, California moved into the professional ranks having won an unprecedented four NCAA team titles and two NCAA singles titles, ending his collegiate career on a 72-match winning streak.
With just one full year behind him on the ATP tour - 2013 - Johnson has already played in the main draw of every slam, and after two Challenger titles this year and his first appearance in an ATP semifinal in Delray Beach, he is now the third-ranked American at No. 69.
After securing direct entry into both the French Open and Wimbledon this summer by winning the title at last month's $100,000 Challenger in Guadeloupe, Johnson took a break from the tour before heading to Europe this week.
Prior to his trip, I spoke to Johnson by telephone about his college experience, the pro life style, his comfort level on clay and grass, accepting wild cards, his legacy at USC, and much more.
Questions and Answers
Colette Lewis (CL): Do you feel the fact that you weren't faced with a decision whether to go to college or turn pro might have actually helped you?
Steve Johnson (SJ): Yeah, I really do. If I had focused on this as what I am supposed to do in life, and become a professional at 16, I think the pressure might have gotten to me. I was an above-average junior, but I wasn't winning national singles titles left and right. I was doing well in doubles and round of 16 or quarters in singles. But I would have put too much pressure on myself, because I would have been committed to something much sooner than I should have been committed to it.
CL: When did becoming a professional tennis player begin being more than a dream for you?
SJ: Every kid, myself included, grows up wanting to be a professional tennis player. You watch the grand slams on TV and you want to win there, you want to play there, be there. It wasn't until I was 17, 18 that I thought it was reality, not just a dream. But I knew, on the court and off the court, I wasn't prepared to handle that lifestyle.
CL: How did college tennis prepare you for that lifestyle?
Johnson is arguably the most decorated college tennis player in history
SJ: When I got to USC, it was quite an eye-opener, how hard we worked, how everyone acted who was above me. I would never not go to college in my situation - I was always going to go and play my four years. But pro tennis became a reality when I was in college and starting to become successful against very good players.
CL: What do you miss most about college?
SJ: The biggest thing is just the team. I miss hanging out with those 10, 15 guys every day. Going to practice with those guys every day, putting in the hard work with those guys, then at the end of the day, you go out, have dinner, have a great time, relax. They're your closest buddies. You work as hard as you do with them, but when it comes down to it, the success we share as a team is something I'll never forget.