My Conversation with Steve Johnson about Wild Cards, His Legacy, Clay and Grass, What He Misses About College Tennis; Townsend and Ginepri Conference Call; French Open Junior Acceptances
|Steve Johnson at the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff|
December 2013 - Photo courtesy Bill Kallenberg
Last week I spoke to Steve Johnson for the first time in over a year, and despite all the interviews he's done lately due to his success this year, he provided his usual thoughtful and candid answers to the questions I posed for this article at the Tennis Recruiting Network.
It's clear that he misses college tennis and is still extremely close to USC and the team, and I imagine he'll still follow the results of the upcoming team and individual championships, even while he's competing in the French Open.
I asked Johnson about playing on clay and grass, since he did not grow up on either, and competed exclusively on hard courts while in college, and he explained his learning process on those two surfaces last summer.
We also spoke about wild cards, and he admitted he prefers to earn his way into tournaments by qualifying if possible.
"It's a pretty fine line. I've taken my share of wild cards into tournaments. The US Open ones, for winning the NCAAs, wasn't really about anything more than getting there and getting the experience of being at the US Open. After the first one, I said I want to come back here every year, and I want to be ready when it's my time to be successful.
But I think sometimes we can rely on wild cards too often, because there's only so many American guys that they can give them to.
The wild cards I've taken this year, I took the one to Australia, because I won the (USTA's) wild card tournament. I needed it, because I made a bonehead move and didn't sign up for qualies. So I wasn't going to Australia unless I won the wild card tournament. Life lesson No. 1: pay attention.
I took one into Indian Wells, because of a schedule problem, and I took one into Houston, because I couldn't get there to play the qualies because I was in the finals of Guadeloupe, the Challenger the week before.
If you need a wild card because you're somewhere else and you're successful there, then I think that's okay. You're playing well and feel like you can go into the tournament with some positive momentum.
I've never done well, to be honest, when I've taken a wild card and gotten to a tournament three or four days early, watched qualies. You want to play, you want to go out there, play your matches and earn your way in there. Hopefully I'll never need another wild card again, but that's the route I would like to take."
Speaking of earning wild cards, Taylor Townsend and Robby Ginepri. who won the USTA Har-Tru Challenge for French main draw wild cards, were on a conference call today held by the USTA. You can read their thoughts on their current form, the opportunity this series provides, American attitudes toward clay, and their upcoming schedules here.
The French Open junior acceptances were released today, with five US boys and five US girls in the main draw. The boys are Francis Tiafoe, Stefan Kozlov, Michael Mmoh, Henrik Wiersholm and Alex Rybakov. The girls are Tornado Alicia Black, CiCi Bellis, Sofia Kenin, Usue Arconada and Dasha Ivanova. The cutoff for both the girls and the boys was 51, with Francoise Abanda of Canada accepted due to her WTA ranking of 259.
US boys in qualifying are: Taylor Fritz, Logan Smith, Dennis Uspensky and Noah Rubin. Jordi Arconada, who represents Argentina, but lives and trains in the US, is also in qualifying. Rubin was admitted into qualifying, as was Elias Ymer of Sweden, Blake Mott of Australia and Bastian Malla of Chile, based on an ATP ranking inside the Top 750.
The American girls in qualifying are Johnnise Renaud, Katrine Steffensen (the next two players in), Kaitlyn McCarthy, Raveena Kingsley and Olivia Hauger. Girls receiving qualifying entries due to their WTA rankings of 500 or better are Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, Rebecca Sramkova of Slovakia and Marianna Zakarlyuk of Ukraine.
None of the reigning junior slam champions, boys or girls, are entered. French Open boys champion Christian Garin of Chile, Wimbledon boys champion Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy, US Open boys champion Borna Coric of Croatia and Australian Open boys champion and current No. 1 Alexander Zverev of Germany, all still age-eligible, have declined an attempt at a second junior slam title in Paris. With Zverev's absence, it also means Stefan Edberg's record as the only junior to win all four slams in the same calendar year is safe at least until 2015. The only other Top 50 boy not in the field as of now is Hyeon Chung of Korea, currently ranked No. 20 in ITF juniors and 367 by the ATP.
World ITF junior No. 1 Belinda Bencic, last year's girls champion in Paris, is now ranked 103 by the WTA and will be in the main draw, so she is obviously not playing the junior event. No. 3 Ana Konjuh of Croatia, the US Open girls champion in 2013, is still recovering from her elbow injury, while No. 18 Elizaveta Kulichkova of Russia, the reigning Australian Open girls champion, is also missing. Other Top 50 girls not in the field are Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic and Louisa Chirico and Townsend of the US.