Defending champ Steve Johnson battles into Houston second round

Shahida Jacobs

Defending champion Steve Johnson had his work cut out for him during his opening match at the US Men’s Clay Court Championship.

The American found himself two points away from defeat against Ernesto Escobedo before bouncing back to win 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 in two hours and 25 minutes in Houston.

“He’s definitely a good frontrunner. He hits the ball very hard. He kind of takes the racquet out of your hands,” Johnson said.

“Later stages of that tie-break in the second, I just needed to take it to him, make sure, win or lose, I did it on my terms, and I was able to finally get a break of serve in the third.”

Johnson will face his compatriot Frances Tiafoe in the next round.

Fellow American Ryan Harrison had an easier encounter as he beat Miomir Kecmanovic 6-4, 6-3 to secure an encounter against Taylor Fritz, who overcame Tim Smyczek 6-7(3-7), 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) in two hours and 39 minutes.

Former champion Ivo Karlovic also advanced as he beat Taro Daniel 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.

“It is always nice here. I’ve always liked it. It’s a really nice club,” Karlovic said. “It was a really good match. It is actually my first win as a 39-year-old, so I’m happy about that.”