Johnson, Del Potro take different paths into second-round U.S. Open showdown

Another thriller on the new Grandstand saw Steve Johnson stage an unbelievable comeback to stun Evgeny Donskoy 4-6, 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-3, 6-3 during first-round action at the U.S. Open. One day after America’s other top player, John Isner, mounted a charge from two sets down, Johnson did the same in even more improbable fashion by fighting off six match points to advance in three hours and 13 minutes.

Not only did the No. 19 seed drop the first two sets, but he also trailed 5-2 in the third–and, moreover, 0-40 while serving at 2-5. Johnson eventually saved four match points to hold, broke for 4-5, held again for 5-5, and erased two more match points to hold for 6-6. With momentum in hand, Johnson cruised through the ensuing tiebreaker seven points to two.

From there it was pretty much all over for Donskoy, who was trying to avenge a 6-1, 6-1 blowout loss to Johnson at the Rio Olympics. The 79th-ranked Russian surrendered serve at 2-3 in the fourth and twice in the fifth–including to seal his fate with a service donation at 3-5.

But Johnson’s dreamlike comeback has now led to his worst nightmare: an early-round date with Juan Martin Del Potro. Before the USTA handed a wild card to the 2009 U.S. Open champion, Johnson made his thoughts on the subject known.

“It may make a lot of American fans upset that maybe he gets one–maybe he doesn’t–I have no idea,” Johnson said. “But then you have the question of what if he does get a wild card and he plays me first round? You know what I mean? What if he wins? Or he plays Sam (Querrey)…anybody…and he beats an American?”

Well, it did not happen in the first round–but Del Potro will, in fact, play Johnson in the second round on Thursday. The 27-year-old Argentine, who earned the silver medal at the Olympics, breezed through his opener 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(3) against countryman Diego Schwartzman.
Delpo wins
It marked Del Potro’s first match in Flushing Meadows since he lost a five-set thriller to Lleyton Hewitt 2013. The former world No. 4 missed much of the next two years on tour because of recurring wrist issues.

“I was really close to [quitting] tennis because after the first surgery, the second one, and in the end the third one, it was really, really sad moments for me,” Del Potro reflected. “My family and friends [helped] me a lot to never give up. And I think I’m doing well now. The worst part of my life is totally in the past, and I’m living a good present and looking forward for a good future.

“Now I’m trying to play tennis again. I would like to do this for a few years.”

Johnson, admittedly, would have liked for Del Potro’s comeback to not include the U.S. Open. But it does. And now, lo and behold, it includes a head-to-head showdown that should not be missed.

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