FAIRFIELD — Steve Johnson is the top seed and among the most seasoned players at the NorthBay Healthcare Men’s Pro Championship.
The 29-year-old Redondo Beach resident has rarely been challenged on the tennis courts this week at Solano Community College. Saturday’s ATP Challenger semifinal was no different. University of Virginia freshman Brandon Nakashima took the first set from him, but Johnson dialed up his game in the second and third for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Johnson will take on Australian Christopher O’Connell in Sunday’s final, scheduled for 11 a.m. and televised live on Tennis Channel. O’Connell has also dominated as well. He beat Atlanta native Kevin King 6-3, 7-6(2) in his semifinal.
Johnson is currently 99th in the world and has been as high as 21st (2016), which at the time made him the top ranked American. He has four ATP wins, five Challenger titles and an Olympic bronze medal. Johnson is also considered one of the most accomplished collegiate players of all time with two individual national titles at USC and four team crowns.
Michael Mmoh of the U.S. pushed him into a tiebreak in his first set this week before he dominated his way through the draw and into the semifinal. Johnson beat Mmoh 7-6(4) 6-4, and took out a pair of Kings, Evan King of the U.S. 6-3, 6-2, and Darian King of Barbados, 6-1, 6-1.
Johnson was frustrated with the start in the semifinal. He still quickly pulled it together and showed his amazing shotmaking by moving his opponent around the court and cracking that big serve he is known for.
“I started off pretty slow, just kind of worked myself back into it,” Johnson said. “I’m just glad to be in the finals. The goal is to come here and win. I have one more and then I’d be satisfied.”
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O’Connell continued his own assault. His second set with Kevin King was the first he even went into a tiebreaker. O’Connell posted wins over two players from Ecuador, Roberto Quiroz (6-3, 6-4) and Emilio Gomez (6-1, 6-2), and Great Britain teen Jack Draper (6-2, 6-3).
O’Connell displayed a number of artistic shots. He had a strong serve and a very powerful one-handed backhand that found opposite corners from King. Still, he felt it was no easy match.
“Kevin played great,” O’Connell said. “He has been playing great and has had some really good wins, so yeah, I didn’t take him lightly today. I came out and he was really giving me a hard time. I didn’t feel too comfortable throughout the whole match and I was happy to steal a win.”
The 25-year-old O’Connell is from Sydney and a product of the Australian Institute of Sport. He is currently ranked 192nd in the world with over $160,000 in prize money. His lone Challenger title came this year on clay in Italy.
O’Connell said he has spent the bulk of this season playing matches on clay and hadn’t played on the hard court since February. He has slowly worked his way back from a knee injury that hampered most of 2018.
The NorthBay Healthcare Men’s Pro Championship benefits the Dr. Chris Cammisa Tennis and Education Foundation. The nonprofit helped found the men’s and women’s tennis programs at Solano College, while also bring the sport and an education program to underserved youth in Solano County.