Tennys Sandgren defeated Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) to set up an all-American final against defending champ Steve Johnson in Houston. (Getty Images)
After spending years at the ITF Futures and ATP Challenger Tour, 26-year-old Tennys Sandgren announced his arrival to the main stage at the 2018 edition of the Australian Open, where he took out 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka and 2017 Roland Garros semifinalist Dominic Thiem on his way to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Fast forward to Friday, which saw the American advance to his first ATP World Tour semifinal at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. US Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston. On a beautiful afternoon, Sandren continued his year of firsts tour as he squeezed past 39-year-old Ivo Karlovic, who had become the oldest semifinalist since Jimmy Connors in 1993, to book a spot in his first ATP World tour final of his career.
Down a break in the first set against one of the tour’s greatest servers of all time, the American clawed his way back to steal the set in a one-sided tiebreak. He took advantage of the momentum, securing a break in the second set. However, closing out the match became a difficult task as he double-faulted three times in one game to hand back the break. He was able to regain his composure to claim the victory 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4).
“I feel like I’m better at maybe engaging myself after things don’t go right,” said the No. 8 seed during his post-match interview with Tennis Channel. “I didn’t let it slip out of control because it would have been easy to.”
Match point from Sandgren’s win over Karlovic:
Sandgren will play his fellow American and defending champion Steve Johnson, who triumphed over 20-year-old American Taylor Fritz in a three-setter 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2. After splitting the first two sets, the 28-year-old used his experience to wear down his less-experienced opponent, breaking twice in the final set.
“It was another match playing a younger guy, so hopefully I used, had my experience in the back pocket if needed,” said Johnson. “And I drew back on that in the third set after having a few match points in the second and just buckled down and got an early break, which helped calm the nerves a bit on my side and played a good game, a couple of games to finish it out,” he added.
Johnson has now won nine straight matches here in Houston, and is one match away from claiming back-to-back U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship titles since Andy Roddick in 2001-2002.
Match point from Johnson’s win over Fritz:
Johnson is set to marry his fiance Kendall Bateman next week.
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