By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
Steve Johnson was the 2011 NCAA singles champion and helped USC win the NCAA team title for the third straight year this season. He became the first Trojan to win the NCAA singles title since Cecil Mamiit in 1996 after a season in which he went 48-3 and finished the year on a 35-match winning streak. He was also named the 2011 Campbell/ITA National Men’s College Player of the Year. With his NCAA singles victory, the 21-year-old from Orange, Calif., also hopes to earn a wild card into the 2011 US Open, which would be his first Grand Slam main-draw appearance.
After his fantastic collegiate season, U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier invited Johnson to be a practice partner, along with fellow collegiate stars Bradley Klahn and Evan King, for the U.S. team’s quarterfinal tie against Spain in Austin, Texas, this week.
USTA.com: How does it feel to finish such a great collegiate season and then get the call to come to Davis Cup?
Steve Johnson: The college season was incredible, some of the best six months I have had and hopefully going to be getting better as I try to make the next jump to the professional level. And now this week, to be able to be part of this team and to be in this environment, to see Andy, Mardy, the Bryans and how they work and see the intensity and what it takes to get to the next level, is just amazing.
Jim called the second week of June when I was up at a Futures tournament in Northern California after NCAAs, and I was excited to hear from him. I have seen college guys go to Davis Cup ties before, and I was excited and honored to be given the opportunity. This week has been incredible so far. Andy, Mardy and Bob and Mike are some of the best players in the world, and it is just incredible to be out here with them.
USTA.com: You hope to earn a wild card into the US Open, which would be your first Grand Slam main draw. How much would you like to play in the US Open?
Steve Johnson: It would be the biggest tournament I have ever played. I have been training differently but am trying to keep the same mental aspect that it is just another tennis match. But it will be tough. I know there would be nerves because it would be my first Grand Slam, but hopefully I can overcome it and do my best. I might ask Andy and Mardy for some advice and hopefully not play them in the first round. All these guys have been around the game for years and know what it takes and are such great people for American tennis. I will try to pick their brains as much as I can if it happens.
USTA.com: What are your plans for this fall? Are you going back to school?
Steve Johnson: I am going to take the fall off from school, travel and play and then go back to school from January until May for the NCAA season to try to go for that fourth team title in a row. After that, I am going to try to make a living at this, have fun and give it my best. I plan on playing the Pro Circuit and hopefully work my way up as soon as possible and be playing with these guys.
After next spring, I will have three classes left to graduate, and I can go back whenever and finish. It is going to be awesome, and we really want to win the fourth team title. There has been one Stanford team that won four team titles in a row, and Bob and Mike were part of two of those before they turned professional. They know what college is like, so they can relate to our lives.
USTA.com: How has your game evolved in just the last year that helped you have such an amazing season and 35-match win streak?
Steve Johnson: I was healthy the whole year, so that really helps. I worked really hard over the summer and fall, and it has been a different training aspect I have gone through the last year and have just taken it much more seriously. It is a big part of the game to be able to be out here and stay with these guys and be able to compete for hours on end. It is what you need to do to take your game to the next level. I have been training more and more specifically for tennis and just going everyday with the training because that is what it is going to take to get better and to take it as intensely as I do, practicing with these guys this week.
Peter Smith has been my coach the last few years in college. I have known him for the majority of my life, and he is a fantastic coach. I work with him whenever I am back home. I also have the help of the USTA down in Carson (at the USTA Training Center West), which is nice, and have been able to utilize their training staff and the guys. Sam Querrey and Mardy that are hitting there. It has given me the opportunities to take my game to the next level.
USTA.com: What kinds of activities have the Davis Cup rookies been doing this week?
Steve Johnson: They made us have a hot dog-eating contest at Andy’s house for the Fourth of July. It was myself, Evan King, Bradley Klahn and Tim Curry. It was all in good fun. I ended up winning; it was the first to finish five hot dogs. When Andy has an idea, he goes with it and makes sure it happens. I was just trying to force them down. The biggest bummer, though, was not being able to enjoy the gourmet food at the house afterwards because I was so full. It was fun to see his house, his lifestyle, and it is definitely something to work for.