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Steve Johnson vs Thomaz Bellucci ATP Houston tennis live: Johnson targets first ATP title on clay

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 16 Apr 2017
  • Steve Johnson vs Thomaz Bellucci is live from Houston at 2.00pm local time on Sunday (8.00pm BST)
  • Johnson looking for first clay title
  • All four of Bellucci's titles have come on clay
Steve Johnson (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Fourth seed Steve Johnson targets a first ATP World Tour title on clay when he faces eighth seed Thomaz Bellucci in the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship final in Houston on Sunday.





After winning his maiden ATP title on the grass of Nottingham last year, Steve Johnson now turns his attention to capturing a piece of silverware on another natural surface. Fresh off knocking out top seed and Davis Cup teammate Jack Sock in the semi-finals, Johnson will take on experienced Brazilian clay court specialist Thomaz Bellucci for the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship title. Bellucci has won all four of his ATP titles on clay and is an extremely accomplished player on the surface. It’s shaping as an intriguing Houston title match, with Johnson and Bellucci taking to court at 2.00pm local time on Sunday (8.00pm BST).

Since making the full-time transition from college tennis to the ATP World Tour, Johnson has been a steady and consistent performer, finishing the last three seasons ranked between 32 and 37. Currently ranked higher than those marks at No. 29 after a solid start to 2017, Johnson is hoping to add a second ATP World Tour title to his collection in the Houston final.

Johnson began his Houston campaign with a tough straight sets win over Dustin Brown before producing some great tennis to clinically dismantle the dangerous Fernando Verdasco in the quarter-finals. But Johnson saved some of his best tennis for the semi-finals, recovering from a break down in the deciding set of his showdown with top seed Jack Sock, winning five of the last six games of the match to emerge a 4-6 6-4 6-3 winner.

Equipped with a big serve and forehand, Johnson experienced a career-best season on tour last year, winning his first ATP title at Nottingham, making the semi-finals of the ATP 500 event in Washington D.C. and reaching the quarter-finals of the Cincinnati Masters, Queen’s Club, Newport and the Rio Olympics, where he came closer than anyone to conquering eventual gold medalist Andy Murray. Johnson also advanced to the Round of 16 at a grand slam for the first time at Wimbledon, defeating Grigor Dimitrov before going down to Roger Federer.

Live Stream: U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship tennis live from Houston

Now, after making at least the quarter-finals in five events already in 2017, Johnson has the opportunity to kick off the clay season with a bang. But he faces perhaps his toughest test yet in Sunday’s final.



Thomaz Bellucci (Photo by RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Thomaz Bellucci has doubled his total match wins for the season in Houston this week, coming through four brutal three-setters to secure a spot in his eighth ATP World Tour final. Bellucci overcome rising star Frances Tiafoe in the opening round before coming back from the brink of elimination in the second round to take down Maximo Gonzalez. Bellucci then edged Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals and another American rising star Ernesto Escobedo in the semis.

“It's tough to play three sets every day. I didn't have one day off,” Bellucci said. “I hope to be better tomorrow. 
“I didn't expect to play this well because I came Sunday night. I just practised once before the first round,” he added.

Ranked as high as No. 21 back in 2010 and a former Masters 1000 semi-finalist on the clay of Madrid, Bellucci - when he is in the zone - is an extremely dangerous player. Known as an erratic player with the tendency to buckle under pressure, Bellucci didn’t have the best season last year, making just one final at Quito and the semi-finals of Shenzhen. His most memorable moment of 2016 came at the Rio Olympics, when playing in front of a raucous home crowd, Bellucci beat Dustin Brown, Pablo Cuevas and David Goffin before falling in three sets in the quarter-finals to Rafael Nadal.

With all four of his ATP titles coming on clay (three in Switzerland), Bellucci - in my opinion - goes into this Houston final as the slight favourite, despite being ranked over 30 places below Johnson. Bellucci’s stinging left-handed forehand has been lethal on the clay this week, and that shot goes straight into Johnson’s notable weakness - his backhand. If Bellucci can stay mentally strong - a massive if - and isn’t too fatigued from four three-setters, I think he emerges with a fifth ATP title.


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Steve Johnson vs Thomaz Bellucci ATP Houston tennis live: Johnson targets first ATP title on clay

Fourth seed Steve Johnson targets a first ATP World Tour title on clay when he faces eighth seed Thomaz Bellucci in the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship final in Houston on Sunday.

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