Amazing video: American wins at French Open, weeps on court weeks after father's death
Steve Johnson's win on Wednesday at the French Open would have been emotional enough. The No. 25 seed, who had to endure a two-day first-round match, was assessed a preposterous point penalty in the fourth set of his second-round match against world No. 40 Borna Coric, faced two set points in that tiebreak and then held on to win to advance to the third round at Roland Garros for just the second time in his career.
But this was about so much more than some umpiring decisions and saved set points. Earlier this month, Johnson's father and former coach, Steve Johnson Sr., unexpectedly died in his sleep at the age of 58. Johnson Sr. was a highly regarded coach in Southern California, a promoter of college tennis (his son led USC to four-straight NCAA titles) and a confidant and best friend to his son, who he'd introduced to the sport. The elder Johnson had planned to travel with the family to see Steve play in Wimbledon in a few weeks.
Though still in the early stages of the grieving process, Johnson was able to gut out his emotional first-round win and then somehow held on through Wednesday's match, immediately falling to his knees and breaking down into tears after slapping a forehand winner on match point.
The contrast of Coric annihilating his racquet as Johnson sobs is a dramatic, only-in-sports moment. The young Croatian was booed while leaving the court but it bears remembering - an equally frustrated Johnson smashed his racquet earlier in the match, an event which laid the groundwork for the point penalty assessed after he casually flicked away a ball after a Coric winner.
After the match, Johnson, through tears, talked to Jon Wertheim of the Tennis Channel. It's a heartbreaking moment:
"I just miss my dad," he said. "I wish he was following along. I know he is from upstairs."