ATHENS, Ga. – Southern California senior Steve Johnson inked his name deeper in the history books Monday at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga. — a place already known for tennis history. His win count now stretches to back-to-back NCAA singles championships and four consecutive NCAA team championships as he closes down his stellar collegiate career with an unheard-of 72 consecutive singles victories.
He won No. 72 with authority Monday, holding serve down the line and beating No. 3 seed Eric Quigley of Kentucky with a 6-4, 6-4 win that made top-seeded Johnson the only player ever to win back-to-back team and individual titles in the same years under the current NCAA tournament structure.
It’s been a busy stretch for Johnson, who played as an amateur on the pro circuit in the fall before returning to Troy for his senior season as he hoped to lead USC to a fourth consecutive NCAA team championship. That mission was completed a week ago. But Johnson had plenty of tennis still left to play, while he worked to keep intact a daunting singles win streak and defend his 2011 NCAA singles crown.
“I’m glad to finally be done with this whole tournament,” Johnson said. “It’s been a stressful couple of weeks, but today’s match is a testament to all the hard work I’ve put in with Peter [Smith], George [Husack] and our training staff. To go out there and get one break each set and hold my serve all the way through was the key and I’m glad I got through it.
I feel good I guess is the best way to put it. It’s kind of a special way to end your college career with a win. It’s something I’ll look back on the rest of my life and never forget.”
Johnson dispatched five opponents in the singles draw to earn the right to today’s title match. Taped up and tiring from nine consecutive days of high-intensity tennis, Johnson made a stand against Kentucky’s No. 3 seed Eric Quigley, who also had lost just one set during his run to the singles final. The heavy-hitting servers held their ground in the first set before Johnson made his mark late. The focused Trojan senior steeled himself through the game to fight back for the win for a 6-4 boost entering the second set.
The second went much like the first with the two battling to hold serve. The wind picked up on Johnson’s service game midway through, but he would not be deterred, holding to make it 3-3 and then snapping Quigley soon after for a 4-3 advantage. That would be the boost Johnson needed, putting wind in his sails as he would later line up to serve for the game, the set, the match and history.
Thanks to that 72-match win streak – dating back to January 2011 – Johnson wraps up his USC career with 149 career singles wins. The seven-time All-American went 37-0 in singles in his senior season to finish up 149-21 overall and 88-9 in dual-match singles. In doubles, Johnson went 134-32 overall and 86-17 in dual matches.
“He’s special; we all know that,” head coach Peter Smith said of Johnson. “He’s just different, and that’s how he was raised. Steve’s a great example, I think in a lot of ways he’s changed college tennis. I think he’s going to show that it’s okay to stay four years; that’s what John Isner told him. John said it’s okay to stay four, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. Steve has a heart. He told me last year when we won that he was coming back and we were winning it again.”