Steve Johnson reached the last 16 of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career after recovering from a set down to defeat an out of sorts Grigor Dimitrov 6-7(6), 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-2 in a heavily interrupted match at Wimbledon.
Perfect start for Johnson
Play got underway Friday evening on Court 18 and it was the recent champion in Nottingham who made the early breakthrough. Johnson, playing in the third round at SW19 for the first time, secured the first break with a forehand winner in the fifth game. When attempting to consolidate the break Johnson was on the cusp of dropping serve twice, but an error from the Bulgarian and a backhand volley winner snuffed out the chance and allowed the American to hold.
Johnson had a chance to secure a double break in the following game but was forced into an error on the forehand side before Dimitrov moved to just one game behind. An error from Johnson in game eight put him under pressure at 30-30 and that is when the heavens opened. Play suspended due to rain, the players would have to come back on Saturday.
Dimitrov dominates early on day two
Play resumed at 11am BST on Court 18 and Dimitrov took the opening point to earn a break back chance. Johnson took the next couple of points to ease the pressure and move 5-3 in front. The Bulgarian held to love and forced the American to serve out the first set, where the world number 29 buckled under the pressure. The American made no first serves and four unforced errors as he dropped serve to love.
Another Dimitrov hold to love marked 12 points in a row for the former semifinalist, putting the American under real pressure down 6-5. Johnson composed himself and was able to hold to take the players into a tiebreak.
The players were surprisingly strong on serve, heading to the changeover at 3-3, and there were still no breaks of serve as they switched ends again at 6-6, with Dimitrov saving a set point. With the Bulgarian moving 7-6 in front, the first and pivotal mini break came on the following point as Johnson missed a forehand down the line on the run wide to seal the set for the former top 10 player 7-6(6) after just under an hour.
Nothing to separate the two in the second set
In the second set after a couple of service holds, Dimitrov came under pressure first after a double fault put himself at 30-30. His fourth ace of the match followed by a wonderful low volley winner allowed the Bulgarian to hang on to level at 2-2. A sensational drop volley on the run across the court from the former semifinalist earned him a break point opportunity. The American responded in style, firing down three unreturned first serves as the rain started to emerge at the sit down which followed.
The rain did not halt play and in typical fashion the sun came back out as Dimitrov held to level at 3-3. The former semifinalist was struggling at 30-30 in his next service game, but once again managed to stay with the American on serve. After just one break point chance throughout the second set, the players found themselves in another tiebreak.
In this breaker the mini break came on the first point as Johnson dropped serve, but the American recovered in superb style with drop volleys and forehand winners to race 6-2 in front. One set point was squandered after a forehand down the line went wide, but a powerful unreturned forehand gave Johnson the set 7-6(3).
Johnson marches on in the third and fourth set
After the conclusion of the second set the rain came down and players were off court for a couple of hours. At the resumption Johnson maintained his momentum, breaking Dimitrov in the first game and then once again in the third game to find himself 3-0 down before there was yet another short rain delay.
The Bulgarian, who looked very flat when they came out to start the third set, returned a changed man at the resumption, breaking the American immediately to pull one of the breaks back. Both players held their next service games but Johnson regained the double break to move 5-2 in front after a huge forehand down the line winner and a forehand error from the Bulgarian.
With the set on his racket, the recent champion in Nottingham faltered, playing a loose service game finishing with a double fault to relinquish serve. With his lead cut to 5-4 after a hold to love from Dimitrov, the American had to serve for the set once again. Johnson made no mistake this time, closing out the set 6-4 with an ace.
The Bulgarian seemed out of sorts at the start of the fourth set as he blazed a wild forehand wide down break point to trail immediately. Johnson had a tough service game after facing multiple points at deuce, but came through to consolidate the break. Incredibly the rain came down again at The All England Club with Johnson leading 3-1 in the fourth set, much to the players and the crowds frustration.
The world number 29 marched on to a 5-2 lead as the heavens opened once again. The players came out for one last time as Johnson saved a break point before wrapping up the set and the match 6-7(6), 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-2. He goes on to face Roger Federer in the fourth round on Monday.