American tennis player Steve Johnson Jr. has had a roller coaster of a month.
Just a few weeks before his 2017 French Open debut, Johnson lost his father, Steve Johnson Sr., after he died in his sleep on May 11. Johnson Sr. served as one of his son’s early coaches, and the younger athlete told the BBC that he will be playing in the French Open with his father on his mind.
“I wish he was following along – I know he is from upstairs – but it’s just so emotional, it’s hard to describe,” Johnson said.
The American battled in another tough five-set match against Coric but ultimately snuck away with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-7 (3), 6-3 win. After hitting the ball just outside of Coric’s reach for the game finale, the emotion of advancing to the third round overcame Johnson, and he dropped to his knees on the court in tears. His opponent, meanwhile, proceeded to smash his racquet on the ground repeatedly on the other side of the court.
"I just knew he was looking down on me on that last point and gave me the strength to finish it off."
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) May 31, 2017
Johnson will match up against No. 6 seed Dominic Thiem next with his family watching in the stands.
“It makes it easier and harder all at the same time to see them,” Johnson told Tennis.com, in regards to having his mother, sister and fiancée in Paris.
Family has been the focus for Johnson over the past several weeks, and despite his success in France, his mind has not been on the sport.
“Physically, I’m OK, emotionally, I’m a mess,” Johnson said. “He always wanted me to be a fighter and a competitor so that’s what I’m going to do, day in and day out. That’s the only thing I can do.”