How Steve Johnson rose in the rankings to overtake John Isner as the No. 1-ranked American men's player.
The top ranked American male tennis player is no longer 6’10“, big-serving John Isner. It’s not 6’6” Sam Querrey who knocked defending champion Novak Djokovic out of Wimbledon this year. America’s top gun is a 26-year-old, two-time NCAA singles champion from southern California who is only in his fifth year as a full-time tennis pro: Steve Johnson.
Four years ago Johnson had just broken into the top 300 on the ATP World Tour singles rankings. Just one year later, he broke into the top 100 for the first time. In August 2014 he cracked the top 50. He started this year ranked No. 32 in the world and has climbed to No. 21 after his strong showing in Cincinnati, where he defeated 10th-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and reached the quarterfinals.
Looking at Johnson’s serve and return of serve statistics on tour from 2013 to now, you can see his biggest improvements have come on his return game and on his own second serve. As Johnson has gotten more solid and consistent, his ability to win those “neutral” points, where neither player has a distinct advantage, has improved and with it his ranking has climbed. He came on tour with a pro level service game but he’s really worked on his ability to stay in points against his opponents’ service games. Johnson’s serving effectiveness ranks in the top 15 (tied with Andy Murray)—but his return game puts him just outside the top 50.
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