IRVINE — Welcome to Mylan World Team Tennis, Steve Johnson.
Johnson, the former Orange High and USC star, made his WTT debut Sunday night for the Orange County Breakers. His men's singles set against Samuel Groth was the last of the five scheduled sets.
Not only that, but the match was tied headed into that final set. Johnson had to win.
He came through, defeating Groth, 5-2, and helping the Breakers beat the Philadelphia Freedoms, 20-17, in their season opener at Bren Events Center on the UC Irvine campus.
Breakers Coach Trevor Kronemann was not at all surprised that Johnson would deliver. After all, this was the player who helped the Trojans win four national titles.
"It's the spot that Stevie shines the most," Kronemann said. "You look at his track record at USC, he wins four national championships … How can you not throw him right into the heat and say, 'You're the closer, here we go.' That's right where he belongs. That's where he thrives … I think this format for Stevie is great. I think he's going to make a lot of first serves, he's going to hold his serve a lot, he's going to get enough balls back in play to where guys are going to have to work really hard."
Kronemann went as far as comparing Johnson to Ramon Delgado, the former Breakers mainstay who was the 2008 World Team Tennis Male MVP.
"It's a little bit Ramon Delgado, if you will, except with a little bit more power and a little bit more pizazz," Kronemann said. "I don't get the feeling from him ever that he's nervous. He's just going out and doing his job."
The Breakers also did their job, winning four of five sets and overcoming a 5-0 loss in the second set of the night, when Philadelphia's Liezel Huber and Maria Sanchez defeated Coco Vandeweghe and Maria Elena Camerin in women's doubles.
Usually it's tough to come back from a 5-0 set loss in World Team Tennis, but the Breakers were otherwise consistent. Johnson and Treat Huey defeated Groth and Jordan Kerr in a men's doubles tiebreaker, 5-4, to open the match.
After the women's doubles loss, Huey and Camerin topped Kerr and Huber, 5-3, in mixed doubles. That narrowed Orange County's deficit to 12-10. Vandeweghe, the Newport Beach resident, then erased it completely by beating Sanchez, 5-3.
Sanchez, another former USC standout, will replace Jessica Pegula with the Freedoms this season. Pegula, 19, was scheduled to make her WTT debut with the Freedoms, but she announced on Twitter on Sunday that she will miss the season due to a small fracture in her knee.
Vandeweghe's win tied the match at 15-15, setting the table for Johnson. He got to three-all (game point) in each of Groth's first two service games, but Groth was still able to hold. But Johnson broke the Australian in the sixth game of the set, allowing him to serve for the set and match.
Johnson said he had played Groth twice before, losing to him in doubles at Wimbledon both times. That includes in the first round of this year's main draw, when Groth and partner Chris Guccione defeated Johnson and Andreas Siljestrom in three sets.
"It's good to get some revenge," Johnson said. "It was just fun to play in front of friends and family. Hopefully we'll get six more nights like this at home … I was glad I was able to get the win. It makes it all that much better."
The Breakers play host to the Texas Wild on Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Bren. The Wild are in their inaugural season in Texas.
Kronemann said it felt good to get the opening win in the books.
"Any win you can get obviously propels confidence, and helps the team gel a little bit," Kronemann said. "It's a good start. We're off to a good start. Obviously, eventually the traveling creeps in. We've just got to come to compete every night, and I think that's what we've got. We've got a young, enthusiastic team. They want to win, and they want to bring a championship to Orange County, so we're going to work at it."