Steve Johnson faced Ramkumar Ramanathan, the surprise of the tournament, in the 2018 Newport final.
After a strong clay-court campaign in 2018, one that saw him defend his title in Houston and reach the third round of the French Open, Johnson’s European grass-court stretch didn’t go as planned. The former top-ranked American only one won match through three events, including an 8-6 fifth-set loss in the opening round at Wimbledon.
Looking to rebound from that, Johnson next played the Hall of Fame Open in Newport, R.I. With his best showing there a pair of quarterfinals, the third-seeded Johnson reached the final, winning each of his first three matches in straight sets. While he was cruising through the top half of the draw, a surprise run was taking place on the other side. Ramanathan, ranked 161st in the world, advanced to his first career championship match, having dropped only one set in his first four matches.
Though Johnson had the edge in experience, Ramanathan had been making strides in his young career over the past year. In 2017, the Indian had beaten Dominic Thiem on grass in Turkey, and reached three Challenger finals in a 15-month span. Facing each other for the first time, Ramanathan pushed Johnson in the opening set before the American stood firm at the end to take it 7-5.
Playing in slick conditions that seemingly favored serving and volleying, Ramanathan’s aggressive tactics paid off as he took the second set 6-3 to level the match. In the third set, Johnson started going for broke on his return game, ripping forehand passing shots and making it harder for Ramanathan to hit volleys. Up 5-2, 15-40, Johnson got the backhand return back in play, and after Ramanathan hit the volley, the third seed ripped one more passing shot to clinch the title—joining Roger Federer as the only players to win events on multiple surfaces during the year.
Johnson bookended his two U.S. Clay Court Championship titles with his second victory on grass, the first coming in Nottingham in 2016.
The last time an Indian man reached a singles final was in 2011, when Somdev Devvarman advanced to the championship match in Johannesburg.
Johnson’s win was the sixth time over the course of the decade that an American won the title, beating the previous mark of five set in the 1980s and 1990s.