Steve Johnson wins U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship

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HOUSTON — Steve Johnson fought through late cramps to win the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship, beating Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) on Sunday at River Oaks Country Club.

The 27-year-old Johnson won his second ATP Tour title, and became the seventh American to win the event since it moved to Houston in 2001. He also won a grass-court title last summer in Nottingham, England.

Johnson was hobbled by cramps serving at the end of the third set, but – coaxing a backhand return error from Bellucci on a serve he barely hit – was able to get off the court and receive a brisk right-thigh massage from an ATP trainer. Players aren’t allowed timeouts for cramps. Johnson appeared fine in the tiebreaker, the first to decide the championship in tournament history.

“I was in deep trouble. `This stinks.’ But sometimes you get lucky,” said Johnson, seeded fourth. “My body has physically run out of gas this week. Coming in from Australia (where the U.S. lost a Davis Cup quarterfinal last weekend), dealing with all the ups and downs, I was kind of behind the 8-ball.

“A lot goes into cramping. For me today, it was the nerves of trying to close out the title. I haven’t been there enough to feel very comfortable.”

Johnson beat two former champions, Fernando Verdasco (2014) in the quarterfinals and American Davis Cup teammate Jack Sock (2015) in the semifinals, to reach his third career final.

The 29-year-old Bellucci, seeded eighth, had won four three-set matches in four days before falling in the final. He was trying to win his fifth Tour title. The previous four had also come on clay.

“Both players were very tired in the third set and we were missing more shots than before,” Bellucci said. “I’m happy for my week but today I am disappointed. I (thought) I could win because I was a little better than him physically. He deserved it more than me.”

Johnson won NCAA singles titles for the University of Southern California in 2011 and 2012.

Croatia advances in Davis Cup as Coric beats Thiem

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Borna Coric beat 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem 7-6 (3), 6-2 on Sunday to send Croatia into the group stage of the Davis Cup.

Coric helped the Croatians win their second Davis Cup title in 2018, but he was sidelined when they lost in the 2021 final while missing a year of action with a right shoulder injury.

He returned to the tour last March, winning a Masters 1000 title in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rejoined the Croatians when they reached the Davis Cup semifinals last year.

His victory over Thiem, who has also dealt with injuries in recent years, gave Croatia a 3-1 victory in Rijeka. The Austrians had taken the tie against the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings to a fourth match when Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 6-3, 7-6 (11) in the doubles match earlier Sunday.

Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Czech Republic also completed victories Sunday to secure their places in the next round, which will be played in September.

On Saturday, the U.S. completed a sweep of Uzbekistan, while Serbia, France, Britain, Switzerland and Sweden also finished off victories. Those 12 countries will play in the group stage, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In Sunday’s other matches:

– Finland 3, Argentina 1: On indoor hard courts in Espoo, Finland, Harri Heliovaara and Emil Ruusuvuori edged Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, before Ruusuvuori secured the winning point and a personal 3-0 weekend by beating Facundo Bagnis 7-5, 6-1.

– Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0: On indoor hard courts in Groningen, Matwe Middelkoop and Wesley Koolhof sent the hosts through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein. Middelkoop then beat Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-4.

– South Korea 3, Belgium 2: On indoor hard courts in Seoul, the hosts rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first day. Min-Kyu Song and Ji Sung Nam kept them alive with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille. Soonwoo Kwon then beat David Goffin 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 before Seong Chan Hong completed the comeback with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Zizou Bergs.

– Czech Republic 3, Portugal 1: On an indoor clay court in Maia, Portugal, Jiri Lehecka wrapped up the victory by beating Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-1.

– Chile 3, Kazakhstan 1: On an outdoor clay court in La Serena, Chile, Cristian Garin beat Alexander Bublik 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after the hosts had taken the lead with a victory by the doubles team of Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Barrios Vera.

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”