ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Steve Johnson is ready for a break from tennis. His body could sure use the rest.
“It was killing me to serve, and I’ve had this shin issue for six weeks that no one’s really known about,” the Southern California star said. “I was trying to pull through it and have an incredible training staff to keep me out there on the court every day.”
Johnson won his second straight NCAA singles title Monday with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Kentucky’s Eric Quigley.
The tournament’s No. 1 seed ended his college career with 72 consecutive victories, finishing the season 32-0. But Johnson’s title run the last few days was hardly easy. He played with a strained abdomen and shin splints and overcame a bout of food poisoning.
By leading USC over Virginia in last week’s team final, Johnson became the first men’s singles champion to help his school win four straight team titles.
“It’s kind of a special way to end your college career with a win,” he said. “It’s something I’ll look back the rest of my life and never forget.
The third-seeded Quigley ended his year at 54-8, the best in school history.
Johnson broke serve to lead 5-4 in the first set and 4-3 in the second. He dropped to his knees in celebration after Quigley’s shot went deep on match point.
“I thought I was right in there.” Quigley said. “Served pretty well except for a couple of points in some games I got broke in. I got some looks on his serves, but he just came up with some big serves to hold.
Johnson won his semifinal Sunday over Stanford’s Bradley Klahn, the 2010 singles champion, in straight sets. But his pain was bad enough that he had to retire from the doubles quarterfinals Saturday even though he and Roberto Quiroz were leading a Texas Tech duo 6-3, 3-2.
Johnson began hurting even more earlier Saturday during his quarterfinals win over Virginia’s Alex Domijan. It was his ninth straight day of playing and marked the only set he lost in the singles tournament.
“He’s got a shin issue that’s turning into a stress fracture and against Domijan he hurt his ab, and that just kept getting worse and worse,” USC coach Peter Smith said. “I knew if he could see the finish line, he’d get through it because that’s the kind of kid he is.”
Johnson, who plans to rest the next few weeks before training for the U.S. Open, could tell Quigley was anxious during some decisive moments.
“I think I was able to handle the bigger points well,” Johnson said. “I don’t know, Eric was nervous or tight or uptight at all, but when it came time to win the big points, I think he got a little tentative and I was able to kind of be aggressive and take it from him.”
Quigley, who twice lost to Johnson during their college careers, was stunned by the accuracy of his opponent’s serve. Quigley said he didn’t know Johnson was in pain, particularly when bending his back on a second serve.
“I think his nerves and his ability to come up with some great shots at big moments makes him pretty special,” Quigley said. “His serve — I think he can put it on a dime. I think he did it several times today.”
Kentucky coach Dennis Emery said he considers Johnson the most productive player in men’s college history.
“To me, I think that’s a much bigger accolade,” Emery said. “It’s the biggest compliment I think you can give somebody is to talk about their character and their productivity.”
The Texas Tech-Ohio State doubles final was delayed because of rain and moved inside at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.