Commentary

College a good choice for Johnson

Updated: August 31, 2012, 8:31 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Growing up, we always heard about the value of a college education. Now we have empirical evidence that it's true.

According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, college graduates will make an average of $900,000 more than high school graduates over their working careers. And then there is the case of USC's Steve Johnson.

Instead of jumping right into the cathartic world of professional tennis -- like fellow Americans Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock -- Johnson decided to hit the books. He led the Trojans to four consecutive NCAA championships, becoming the first player to lead his team to that degree of success. Johnson won the 2011-12 singles championships and his last 72 matches.

Based on the early returns of his professional career, it looks like college was a good investment.

Johnson, 22, has won his first two Grand Slam matches at the U.S. Open. On Friday, he took down the occasionally formidable Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4.

"Feels pretty good," Johnson said. "All the hard work I put in since last year losing in five sets has paid off."

[+] EnlargeSteve Johnson
Al Bello/Getty ImagesSteve Johnson has won his first two Grand Slam matches here at the U.S. Open.

In his Grand Slam debut here in 2011, Johnson took Alex Bogomolov Jr. to five sets.

After the college season, Johnson played some ATP-level matches -- with little success. He did get his first ATP match win against Donald Young this summer but elected to play a Challenger in Aptos, Calif., instead of trying to qualify in Cincinnati. He won all five of his matches and came into New York in a good state of mind.

"I felt a little more pressure because I had come off a great college season and hadn't lost in a while," Johnson explained. "I just didn't feel comfortable with the surroundings. I had a nice week to train back at home with the USTA and came here.

"I think everything worked out pretty well."

Johnson looked quite comfortable trading rallies with Gulbis, particularly when the points mattered most; the kid from Orange, Calif., saved all nine break points against his serve.

Next up: A third-round match with No. 13 seed Richard Gasquet. Even if Johnson loses, his career-high ranking of No. 245 will jump to around No. 180.

Back-to-back upsets: It was a nice little story when British teenager Laura Robson knocked off retiring Kim Clijsters in the second round. But to be fair, Clijsters was not in match shape.

The 18 year-old's shocker over No. 9 seed Li Na -- she won 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2 in the third round -- was far more significant. First, Li was the 2011 French Open champion. Second, she didn't win a match in any of her previous Grand Slams this year.

"Thanks for reminding me," Robson said. "The way I see it, it was time to start winning a few of them."

Soccer star Wayne Rooney is even tweeting about her, although he referred to her as "Robinson." Later, Rooney blamed the predictive text function on his phone.

"Can you blame that on predictive test, though?' Robson asked. "I'm not so sure. It's great that he watched, even though he got my name wrong."

It's the first time a British women has been in the fourth round of a major in 14 years. If Robson beats No. 7 seed Samantha Stosur to reach the quarterfinals, Rooney will probably get the name right.

Stars and stripes: The 6-foot-10 John isner bombed 23 more serves and 69 winners to advance to the third round by beating Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3. He'll next play the winner of the Philipp Kohlschreiber-Benoit Paire match & Three American doubles teams advanced to the third round in straight sets: the Bryan Brothers, Williams sisters and Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond. Retiring Kim Clijsters is still alive in the mixed doubles, thanks to partner Bob Bryan.

Tough day at the office: A total of 36 Americans -- 20 men and 16 women -- found themselves in the main singles draws here at the U.S. Open. A total of 15 survived into Day 5, but Friday saw the herd thinned considerably.

Mallory Burdette, a Stanford University senior, fell to No. 3 seed Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-1 -- in 58 minutes. Sharapova did not seem affected by the news that broke earlier in an Italian newspaper that her planned November wedding with former Los Angeles Laker Sasha Vujacic has been called off.

Facing Sharapova, Burdette said, is a little different than, say, the No. 1 player at Duke.

"Her intensity," the 21-year-old Burdette said. "She walks up to the line and you can feel her presence. She's got a lot more tools than I do."

Burdette admitted she might have entertained the possibility of turning professional if she had won but that, following a talk with her parents, will return to Stanford for a fourth and final season. In preparation for a pro career, she will focus more on her game -- fitness, practice, etc., -- than she has in the past.

A top-50 ranking is her long-term goal.

"From there," she said, "it's up to me how hard I want to work, how far I want to take it."

Other U.S. losers: Ryan Harrison, to Juan Matin del Potro 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2; Varvara Lepchenko to No. 7 seed Samantha Stosur 7-6 (5), 6-2 and Bradley Klahn to Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.