Steve Johnson beats Stephane Robert in ASB Classic 1st round

SYDNEY: Seventh-seeded American Steve Johnson overcame an early struggle in a match of contrasting fortunes to beat Stephane Robert of France 6-4, 6-3 Monday in the opening round of the ASB Classic tennis tournament in Auckland.

Johnson, ranked 33, struggled to bring his heavy serve to bear at the start of the match and quickly found himself a break down at 3-1 in the first set. He also took time to find his feet against Robert who troubled him with his softer groundstrokes, deft touches and his thread-the-needle passing shots.

The contrast between the players was shown in the fact that while Johnson was bent on wielding his powerful forehand from the back of the court, Robert played more than 60 percent of points from inside the baseline. Johnson hit nine forehand winners to Robert's seven but Robert had 10 backhand winners to Johnson's four.

"At the start of the year you don't have much momentum and you try to figure out your game again and how everything works," Johnson said. "He came out and played a great game.

"I was in a lot of games on his serve in the first so I just sort of hung around and then fortunately got a break in the second and held onto my serve."

The match pivoted around the marathon eighth game of the first set when Johnson was finally able to draw level on his sixth break point chance. He then began to serve more confidently, taking the ninth game with his sixth ace of the match and breaking Robert again to end the set in 51 minutes.

Johnson's serve was more influential in the second set — he gave up only one point in his first three service games and broke Robert in the sixth game to lead 4-2. But the Frenchman refused to give up, held for 5-3 and saved two points in the ninth game before Johnson closed out the set and match 6-3.

Johnson sent down 11 aces to Robert's three and Robert also paid for his six double faults to Johnson's three.