HOUSTON — Defending champion Steve Johnson wore down Taylor Fritz 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 on Saturday, breaking his 20-year-old countryman twice in the third set after letting two match points slip away in the second in the U.S. Men's Clay Court semifinals.
Johnson will play Tennys Sandgren, another American who advanced to his first ATP World Tour final by neutralizing Ivo Karlovic's huge serve in a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) victory.
"To get my hands on that trophy (again)," Johnson said, "would mean a lot, both tennis-wise and emotion-wise."
With another win Sunday, which would be Johnson's ninth in a row in Houston, the 26-year-old Californian will be the first repeat champion since Andy Roddick in 2001-02.
It's only the tournament's second all-American final since Andre Agassi prevented Roddick from claiming a third in a row in 2003. In the other, Jack Sock beat Sam Querrey in 2015.
The 26-year-old Sandgren, from Nashville, Tennessee, wobbled in the second set, throwing in three double faults in the sixth game to let the 6-foot-11 Karlovic get back on serve, and then had to fend off a set point against his serve. But he said he didn't let "my negative side get the best of me" and he again proved to be the stronger player in the tiebreaker.