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NCAA champ Steve Johnson reaches third round

Steve Johnson returns a shot against Ernests Gulbis

Steve Johnson returns a shot against Ernests Gulbis during their men's singles second round match on Day Five of the 2012 U.S. Open. (Aug. 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

Not everybody working his way through the U.S. Open lives like Roger Federer, with a private jet and an extra residence in Dubai so he can train in the most demanding heat. Take Steve Johnson.

"I'm currently homeless, so it's an interesting situation," said Johnson, a 22-year-old from USC who Friday made a bit of history by becoming the first reigning NCAA champion to advance to the Open's third round since 1995.

Johnson defeated eighth-year pro Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4, and next will play No. 13 seed Richard Gasquet of France, who advanced by prevailing in straight sets against 22-year-old Californian Bradley Klahn.

Klahn, a Stanford grad who made the Open's main draw via its qualifying tournament, happens to be Johnson's roommate -- "when we find a place at some point in the next few weeks," Johnson said. "We'll both be based in L.A., at the USTA training center [in Carson]. Bradley and I have gone way back."

Instead of Gasquet, Johnson said he "was kind of hoping to play Bradley next round, just because we have played so many times in our life."

The chances were slim, given Klahn's humble ranking of 489th. Still, it is the mantra of the new U.S. faces that, as Johnson put it, "there's a ton of Americans that are going to come up and do big things."

"Ton" may be a strong word. The highest-ranking Yank, No. 9 John Isner, took a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 decision over Finland's No. 42 Jarkko Nieminen. And still alive in the third round are old pros Mardy Fish and James Blake, plus 24-year-old Sam Querrey and 19-year-old Jack Sock.

But Ryan Harrison, the 20-year-old Floridian who is the second-youngest man in the world's top 100 (at No. 61), was bounced from the tournament by Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 Open champ currently seeded seventh. Harrison, who was beaten in four sets, has yet to survive the second round in the 10 Grand Slam events he has played.

And Brian Baker, a 27-year-old Nashville native returning to the scene after a six-year absence while he was put back together by hip and elbow surgeries, met a similar fate, losing to No. 8 seed Jarko Tipsarevic of Serbia in straight sets.

So while top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia continued to cruise, with a straight-sets victory over 112th-ranked Brazilian Rogerio Dultra Silva, and 31-year-old Australian Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 Open champ, carried on with a five-set win over Luxembourg veteran Gilles Muller, the American presence keeps dwindling.

It therefore pleased a large portion of spectators to embrace Steve Johnson.

"Nice thing about being here," he said, "is there are a lot of American fans. They're all kind of behind you, or that's what it felt like. Toward the end, I just took a bunch of deep breaths and did what I do best, and that worked out."

Up to now, anyway.

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