Grieving player reaches French Open third round weeks after father's death

    Story highlights

    • Johnson has reached French Open third round
    • The American's father recently died unexpectedly
    • He burst into tears after dramatic victory

    (CNN)The second week of grand slams are where titles are won and history most often made. But the first week is where it all happens.

    Early at this year's French Open, a 35-year-old Frenchman in his last year on tour -- Paul-Henri Mathieu -- had to go through qualifying for the first time in his Roland Garros career after being snubbed for a wildcard. The established Mathieu celebrated like he had won a major when he did make the main draw.
      Tunisian lucky loser Ons Jabeur upset sixth-seed Dominika Cibulkova on Wednesday and, in the process, became the first Arabic woman to reach the third round of a grand slam, hours after Argentina's Renzo Olivo authored the biggest win of his career by ousting top men's French hope Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the main Philippe Chatrier court.
      He may never win a grand slam -- or even get to the second week -- but Olivo now has memories of his stint on one of tennis' most famous arenas to last a lifetime.
      Steve Johnson
      Then there is the sad, yet uplifting, tale of Steve Johnson, who has persevered to reach the third round and earn a plum encounter with world No. 7 Dominic Thiem, weeks after his dad, Steve. Sr. died unexpectedly.
      This Roland Garros was supposed to be part of a long, happy family road trip that had been planned for years.
      His father -- a tennis coach -- mother and sister were meant to accompany the California native to the year's second grand slam and then stick around for the initial stages of the grass-court season in June.
      Life, however, intervened in the worst possible fashion.
      Johnson missed the Madrid and Rome Masters last month, only returning to action last week in Geneva, before winning two rounds at the French Open.
      "I just miss my dad," Johnson told the Tennis Channel. "I wish he was following along. I know he is upstairs."

      Dramatic finale

      The world No. 26 won his opener in five sets over Japan's Yuichi Sugita but there was more drama Wednesday. Johnson overcame a point penalty for ball abuse -- the decision seemed harsh -- and edged past Croatia's Borna Coric 6-2 7-6 (10-8) 3-6 7-6 (8-6).
      The last point summed up the paradox in emotions.
      While Coric pummeled his racket in frustration, Johnson crumpled to the clay. He wept in his on-court interview with the Tennis Channel.
      "I know he was looking down on me on that last point and gave me the strength to finish it off," said Johnson.
      "Physically, I'm okay. Emotionally, I'm a mess. (My dad) always taught me to be a fighter and competitor, so that's what I'm going to do day in and day out. That's all I can do.
      "Tennis was his life and his passion, so much more than mine in different ways," Johnson added in his post-match press conference.
      "He loved tennis and loved to talk about it. I'll admit it got a little old for me because, sometimes, I like to get away from tennis. I'll always look back on these memories and these times we were able to share together tennis-wise.
      "He meant a lot to me, but you don't necessarily realize what he was able to do and who he was able to touch beyond his family's life.
      I could have told you bits and pieces, but now I'm getting stories of what he was able to accomplish through tennis and how he was able to help a lot of kids.
      "He's just a remarkable man."