AUCKLAND, New Zealand — American Steve Johnson struggled past Liam Caruana 7-5, 7-6 (4) to reach the second round of the ATP Tour’s ASB Classic on Tuesday as the tournament’s main draw was decimated by withdrawals.
Caruana, who was making his debut in the main draw of an ATP tournament, was one of four lucky losers promoted into the first round to replace players forced to withdraw because of injuries or fatigue.
Argentina’s Guido Pello withdrew with a shoulder injury, conceding his place in the main draw to Taro Daniel of Japan who along with Caruana, American Tennys Sandgren and Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko were losers in the last round of qualifying.
Daniel was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by sixth-seeded Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.
Johnson, who struggled with his ball toss and couldn’t always bring his big serve to bear, took time to make his way into the match but eventually gained a foothold.
The second set was also tight and Carruana had set points in a pivotal 10th game on Johnson’s serve, which lasted 7½ minutes before the American was able to hold.
“Oh man, it’s tough when you play someone you really don’t know,” Johnson said. “He swings hard and he hit it well.”