Steve Johnson is definitely passing the eyeball test to start the 2017 season. The American had a great year last season by his standards, winning an ATP title at Nottingham on the grass-court surface. He didn't finish the 2016 season well, however he's looking like the boss at the ATP event in Auckland this week. On Thursday, Johnson knocked out John Isner in the Auckland draw to advance to the tournament's semifinals.

Johnson played smart against Isner

Johnson played a tactically intelligent match against Isner on Thursday, with dipping shots that were often in the giant's feet. What resulted was a lot of half volleys that floated high off of Isner's racket, shots that were easy for Johnson to track down.

The American is moving well without any hint of injury so far this season and the passing shots are there as well. He may yet win Auckland this weekend to take some momentum into the Australian Open.

American talent certainly won't be deep on the men's side of the Australian Open draw. For everything that Isner and Jack Sock have done for USA tennis, Grand Slam success has largely eluded them in singles play. Isner still has just the one quarterfinal appearance in a major, that dating all the way back to the 2011 US Open now. He's certainly not going to lose his serving ability any time soon and that will keep him in matches. However, the problem with Isner has always been the long matches in majors.

He might win a coin toss in four hours or more, but even if he does there's not much left in the next round.

Drawbacks with Steve Johnson

But a couple problems with Johnson heading into the Aussie are worth pointing out. Firstly, he's deep in Auckland and while that does imply good form it's also going to put his endurability and fitness to the test.

He's not necessarily going to be ready for the a deep run in Melbourne starting next week precisely because of the fatigue factor. Furthermore Johnson is ranked 33rd in the world and that's an annoying place to be in the week before a major. The top 32 players get seeded and are guaranteed to avoid other seeded players through the first two rounds.

Unless someone drops out in the top 32, Johnson will be a dangerous floater. Unseeded, he could end up beside anyone in the first round, including Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray.

The way Johnson is playing those are the only two players on tour at the moment that I think would be heavy favorites against the American on the hard-court surface. Other players stand to be mild favorites for sure, however I would not be surprised to see Johnson upset someone like Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, or even Rafael Nadal.

The key for the American right now is to get through the Auckland draw without picking up any kind of injury. A Tuesday start date in Melbourne would also be good for him as opposed to a Monday start from Melbourne Park.

If Johnson gets a seed and avoids a health problem in Auckland this weekend then he's a dunk for the third round. After that, things get draw dependent, but with the right positioning in the tournament I would not be surprised to see him as the last American standing in the men's draw. I think his level of play right now is above Isner's and Sock's, the former a player that Johnson just beat. If he keeps playing the way he has been for the whole season, then a place in the Top 12 or Top 13 is not out of the question at year's end.

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