An emotional Steve Johnson defended his title at the Clay Court Championships in Houston.

Welcome to this week’s edition of Catching Up With Tennis Pulse, it feels great to finally be thrust into the realm of competitive tennis once again. And no, the Davis Cup doesn’t count.

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Fayez Sarofim & Co. US Men’s Clay Court Championship

Hosted in Houston, this ATP 250 event is unique in that it is the only ATP event in the US that is held on clay. America’s best compete for their sole opportunity to capture a clay court title, and defending champion Steve Johnson emerged victorious once again. He defeated compatriot Tennys Sandgren 7-6(2) 2-6 6-4 in an emotional final to retain his title, and win his third ATP trophy.

This victory carried even more significance given that Johnson’s father passed away 11 months ago, and his triumph in Houston last year was the last match that his dad saw of him.

He’s somebody that I’d still like to call today,” Johnson said after his victory. β€œHe’d tell me he was proud of me and be ready for the wedding next weekend.”

Johnson will be tying the knot this weekend, and collecting almost $100,000 in prize money is a great way to begin married life. Congratulations and best wishes to the Johnsons.

Despite defending his title, the American does drop one spot to No. 52 in the rankings, while Sandgren rises to a career high of No. 47.

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Top seed John Isner fell to Johnson in the quarterfinals; Johnson in fact defeated five Americans en route to the title – Ernesto Escobedo, Frances Tiafoe, John Isner, Taylor Fritz and Sandgren. Fourth seed Nick Kyrgios also fell in the quarters, losing to Ivo Karlovic. However, the Croat would go on to lose to Sandgren in the semifinal.

Grand Prix Hassan II

Another ATP 250 clay-court event, it has the distinction of being the only ATP World Tour tournament that is held in Africa. Formerly hosted in Casablanca, the event was relocated to Marrakech, Morocco in 2016.

Spaniard Pablo Andujar defeated 2018 Australian Open semifinalist Kyle Edmund 6-2 6-2 to win his fourth overall ATP title and third at ths event (2011, 2012). Ranked 355, he became the lowest-ranked ATP tour-level titlist in 20 years.

Hampered by a host of injuries and even undergoing three elbow surgeries, Andujar was ranked as low as 1,824 in February. This did not deter the Spaniard, as he recently won the Ferrero Challenger Open(d Alex de Minaur) before entering Marrakech and claiming that title as well.

“I always believed that I could come back, otherwise I wouldn’t have tried,” said Andujar post-match.

Andujar now rises to No. 154 in the World rankings, whereas Edmund moves up three spots to No. 23. The Brit would have cracked the top 20 for the first time, had he won his maiden title on Sunday.

Top seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas lost in the second round to qualifier Alexey Vatutin, but the Russian fell to Andujar in the quarterfinals. Fourth seed Richard Gasquet put up a good showing, falling to Kyle Edmund in the semifinals.

The Monte-Carlo Masters is underway, and the king of clay has returned. Rafael Nadal hopes to win the Monte-Carlo title for an unprecedented 11th time. The World number 1 skipped Indian Wells and Miami to recuperate, and he will be the favorite through Roland Garros. Well, I’m not betting against him.

Do you think anyone could possibly dethrone Nadal during the European Clay-court season? Perhaps Novak Djokovic still has some fight left in him? Leave your thoughts below and be sure to follow us on www.tennis-pulse.com for coverage of the 2018 Monte-Carlo Masters.