‘Big Steve’ Remembered Across Tennis World

Steve Johnson, Sr. was the same amicable, familiar face we’d all come to recognize on courts across Southern California. On another picturesque weekend in Ojai at the Championships, Mr. Johnson was there to offer a helping hand, a welcome compliment, or a valuable piece of constructive criticism. Mere weeks later, one of the most popular tennis coaches of our time, “Big Steve” had suddenly passed away at his home in Orange County. The 58-year-old leaves his wife Michelle, son Steve Jr., and daughter Alison.

Before his untimely death, Mr. Johnson was one of the most beloved men in tennis circles worldwide. It was simply evident by the outpouring of remembrances and comments made on social media platforms in the days that followed, from those who’d learned the game from him, sat alongside him in the stadium at Indian Wells, or sought his advice in the clubhouse at Ojai.

He was a big-time coach with a soft demeanor in SoCal tennis circles, and a mini celebrity at places like Wimbledon on a worldwide stage where he was known simply as “Stevie’s Dad,” a nod to the top 25 ranked American and Olympic medalist who won last month in Houston and who bears his father’s name.

A day before he passed, Mr. Johnson spent the day at the Monarch Bay Club in Dana Point, where he met with good friends Frank Giampaolo, Todd Upchurch, and Bill Riddle. Giampaolo later wrote on his personal Facebook page, “Steve & I were planning yesterday, free Tennis Parent Seminars at The World Team Tennis Breakers matches in Southern California. Of course, they had to fall on the 4 home matches Stevie was scheduled to play.”

Mr. Giampaolo added: “Stevie is a lucky man to have had Steve Sr. as a dad. There was no man more proud of his son.”

Remembrances from the tennis world circulated upon news of Mr. Johnson’s passing:


 

 

Steve Pratt, Darryl Nash, and Cari Buck contributed to this article.

 

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2 Responses

  1. Steve Sr. was a teammate and doubles partner of mine in college. I can still hear his laughter both on and off the court, even now almost 40 years later. I spoke with Steve not more than a couple months ago as he expressed a desire to write a book about raising Stevie into a champion. He had a quiet passion about the sport, a positive joy in seeing players reach their potential…and a true knowledge of tennis that he shared freely and without reservation. We will miss Steve Sr. His unassuming and modest charm was welcomed in every room he walked in and every court he walked on. Stevie Jr. is a living legacy to his father as is Michelle his wife and Alison his daughter. Our prayers are with you all. But know Steve was a man we ALL were proud to know, to talk with and to laugh with.

  2. I only knew Coach Johnson for a few months but exchangeing Facebook comments, meeting him at the Uspta convention and visiting with him at Indian Wells this Spring I realized immediately that this was a tennis pro’s pro. He had wonderful insight and understanding of the game and boy he loved his family. I feel so blessed to have known him. God bless the Johnson Family❤️

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