A well-known name in Southern California tennis teaching circles is heading a bit west from his home in the city of Orange – Huntington Beach to be exact — in hopes of helping produce the next great American tennis player.
You could say Steve Johnson knows the exact formula to do just that as Johnson’s son Steve Johnson Jr. recently ended the year as the No. 31-ranked tennis player in the world.
Back in September, Johnson Sr. left his steady job at the academy he was operating out of the Rancho San Clemente Tennis and Fitness Club after it was sold to Lifetime Fitness. He decided to team up with longtime buddy Chuck Kingman who over the past year has built a strong academy called Golden West Tennis Academy from the six courts at Golden West College following 15 years at the Seal Beach Tennis Center.
“Chuck and I go way back and we’re going to have a lot of fun,” Johnson said recently. “We decided to get some dates down for January to go into the schools in Huntington Beach to introduce ourselves and let the kids know we’re there.”
In the meantime, Johnson has been keeping busy teaching privates near his home, as well as working with some varsity players from Orange High School on Sundays.
Johnson has been teaching tennis in Orange County for 36 years having started fresh out of playing for Santa Ana College at the age of 21.”
Johnson is finding himself on the court more than ever now.
“Last week I did 37 hours on court,” he said proudly. “When I was with the club I had four pros working under me and I was managing the pro shop and had many different streams of revenue. Now my only revenue is being on the court. I just teach now and I’m not responsible for anybody but me.”
Johnson’s wife Michelle, a junior college math professor, for years ran the books for him at the academy and the pro shop. “Now, once I walk off the court I’m done. I’m loving it.”
Johnson said the impending sale of the club he was at made for a stressful year. “I didn’t know if the club would be sold or not,” he said. “When it sold, I knew I had to move on.”
He added: “My stress came from when I came off the court. I’m always happy when I’m on the tennis court teaching, or when I’m out watching Stevie play. That’s when I’m happiest.”
Johnson said following his son’s matches live or via an app can also be stressful, and enjoyable at the same time.
He recalled a quote from Wayne Bryan during the U.S. Open when both were being interviewed about their pro sons. “We were asked what our favorite week of the year was, and Wayne said, ‘Any week my boys aren’t playing.’ I thought, wow, I don’t think I would say that, but I totally get that.”
Johnson said he thinks Stevie is ready to make a jump into the world top 20 and is reuniting with his former coach Craig Boynton in 2016.
He said Stevie recently bought a home in Redondo Beach, and is finally feeling like he belongs on tour after three and a half years following an All-American career at USC. “He has some incredible highs and some incredible lows, but that’s all part of being a pro,” Johnson said.
His son’s success on tour has made Johnson popular on the speaking tour, where he is apt to say things like: “I don’t know what’s right for everybody’s kid; I’m just going to tell you what’s right for mine.” And “You don’t pick the tour, the tour picks you.”
“When a kid turns pro I think they are picking the tour,” Johnson said. “Winning a Futures title doesn’t mean you’re going to make it in the top 200, but if you win Challenger you probably will. College is such a good training ground for these kids. The tour is still going to be there when they’re finished with school.”