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Mon, Oct. 14

My Point column: Prescott’s Taylor Johnson going places in tennis world

Our home-grown and now world-wide 15-year-old, Taylor Johnson, is doing some crazy things currently with the game of tennis; this past week she beat one of the top players in the world in three sets in of all places, Santa Croce, Italy, to make it to the quarter-finals.

Currently ranked No. 57 in the world of 18 and Under amateur women tennis players, sixth nationally, third in the Southwest section, third in California and 37th in the USA/USTA, Taylor is on the hunt for hoping to qualify to play at the junior French and Wimbledon tournaments coming up real soon. 

Will it happen? Maybe.  This recent win against Katie Swan of Great Britain (6-3, 1-6, 6-3) was a biggie and may give her enough ITF points to make the cut.

If it happens, great - and if it doesn’t she’s right on the cusp of tasting parts of the game of tennis that few get a shot at - the junior Majors.

Johnson started playing tennis here in Prescott with her dad, Randy, and soon after local USPTA Tennis Professional Sterling Fetty at the age of 5.  She cottoned to it very quickly and with the support of her parents grabbed each rung that was put in front of her.

Prescott is a great place to grow up, but as far as progressing in tennis to levels that give you a chance for top college (division 1) or professional tennis endeavors - it falls short. So, a few years ago there was a move to Phoenix for more in-depth competition and coaching and then again to Redondo Beach, California, so she could be nearer one of the USTA training centers in Carson City, California.

The now 5-foot-9 freshman, who will graduate high school in 2019, is currently coached by Marc Lucero.  Being a left-hander it’s easy to see why her favorite player is Rafa Nadal.  She said she’d like to play college tennis at Stanford or USC, two of the top tennis schools in the nation.

But for now, Taylor has become a world traveler.  Playing in tournaments all over the United States, Mexico City, Canada, Ecuador, Peru, and now Italy - hopefully France and then England - what an exciting learning experience.

People like Billie Jean King, Rosie Casals, Patrick McEnroe and so many others have helped bring her short career along in a manner that, along with great parents, personal drive and humble personality have helped create the perfect storm.  Who knows what might take place during the next few years, but certainly with staying healthy - mentally and physically, Taylor Johnson has a solid possibility at playing top college and professional tennis.

She a very good looking young woman and that doesn’t hurt things either, just ask Sharapova and a few others where sponsorships give added and needed breathing room.

The cost to do what she’s up to right now is darn expensive.  Surely the USTA helps with her expenses, but when you have a traveling parent along with you that normally isn’t.

And, school becomes an online situation.

The journey is exciting, but a tough way to make this dream become a reality and it’s an awful lot of pressure, which has its way of breaking lessor players.  You have to be determined, balanced and have a good team that helps you relax and see the big picture...one match at a time. 

The age for women playing professional tennis has increased a bit in the last few years.  In the past it seemed the best women players were turning pro by the age of 14 to 18 - and if you have a couple big wins or do really well in challengers and smaller professional tour events, the temptation is there to jump at it while your confidence and playing ability are hot. 

College play can help get you there, but sometimes getting only college competition holds you back because it’s a full rung lower than the top dogs on the tour - and four years of one over the other can be the difference of making it to the big show - or not.

So, it’s many interesting decisions, based on what takes place - or what doesn’t.

As for Taylor, we wish her the best and all of Prescott and Arizona are in her corner.  “You GO GIRL!”

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry.  He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@gmail.com.

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