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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Walker Valley's Jacob Johnson hits a forehand during his state tournament match against Collierville's Ranjay Auil at the Adams Tennis Complex on Thursday in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Johnson lost 6-1, 6-1 as Arul advanced to the semifinals in the TSSAA Division I Large Class boys' singles bracket.

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Jacob Johnson was practically born with a tennis racket in his crib, but when he was old enough to actually start playing sports, he was more drawn to the baseball diamond than the court.

"I didn't enjoy it," he said when asked about his initial thoughts on tennis.

He played in some United States Tennis Association tournaments, but there wasn't an early buy-in on Johnson's part despite his father Ritchie — who played at Bleckley County High School in Georgia — wanting him to follow in his footsteps, a desire he kept private and never pushed.

Sometime around the age of 12, it clicked. There was no eye-opening moment for the younger Johnson when it came to his decision to focus on tennis, though. That took time.

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Spring Fling state tennis in Murfreesboro on May 27, 2021

It happened over the course of USTA tournaments at which he believed he competed well against some high-level players. It happened through the training of his father as the two spent time hitting together when Jacob was home-schooled before choosing to attend Walker Valley beginning with his sophomore year of high school. It has continued under the tutelage of a Lee University tennis player who attends The Chapel — a nondenominational church in Cleveland where his father is the pastor — as well as Mustangs coach Jordan Willcutt.

And over time, Johnson has improved.

He took another step this year as a junior by qualifying for the TSSAA boys' singles state tournament. His time in Murfreesboro was short, ended by Thursday's loss in straight sets to Collierville's Ranjay Arul, who advanced to the Division I Large Class semifinals.

The 6-1, 6-1 final score may look bad, but after a poor first set, Johnson improved in the second, with five games decided by deuce points that could have gone either way.

"It was a win for small-town tennis players," Ritchie said about his son qualifying for state. "We're not close to the metro areas, we're not close to as many tennis clubs and academies and workout groups and USTA tournaments and things of that nature. So if we're honest, the kids in our rural areas don't have as many opportunities as a kid like the one from Collierville have (in the Memphis area).

"It doesn't mean they can't compete, but it means we've got to work just that much harder to be able to do so."

One thing that his father was preaching during Thursday's match was for his son to "compete." It's what led to a much better performance in the second set and put him in position to keep things interesting. But Thursday's loss will only serve to motivate Johnson, who expects to be back in Murfreesboro in his final season of high school.

Why? Because he has made it a point to learn from his setbacks.

"I learned today that I can compete at a high level. I've just got to keep pushing, keep training and not get discouraged by this," Johnson said. "I've got to learn how to take the ball off the rise to be more aggressive and to start hitting angles in order to create more opportunities to hit a winner when I can, especially against players that are very consistent."

Johnson wasn't alone in being disappointed on an overall tough day for Chattanooga area tennis players in state singles and doubles matches. There were lots of opening losses as the area compiled an 8-16 mark on Thursday, with McCallie's Gabe Getz and Will Leathers — who a day earlier were part of the Blue Tornado winning the 10th team state title in program history — the only players still in contention.

Getz and Leathers will face Memphis University School's Luke Donovan and Roberto Ferrer at 10 a.m. Eastern on Friday in the Division II-AA doubles final.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Signal Mountain's Bindi Patel hits a return at the net while teaming with Grace Williams in a doubles match Thursday at the Spring Fling.

THURSDAY’S SPRING FLING TENNIS RESULTS

GIRLS’ SINGLES

Division I Small Class

Quarterfinals: Ellison Reynoldson (Camden) def. Sunshine Finnell (Arts & Sciences), 6-3, 6-0.

Division I Large Class

Quarterfinals: Elena Kurowski (McMinn County) def. Marisa Wirtz (Station Camp), 6-3, 7-6 (7-2)

Semifinals: Lucy Higgins (Lincoln County) def. Kurowski (McMinn), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3)

GIRLS’ DOUBLES

Division I Small Class

Quarterfinals: Gracie Kelly/Ella Konig (Summertown) def. Bindi Patel/Grace Williams (Signal Mountain), 6-4, 6-3.

Division II-A

Quarterfinals: Meera Boyapati/Gabby Siew (University School of Nashville) def. Jenna Black/Emma Greer (St. Andrew’s-Sewanee), 6-0, 7-5.

Division II-AA

Quarterfinals: Ensley Collins/Helen Guerry (Baylor) def. Olivia Evans/Zoe Pelts (Hutchison), 6-4, 6-4; Caroline Clark/Mary Kate Johnson (GPS) def. Anna Brock/Avery Smith (Ensworth), 6-2, 4-6, 6-1.

Semifinals: Anna Chambers/Riley Collins (Ensworth) def. Collins/Guerry (Baylor), 6-4, 5-7, 6-2; Melanie Woodbury/Stephanie Woodbury (Hutchison) def. Clark/Johnson (GPS), 6-1, 6-0.

BOYS’ SINGLES

Division I Small Class

Quarterfinals: Eli England (Claiborne) def. Gabe Rhyne (Signal Mountain), 7-6 (7-3), 6-1

Division I Large Class

Quarterfinals: Ranjay Arul (Collierville) def. Jacob Johnson (Walker Valley), 6-1, 6-1

Division II-A

Quarterfinals: Danny Hamze (Lausanne) def. Joby Nash (Collegedale), 6-1, 6-1; Nicolas Roth (Christ Presbyterian Academy) def. Kai Lam (Silverdale Baptist), 6-1, 6-2.

Division II-AA

Quarterfinals: Andreas Sillaste (McCallie) def. Gabe Ungab (Memphis University School), 6-0, 6-1; Hank Trondson (Ensworth) def. Colin Tuttle (McCallie), 7-6 (7-3), 6-4

Semifinals: Baylor Sai (Montgomery Bell Academy) def. Sillaste (McCallie)

BOYS’ DOUBLES

Division I Small Class

Quarterfinals: Austin Hensley/Ryan Griggs (Signal Mountain) def. Ian Fryer/Jackson Thomas (Watertown), 6-1, 6-0.

Semifinals: Joseph Rodriguez/Joshua Rodriguez (Merrol Hyde) def. Griggs/Hensley (Signal Mountain), 6-1, 6-2.

Division I Large Class

Quarterfinals: Daniel Haddadin/Om Patel (Science Hill) def. Brayden Conn/Bryce Elliott (Cleveland), 7-5, 7-5.

Division II-A

Quarterfinals: Aiden Menzie/Leo Menzie (CPA) def. Tyler Griffin/Brad Stern (Collegedale), 6-7 (7-3), 7-5, 6-0.

Division II-AA

Quarterfinals: Gabe Getz/Will Leathers (McCallie) def. Andrew Kuhlo/Mac Owen (MUS), 6-0, 6-3; Manuel Achurra/Nicholas Cooper (Baylor) def. Andrew Ditto/Martin Grier (MBA), 6-1, 6-4.

Semifinals: Getz/Leathers (McCallie) def. Kinton Lewis/Anson Anderson (MBA), 6-4, 6-1; Luke Donovan/Roberto Ferrer (MUS) def. Achurra/Cooper (Baylor), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

 

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