The Biofile: Steve Johnson Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: ATP #32.

First Tennis Memory: I remember playing as a kid and really enjoying it. My first tournament – that would be a fond memory as a kid. I don’t remember how I did. I just remember I was like five and I played at a country club where my dad was working at the time and ever since then I’ve loved it.

Tennis Inspirations: My parents, they’re the ones who got me started in it. Then, kind of growing up, my idols were Sampras and Agassi, the American guys who were always winning and great guys to look up to.

Last Book Read: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Greatest Sports Moment: Probably the best moment was going back to college, winning the team championship (with USC). And last year at the French Open, winning a five-setter (vs. Lokoli) from being down two sets and two breaks and match point.

Most Painful Moment: I don’t know. I haven’t had that many just awful moments. Tennis does knock you down but I’ve always come back and played the next day. It hasn’t kept me from tennis for too long.

Strange Match: No, tennis has always been pretty straight-forward… saving match points is always special. You always look back to those and know I can always win, even when I’m almost out. One that I remember was against Ivo Karlovic in San Jose. I was down two match points in the third set tiebreaker – one with him serving. So I was pretty happy to get out of that one.

Favorite Tournaments: US Open.

Funny Tennis Memory: Playing a doubles match in 2011. I swung and I was just holding the butt cap of the racquet…the whole racquet was shattered and broke off and I was like holding three inches of the racquet. The rest went towards the net.

First Famous Player You Met Or Encountered: I remember I was on the same court as Gustavo Kuerten at the UCLA Open when I was younger. On the same court as him, not hitting with him, but got a picture with him and stuff. He was out there practicing for the tournament, my dad was there and I was just out there with him. I remember saying Hi to him and watching him practice. I just remember how hard he worked and what a great guy he was.

Favorite Sport Outside Tennis: To play – basketball or golf. And just to watch – basketball or baseball.

Three Athletes You Like To Watch & Follow: Man, good question. I’m thinking right now… I love Tiger (Woods). LeBron James. And of course, Federer. Just how he conducts himself on and off the tennis court. And he’s still an idol of mine.

Embarrassing Tennis Memory: Maybe when I completely whiffed a ball on stadium court. It was during a night match in Houston against Verdasco [smiles].

Funniest Player(s) Encountered: Oh, man, these are good questions…I think Llodra’s a pretty funny guy, off the court. I was in the locker room a few times with him, he’s retired now but he was pretty entertaining to have around. I think he was one of the funnier guys.

People Qualities Most Admired: I just like to have somebody you can joke around with and have fun with and you can just trust. People that are close to you and would really do anything for you if you really need it.

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  • Ryan Balon · April 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Hey Scoop,

    I think you mentioned doing a Biofile on Jared Donaldson – did you post that yet?

    Hope all is well.


  • Scoop Malinowski · April 21, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Not yet Ryan, coming soon…

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 21, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    Tiafoe beats Millot, 222 in the world, 76 in the third. Hyeon Chung wins again. Julio Peralta, 33 yrs old from Chile, beat Novikov in 3 sets, Peralta is ranked 642 in the world. What an underdog. Tiafoe proving himself big time.

  • JG · April 21, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    I saw a couple of minutes of the Tisfoe match, is Millot french, what is it with the french players they all have textbook strokes, this guy included. Tiafoe was just too physical for him. At my kids summer camp they had campers fron France, and they all had textbook strokes. Do they teach tennis at school there?

  • Bryan · April 22, 2015 at 12:32 am

    Enjoyed this biofile. Johnson seems like a nice guy. Would be great to see him rise to the occasion at some big tournaments.

  • Andrew Miller · April 22, 2015 at 12:45 am

    Millot is an under-rated player, nice win from Tiafoe.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 22, 2015 at 7:48 am

    They must have top notch coaching in France at all those super academies jg, Mahut, Paire, Llodra, Gasquet, are like watching live art. Millot is a good player too but I was told he’s a bit of an emotional headcase.

  • Dan Markowitz · April 22, 2015 at 8:46 am

    France is just a crazy tennis country. PTI on ESPN had a segment on this week where Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilborn argued that tennis will soon be even more of a minor sport if they don’t ease up on fan participation during matches. But in a country like France, you don’t have to change tennis at all, the fans and people love the game.

    I played Satellites in France in 1987. I played in a little town called Bagneres-de-Bigorre. For some reason, they put me in the Qualis of the tournament (I always played the pre-qualis everywhere else, but they got me mixed up with another player and gave me housing in a big mansion and the other guy in the house was Larry Scott, who was No. 1 at Harvard and had won a round at Wimbledon that year).

    I played Paul Wekesa, who had just turned pro and was 20, he later reached a career-high of No. 100, and he beat me badly. I think it was 1 and 1, breadsticks, and I was so embarrassed. We played on Center Court and there must of been like 200 people watching the match.

    I’m thinking, “Why are you watching this match? I’m getting killed and this guy is so much better than me.” But the French watched the match and even applauded when I’d knock off a volley once in a game maybe. It was the craziest thing. The French love tennis.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 22, 2015 at 9:05 am

    Good story Dan. Everybody loves tennis. Unfortunately I have never been to France but even observing the French media at US Open and Miami one can get a sense how much they love tennis. I will never forget getting to Miami early two or three years ago. I went on a Sunday, before the qualies even started. A nice sunny Sunday afternoon. And there was Bartoli practicing like a banshee – and Gasquet was sitting in the bleacher watching her practice with Mauresmo. I was wondering, it’s a glorious Sunday afternoon, don’t Mauresmo and Gasquet have anything better to do than watch Bartoli practice? Water ski. Swim. Fish. Hang out at the beach. Go on a bike ride in Coconut Grove? Nope, they couldn’t get enough of tennis. Even just hanging out and watching Bartoli practice was fun for them.

  • Gaurang · April 22, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Tiafoe won again today, reaching 413 in live rankings. So did Donaldson.

    Incidentally, in the under-18 rankings, now there are 5 Americans in the top 10: (Tiafoe, Kozlov, Mmoh, Tommy Paul, Taylor Fritz)


    Thats encouraging. They need to develop their talent though and work hard… ATP tour is a different ballgame than the challengers, and success in the latter does not guarantee the former.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 23, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Tiafoe is shining like a future star right now. As is Donaldson with the tough 3 set win vs. the tough Argentine. Kozlov is struggling right now. Tommy Paul had the huge win this week taking down veteran Bemelmans. He looked solid too, came up with a big ace and some winners to serve it out smoothly without any difficulty. USA tennis future is looking strong right now, not as strong as Australia, but stronger than the rest.

  • Dan Markowitz · April 23, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Not as strong as Russia also, as they have the top 2 guys in the rankings under 18. Kozlov is pulling a Gulbis. What’s happened to this guy?, losing to Smyczek 2 and 2. He might be a very good example, undersized, not fully mature, who like Rubin or Mac Mac, could’ve benefited with a year or two in college before going pro. And it looks like his father might be hurting him. He’s working with USTA coaches like Brad Stine, but doesn’t seem to be fully committed to him.

    Sounds a lot like Spadea. The father coached him until the USTA finally stepped in and gave him coaching, but Vince Sr. I suspect like Kozlov Sr. always felt he was the best coach for his son. So in came a revolving door of coaches with the father always thinking he was the best coach and maybe clouding the message received by the USTA coaches. Sounds like a mess and a guy like Donaldson who’s worked outside the USTA with Dent or Tiafoe, who’s worked with the same coach he’s had since he was a kid, were smarter. Sometimes these father-son tandems try to work the system and they’re the ones who suffer.

  • Dan Markowitz · April 23, 2015 at 10:39 am

    On a much lower level, obviously, I can relate to this a little bit with my own son. I taught him first the game, and then I’ve gotten other coaches to coach him. His new coach is trying to change his forehand follow-through to finish around his shoulder and not across his side like he’s always been doing with real good success. So Cal told me that this morning and said, “What do you think I should do?”

    So here I am in a situation where I can either counter act his new pro or tell Cal to listen to this coach. For now, I said listen to the coach, but I’ve got to see in his next match how that effects his game.

  • jg · April 23, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I think Cal should do the “Spadea” forehand–I have been sending that video around and everyone loves it, so basic, but spot on–and in street clothes.

  • Andrew Miller · April 24, 2015 at 12:26 am

    Fognini d. Nadal.
    Im not seeing Nadal raising the trophy at roland garros this year based on his clay results so far…he is playing second tier ball. Confidence in the gutter no doubt.

  • Gaurang · April 24, 2015 at 6:29 am

    The Rolland Garros clay plays different than the other Masters events. As soon as Nadal steps onto RG clay, he feels like a lion out on the hunt and sees the opponents across the net as a prey. No matter what Nadal does before RG, he enters RG as the favorite.

  • dan markowitz · April 24, 2015 at 8:22 am

    I agree with you, Gaurang. It’s like Ali came back from three years off because he didn’t want to go into the army. He wasn’t the same fighter, he was pushing 30 and still, when he fought Frazier in ’69 for the title, he was the favorite. With the great champs, you’ve got to beat them in the big tournament, the big match, before you can write them off. And even then, just like with Ali, who came back to beat Frazier twice after losing that battle in the Garden, the great ones come back after they’ve been down. That’s why it was shocking when Borg just up and quit at 25 when he lost to McEnroe in the ’82 US Open Finals. What great champ just up and quits once he’s beaten in the big match, Wimbledon and USO of ’82 by Mac? How could Borg just quit. It really was mind-boggling. Of course, Borg came back I think in the’90’s and he shouldn’t then.

    I think Vince is mad at me. Scoop sent me a text the other day when Kozlov lost 4 and 2 to Smyczek that Papa Kozlov was ready to make a coaching change from Brad Stine, Courier’s old coach. Kozlov might be only 17, but with Donaldson and Tiafoe doing much better, he might be reading the tea leaves these days.

    Anyway, Scoop didn’t tell me that Stine is coaching Kozlov as part of the USTA so Kozlov probably isn’t paying any money. If he hired Vince, he’d have to pay him a nice fee–what I don’t know, but Vince had more than 25 coaches on tour so I imagine he knows the going rate. So Vince said he was interested in coaching Kozlov. He said he likes his game and knew he got to the finals last year of the Sacratomato Challenger. Vince said he’d get him into the Top 100 this year and he’d win an ATP tournament under Vince. And Vince doesn’t talk crap.

    But then Scoop told me that Papa Kozlov can’t commit to make a coaching change until two years. Obviously, who’s going to give up a free USTA coach for a coach you have to pay for? But if Papa Kozlov or his son was smart, they’d ante up the coaching fee because I can’t think of one player who’s had success with USTA coaching. Well, Izzie and QBall did for a while, but now they both have private coaches and how’s it working for Kudla with the USTA coach?

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 24, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Nadal has lost his confidence and the aura of invincibility. Losing two in a row to each Verdasco and Fognini, two players he previously dominated, illustrates he’s just not the same player anymore. These are not fluke losses. Nadal is clearly fading. But he insists he will turn the tide and play his best tennis again.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 24, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Well the USTA is and has been funding Kozlov’s training, travel and other expenses for a few years now. That adds up. The USTA is a large part of why Kozlov is where he is now – one of the leading young Americans making his way gradually up the pro ranks. We know there will be stalls and bumps in the road. Remember, Kozlov beat Smyczek in three sets last year. Smyczek rebounded and had a big Aussie Open, almost beating Rafa in five sets. Tim is at his career high ranking now inside the top 70. Kozlov turned seventeen in Feb. But so far under the USTA coaching Kozlov has struggled to win matches in Challengers this year. Yes I think Spadea will be an upgrade from Stine. But if Vince is so sure he can help Kozlov, will he be willing to work on no guarantee paycheck, a results based %?

  • Dan Markowitz · April 24, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Why should Vince work on a result-based percentage. Spadea is high on Kozlov, but I’d imagine it’d take him a while to get on the court with Kozlov and go to a few tourneys with him for Vince to see whether he thinks Kozlov has the stuff or not to be a good player.

    Look, I don’t conduct Vince’s business for himself, but I’d bet if Kozlov is willing to fly to LA for a week and train with Vince, Vince would give him a good rate. Tell Papa Kozlov that Vince is willing to work with his boy and if he has the wherewithal to get out to LA, I’m sure Vince will teach the young’un a few valuable things. The Kozlov’s have to think out of the box because 17 is looking old for Stefan these days the way he’s playing. There’s another 17 year old who’s winning matches in Challengers.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 24, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    How does the RG play different than the other Masters events? It think it’s the same. My money is on Djokovic, he’ll be the clear favorite IMO. Rafa’s stock on clay is dropping faster than Gulbis’s confidence.

  • Andrew Miller · April 24, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Again, Spadea believing a high tier player, pro or top u.s. jr, will just work with him makes no sense. Spadea will need to prove himself–even showing a veteran how it is done, like a good player like JJ or the Kos. frankly that will one up other players that may have more talent but less smarts. Or join the usta–or Mayotte! As far as i can tell,

    Mayotte and Spadea are cut from the same cloth. Two guys that love the sport, like Seles or Toni Nadal or Evert.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 25, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Dan said Vince guarantees he will guide SK to win a title this year and to be top hundred. Okay, if he is so certain and is guaranteeing those kinds of results than honor your word and accept a results based payment plan. If a coach only wants a guaranteed weekly paycheck, then it looks like the coach may only be in it for the $. There’s a lot of risk in tennis and the coach should take risks too. The player and the player’s teams call the shots, not the unproven coach with no track record of success. If the Kozlov team agrees to pay/contract Vince thousands a week and Vince fails to deliver on his big promises, it could be catastrophic for the Kozlov team. Coach has to take risk with young player too.

  • Andrew Miller · April 25, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Dan and Scoop: You will like this. Jewell Loyd, #1 pick in the WNBA draft from ND and a protoge out of Chicago and of Kobe, is also (no suprise!) a tennis player!
    I’m hearing Dan and Scoop running with this!!!!

  • Dan Markowitz · April 25, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Scoop, if Kozlov’s father wants to make Vince an offer I’ll give you Vince’s contact info. But it seems to me that Kozlov doesn’t want to make that offer or take the chance of working with Vince. So let him have sub-par results with the USTA people. Maybe he’ll get on a good roll, but he’s looking to me–and I wasn’t real impressed with him when I watched him play at the US Open Qualis last year–like a kid who might wake up when he’s 20 and still be ranked in the 300’s. I don’t think Papa Kozlov wants to let go of the reins and let Vince, a proven winner on the tour for many years, mentor and coach Stefan. He should in my opinion. Vince isn’t going to coach for the USTA or take on somebody he doesn’t see potential in, and I’ve spent some time with him, and he knows talent. But plenty of players and fathers out there are willing to let their careers be guided by guys who at their best were maybe #150 for a summer. It doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Gaurang · April 25, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    Jason Jung, 25, reached a challenger finals this week (he will play it tomorrow against Rajeev Ram). He has jumped 93 spots to 191 or something in the live rankings (http://live-tennis.eu). If he wins the finals, he will jump 11 more spots to 183 or something. That will be cool. A 100 spot jump! I think he could reach top 100. Havent seem him play though.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 25, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    Dan, I believe they are locked into the USTA for two more years. He expressed open-ness to the idea of working with Vince in two years but “not now.” That’s the reality of the situation.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 25, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    Gaurang, I remember reading a story about Jung’s plight and perseverance last year. He keeps rising gradually. You just can’t count out any player. The breakthroughs can come at any time…Victor Estrella. Need we say more? Also, Julio Peralta, 33, ranked in the 600s, just made the Savannah doubles final with Novikov. Been injured since 2005. From Chile. Jung can be the next Rocky Balboa. Hope he does. The more Rocky Balboa tennis stories, the more interesting the sport is. BTW, Alexandra Stevenson is in the quarters in the Dothan Alabama ITF, so is Larcher De Brito.

  • Harold · April 26, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Dan, why dont you hire Spadea to coach your son. Be one of those feel good stories when your son makes it, with Spadea at his side after his first big win, and the stories about him coaching him since he was 8.

    Spadea’s ego thinks he is the one to push over the top, no risk for him, just a paycheck, but the player could be setback years of a short career.

    Why doesnt he start an Academy? Probably doesnt want to shmooze parents, or be on court 8 hours a day, might cut into his rapping career, or ugly clothes design.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 26, 2015 at 8:18 am

    The H Bomb has detonated again. 🙂

  • Dan Markowitz · April 26, 2015 at 10:07 am

    If I lived in LA, Harold, or Vince lived in New York, I’d hire Vince to be Callum’s coach in a nano second. Are you kidding me? I’ve seen Spadea give two lessons and I came away very impressed. You can be sure I will be taking Callum out to LA probably in the winter to do an intensive with Vince.

    Why shouldn’t Vince think he can be the one to push Kozlov over the top? He did it himself! To me that goes a long way. When Vince was 17, he wasn’t the prospect Kozlov is. Vince could teach Kozlov what it takes. Kozlov looks a little soft to me, almost unemotional.

    Vince tells me he doesn’t really love tennis. That’s probably why he doesn’t get too deeply into coaching. I think he’s proud of the fact that when he sees Gimelstob or Gambill still in the game, that he didn’t go that route. He’s gone Hollywood, having his own talent agency and I think he’s happier that way. You have to remember, tennis was foisted on Vince from a very early age and he was never given a chance to do anything else.

    But I see when he’s on the court, he’s a master and he’s passionate about the game. Sometimes a player has to think out of the box and when you hire a lifetime coach like a Nainkin, you’re getting a guy who might not be too creative or inspirational. I think that’s the appeal of hiring Vince. You’re going to get a guy who made it big and also thinks out of the box, plus he hits a great ball.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 26, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Dan, I think Kozlov/Spadea is a good match up. But it’s just not the right time. I think Vince has a lot to offer any player techniques and tactics wise. But the most important factor of a player-coach relationship is the chemistry, the two have to connect and like each other. Donaldson really likes Taylor Dent and their union is prospering now. Todd Martin is a brilliant tennis mind but he was not able to connect with Fish and Djokovic. Do you really think Vince and Kozlov can connect?

  • Dan Markowitz · April 26, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    I think so. I’ve never talked to Kozlov, but Vince is one of the easiest guys, IMO, to get along with. He’s not conceited. He’s funny. He’s very smart. He can be self-absorbed, but he’s also caring and is mostly a regular guy who’s eccentric.

    I hope Vince gets the chance to coach a good player like Kozlov because I think he could have really great results. But the fact of the matter is he doesn’t want to coach in the true sense of the word. He would rather mentor a player, have him come and train with him for an intensive period of time and then send another coach out to travel with the player. But maybe if Vince saw the improvement of his player, he’d want to get more involved.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 26, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Well we can help facilitate it to happen, hopefully in the near future we can hook up Kozlov and Spadea. Kozlov just got a WC into Tallahassee.



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