Tennis Prose




Mar/21

22

I just met a guy who played Vitas

I returned to my condo in Bradenton Beach on my scooter where I must park it at the front gate house. The gate house man noticed my racquet and asked if I was playing tennis.

The man named Kyle Johnson proceeded to tell me that he played tennis back in college in the 1970s at Penn State, as the sixth guy on the team ladder, he had to compete each week with teammates to earn the sixth spot.

After college, he joined his brother Kim Johnson, who was a better player, on the Satellite circuit and in San Antonio and North Carolina, actually got to play doubles twice against Vitas Gerulaitis in the mid to later 70s.

Johnson said some big name players like Vitas, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase would sometimes play these Satellite tournaments to stay sharp between bigger tournaments.

I asked Johnson what his memories were about actually playing Vitas, the 1977 Australian Open champion. He answered, “He hit with a lot of top spin, if you didn’t get in the right position to hit his ball it would bounce right over you. And he was just so friendly, so nice. Not like the other guys like Nastase and eh…”

Johnson said he lost both doubles matches to Vitas and his partner.

Gerulaitis was once ranked no. 3 in the world (1978) and he won 26 singles titles and $2.778,748 in prize money. His final matches were in 1989, doubles with Jimmy Connors at French Open, they lost to John Fitzgerald and Anders Jarryd 62 75.

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