Tennis Insider: Guided by ex-TCU player, U.S talent stocks rising

03/28/2014 6:20 PM

03/28/2014 6:21 PM

One of the premier coaches in professional tennis made a recent swing through North Texas with one of the fastest-rising Americans in the men’s game.

It’s no coincidence that Craig Boynton has two-time NCAA champion Steve Johnson shooting up the ATP rankings. He’s done it before with another NCAA champion, John Isner, who is ranked No. 10 and has taken over the mantle of top-ranked American man.

Under Boynton, Johnson, 22, began the year ranked No. 156, but in three months he’s ascended to No. 101 after winning the Challenger of Dallas, reaching the semifinals at the ATP Tour’s Delray Beach Open, where he beat Tommy Haas and Feliciano Lopez, and advancing to the final this month at the Irving Tennis Classic.

Boynton, the USTA Player Development national coach based in Carson, Calif., and the former head pro at Saddlebrook Academy, may not be a household name for most tennis fans, but probably should be. He worked with Jim Courier in the ’90s and has spent time fine-tuning the games of Mardy Fish, James Blake, Jennifer Capriati, Pete Sampras and Alex Kuznetsov.

With Johnson, Boynton appears to have another player with the talent who could move into the top 50 — or possibly join Isner in the top 10.

“I don’t like to put a number on it,” Boynton said of Johnson’s potential ranking. “I just want to see good progress. If I were to put a number on it, I might be selling him short.”

The recent trip to Irving wasn’t Boynton’s first swing through North Texas. He played his first two years of college tennis for Tut Bartzen at TCU before transferring to Clemson.

Boynton also has been working closely with another talented young pro in Jack Sock, who is starting to live up to the expectations placed on the Nebraska native when he turned pro at 18. Now 21 and ranked No. 103, Sock is finding his footing.

“Jack is doing well,” Boynton said. “Everyone matures at their own pace, and I think Jack has been improving physically quite a lot.”

Krueger comes close

Another young American in the USTA Player Development program is Aledo’s Mitchell Krueger, who reached the final of the Futures tournament in Bakersfield, Calif., on March 16 before losing to No. 3 seed Daniel Kosakowski6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

The 20-year-old Krueger, who trains with the USTA in Boca Raton, Fla., lost just one set in the four matches leading up to the final, and last week he defeated No. 2 Nicolas Meister in the first round before falling to the eventual tournament winner, Marcos Giron, in the second round.

Wolff wins title

Age might be just a number, but for Dr. William Wolff of Fort Worth, turning 75 meant opportunity.

In his first year playing in the USTA’s 75-over division, Wolff defeated 78-year-old Kaz Saito 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to win the USTA Men’s 75-over Indoor National Championship on March 23 at the Downtown Club At The Met in Houston.

Not only did Wolff, a former Southwest Conference champion from SMU, have to rally after losing the first set, but he was down 3-0 in the second set. That’s when he changed his game plan.

“I looked over and thought to myself, ‘I can’t let that old guy beat me,’ ” Wolff said. “So I started coming to the net. In the 75s, it’s unusual for a guy to rush the net and it kind of surprised him. He started missing and I was able to come all the way back.”

Wolff, who had replacement surgery on both knees seven years ago, also had to defeat No. 1 Lester Sack in the semifinals to reach the final and win his first Gold Ball, the USTA’s prized trophy awarded to national champions. And, he’d like to win another while he’s still young.

“I figure I’ve got a two-year window before some of the young guys I have been playing in the 70-75 division move up,” Wolff said. “Next is the national hard court championships in California in May and the grass court championships in New Jersey in August. I plan to go to both of those. There’s a clay court championship, too, but I’m not going to go to that one. That stuff’s too slow for me.”

Rusty Hall, 817-390-7816

Twitter: @RustyHall10s

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