Athlete of the week: Bob Johnson, Elk River, tennis: The big push

Bob Johnson had a late start in tennis but turned into a year-round zealot and has been a big part of Elk River's success the last two seasons.

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Bob Johnson comes from a family devoted to tennis. but it took the youngest kid of the family while to pick up racket. He tried football, baseball, soccer and basketball in grade school before picking up a racket in earnest at age 13.

"But once I started playing tennis, it overwhelmed all the other sports," said Johnson, who's been one-sport guy ever since and a big factor in the outstanding Elks program as a junior and senior after his late start.

The 6-foot, 167-pound athlete caught the same bug as his brothers Dan and Chris, who were Elks 10-12 years ago, and his dad Steve, former Elk head coach and currently assistant to Randy Ronning.


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Thompson has 44 career wins, including a 13-0 slate this year, mostly at No. 1 doubles, and 25-7 last year, mostly at 3-singles with some 2-doubles. He helped the Elks won conference and section titles and place sixth at state.


Bob Johnson is unbeaten at No. 1 doubles this year with five different partners, and 13-0 overall. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

"Having someone so versatile makes Bob invaluable in both singles and doubles," said Ronning, "and allows us to restructure our lineup to best fit the team we are playing. One thing is for sure, if this team is going to make it, Bob will have bea big part of the reason why."

Johnson broke into varsity slowly in 10th grade, playing every third match at 3-doubles.

"That gave him a taste of things that could be," said Ronning. "That nextyear Bob took lessons, played tournaments, hit practice serves, hit off the ball machine, and played winter tennisindoors."

All of which led top a breakout junior year when he was named all-conference and most improved, and played 3-singles in the state tournament. And he kept working.

"Bob would ride his bike the 2 1/2 miles to the high school courts, often more than once in a day," noted Ronning. "He is an avid fisherman, yet put that somewhat on reserve while he made his big push for tennis. It has paid off. This season Bob has been lights out."

Johnson is 10-0 at No. 1 doubles with five different partners, and 3-0 in singles (at 3 and 4). With good control of all his shots and especially his serve, he's won 140 games and lost just 32. At the Apollo Invitational, he teamed with Sam Gearou to win No. 1 doubles.
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"I want our team to go to state again, and I'd really like to make state in doubles my senior year," said Johnson, when asked about his senior-year goals.

Tennis has become ERHS's most successful sports program year after year. Asked what it means to him to be part of that, he said, "It means a lot, but it's just coincidental, too, because I just really like playing tennis."

While he's a very disciplined tennis player, he's a free spirit otherwise. Asked his ambitions, he said he'll go to Hamline and play tennis, but after that: "I'll want to travel the world. I doubt that I'll live anywhere very long. I'll get bored and pick up and move. Or I might wind up in a van by the river, too, who knows."

The Johnson scorecard

5-1johnson2.jpgPersonal file — Age: 18 … Family: parents Steve and Laurie; brothers Steve, 30 and Dan, 27; sister Maggie, 25 … Sport: tennis … Academics: B average … College plans: probably Mankato or Hamline; major undecided; play tennis

Favorite stuff — Class: clay … TV shows: too many to list … Movies: action fare like "Transformers" and "Ironman" … Food: PP&J sandwiches … Team: "I can't watch sports on TV. I've got to go out and play myself." … Athlete: Roger Federer

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