Palmetto State Racket

Month: July, 2014

6-year-old Anderson boy impresses Jr. Team Tennis crowd

by Jonathon Braden

FLORENCE, S.C. – “How old is he?” asked a man who had just finished watching a 10 and Under tennis match at the USTA South Carolina Jr. Team Tennis Championships earlier this month.


“6? That’s unbelievable!”

His excitement was warranted.

The JTT spectator had just watched Noah Johnston hit topspin forehands and backhands, track down almost every ball, serve with a Continental grip, and win a singles match at the USTA SC JTT Championships.

The next day, Noah was showing tennis IQ years beyond his age, reminding his doubles partner to call out switches.


Noah, with floppy blonde hair, has had genetic and residential tennis advantages.

His parents are Sophie Woorons-Johnston and Andy Johnston. The couple runs Brookstone Tennis, a club in Anderson, South Carolina.

Both also have a little tennis experience.

Most recently, in 2013, Woorons-Johnston won the USTA Women 35s National Championship. Andy Johnston coached the Clemson University women’s tennis team from 1983 to 1997. He led the Tigers to five consecutive ACC titles and was named ACC Coach of the Year four times.

The family also lives in the upstairs of their tennis club.

When Noah was 2, his parents found him in the club’s pro shop, fiddling with a racquet and a ball.

Noah Johnston, 2 face

He soon joined a program for 4-year-olds at the tennis club.

Woorons-Johnston said seeing Noah develop is especially enjoyable because he plays when he wants play, not when his parents want him to hit.

As well as he does play, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 6, the year many children enter kindergarten. And then he reminds with you childlike hyperbole.

On the first night of the JTT Championships, it was a little past 10:30 p.m., and Noah was still playing his match. When he finished victoriously, he dropped to both knees and fell backwards, lying on his back.

His mother walked over and lied next to Noah, who gasped and could barely speak.

After a day of travel and tennis, Noah was spent.

Or, as 6-year-old Noah put it, “I’m dead.”


What is USTA SC Jr. Team Tennis? Watch and find out.

by Jonathon Braden

One question: Near the 2-minute mark, is that man dancing?

18-year-old Spartanburg player co-owns business, plays USTA JTT

by Jonathon Braden

FLORENCE, S.C. – Barrett Hardy wasn’t sure he would have time for the USTA South Carolina Jr. Team Tennis State Championships this weekend.



Hardy, 18, has been busy running the Spartanburg construction business he co-owns, Hardy & Jenkins Contracting.

Hardy finds workers for his company’s jobs. He manages the 10 to 12 workers at each job site. He even lays brick or stone alongside his employees.

Hardy is involved with nearly every aspect of the business, said co-owner Anthony Jenkins.

And to think, just a couple months ago, Hardy was still in high school.

“As long as I’ve been knowing him,” Jenkins said, “he’s not your normal, typical kid.”

Hardy met Jenkins when Hardy was in eighth grade. Jenkins started helping Hardy lift weights and train.

A couple of years later, Hardy wanted to have some spending money. He liked to hunt and fish, and he wanted some cash for a fishing rod and camouflage gear.

Plus, he said, “I like money in my pocket.”

But instead of feeling sorry for himself or begging his parents for money, Hardy thought of the many days he had spent working on his grandfather’s farm in North Carolina, and he got to work.

He knocked on neighbors’ doors, asking them if they needed someone to take care of their lawns. With some clients lined up, he approached construction companies, places with big lots to mow.

Hardy eventually acquired a riding mower to help him grow his business. And his grandpa gave his grandson a trailer to help him more easily complete other projects.

Hardy also joined forces with Jenkins, who has been in the construction business on and off for about 25 years. Hardy & Jenkins Contracting now completes demolition jobs, landscaping work, home repairs, and roofing work.

Hardy’s role in the business also has changed. He went from doing all of the work, to doing some of the work and managing most of it.

At job sites, he supervises some but also gets his hands dirty. He works with his employees, he said, because “you don’t want to be looking down at someone.”

Most of Hardy’s workers are more than double his age, Jenkins said, but the workers don’t know that. “And they never ask,” Jenkins said. “As far as they’re concerned, they think he’s out of college.”

Hardy sees the workers often. He’s frequently running around to sites, picking up equipment, and talking with employees.

“The guys work real hard for him,” Jenkins said. “We haven’t had a problem where I need to come in behind and straighten out some guys.”

Hardy’s business and tennis careers have busied his summer. He works on the business from about 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. In the evening, he works out with Jenkins and plays tennis.

This fall, Hardy plans to study engineering at The Citadel in Charleston and play tennis for Hall of Fame coach Chuck Kriese.

Earlier this month, Hardy was serious when he told his USTA Jr. Team Tennis coach, Sherry Pellegrino, that he wasn’t sure if he’d make it to this weekend’s state championships in Florence.

But Pellegrino left him few options. “You will be here,” she told him.

And then Hardy learned a life lesson applicable to business: During some scenarios, some people are always right.

In business, it’s the customer. In USTA Jr. Team Tennis, it’s the motherly coach.

Rock Hill JTT Coach Doesn’t Remember Beating Roger Federer

by Jonathon Braden

At this weekend’s Jr. Team Tennis State Championships, Rock Hill tennis coach Tiago Ruffoni could motivate his players with decades of his own tennis experiences.

He could even tell them about what it’s like to beat Roger Federer; Ruffoni dismantled the Greatest Player of All Time, 6-0, 6-2 when the two were 14.

That is, if Ruffoni remembered beating Fed.

Until someone pointed it out to him years ago, Ruffoni had been oblivious to his Big Win in 1994.

“Somebody told me – you know that you beat Federer? It’s like what?”

Check his website, the messenger said. There the beatdown was, on Roger Federer’s own site:


(Our arrow.)


The victory has been the stuff of Internet questions and Yahoo! Answers, and people have occasionally mentioned it to Ruffoni. But the frequent reminders don’t help his memory.

“I think it was too easy, that’s the thing,” he says, wryly. “Those easy matches I don’t remember.”

(Ruffoni does remember beating another former No. 1 player, Lleyton Hewitt, in the mid-1990s.)

But Ruffoni would face tougher matches and challenges during his career.

In 1998, he left Brazil to play collegiate tennis at Auburn University, where he was ranked No. 1 in doubles. His senior year, he was set to play in the NCAA Tournament when he injured his right elbow.

Tendinitis had developed in his serving elbow from repeated use over time, he said.

For two years after college, Ruffoni tried to play professionally but his elbow frequently bothered him.

(During league play now, he resorts to slicing serves, staying away from flat or heavy-topspin balls. Don’t feel too bad for him, though; he’s still rated as a 5.5 player.)

In 2010, after coaching stints at Winthrop University and elsewhere, Ruffoni joined the teaching staff at the Rock Hill Tennis Center full-time.

This weekend, he will take two Rock Hill teams to the USTA South Carolina Jr. Team Tennis State Championships in Florence.

About 220 kids from across the state will have fun and compete for state titles during the championships. The players, ages 10 to 18, will play against kids of similar ages and ability levels and try to advance to regional championships, which will be held next month in Cayce, S.C.

This weekend also will mark the first time Rock Hill has had a team competing in the championship’s most competitive 18-and-under division.

The players know their coach will have an answer to almost every tennis-related question they can toss at him. So long as they don’t ask him about beating an 18-time Grand Slam champion.

New Feature: Meet a Member, the Joch family of Irmo

by Jonathon Braden

USTA South Carolina is made up of tens of thousands of hard-working volunteers, passionate players, and inspiring individuals.

But who are these people? Who represents USTA SC?

Today, we’ll start telling you through a new feature on the blog called “Meet a Member.” Every so often, we’ll post a short story or a Q&A with a “regular” USTA SC member. The people featured will be just like you: longtime players, newcomers, or moms and dads who help their children love the game, such as the woman we talked to in today’s post, Kay Joch of Irmo.

Kay and her husband, Wally, have two children, Lauren, 15, and Nicki, 10, who both love tennis and are pretty good at it as well. We talked with Kay about how her children got into tennis, what they all like best about the sport, and the family’s love of cheese.

Let us know what you think of the new feature by emailing Have someone in mind for a future feature? Let us know that, too.


Nicki Joch, left, and Lauren Joch both enjoy tennis through USTA SC. In the photo, Nicki is holding a trophy she received after playing LATA Jr. Team Tennis last spring. Lauren is holding the plaque she received for winning the girls’ 16 singles division of the 2014 Palmetto Championships. (Submitted photo)

USTA SC: Who all plays in the family?

Kay Joch: Lauren plays USTA tournaments throughout the year, team tennis and high school tennis for Dutch Fork High School. Nicki plays LATA (Lexington Area Tennis Association) team tennis and has played in USTA tournaments as well. Wally and Kay do not play USTA tennis, but love to watch our girls play and enjoy hitting with our girls as well.

USTA SC: How did the family get started in tennis?

Kay Joch: Wally and I don’t have any real background in tennis. He enrolled Lauren in a clinic at the Irmo YMCA when she was 6 years old. She immediately fell in love with the game and it has grown from there. We wanted to get our younger daughter, Nicki involved in tennis as well.

USTA SC: How often do y’all play and where?

Kay Joch: Lauren plays tennis most days by taking clinics with Morne Hobson at Golden Hills in Lexington, and she takes some private lessons from Marilda Julia at Rawls Creek. Nicki just started taking some clinics with Morne this summer and has taken private lessons with Marilda as well. We try to hit with the girls on weekends when we are not busy with USTA tournaments or other activities.

USTA SC: What’s your favorite thing about being a member of the USTA?

Kay Joch: We love having access to junior level tournaments and team tennis for the girls. We also access the websites frequently to check on tournaments and read other SC/Southern region tennis news. Nicki was very excited to win tickets to the Family Circle Cup this past spring through a drawing held at the SC USTA for 10 & Under tournament players.

USTA SC: What’s the best part about tennis being a family activity?

Kay Joch: We love that tennis is an activity that our entire family can enjoy and play together. We hope our girls continue to love it and will want to play when they are adults. In addition to playing tennis, we have enjoy watching it too – either when our girls play or by attending the Family Circle Cup to watch the professional players.

USTA SC: What else should we know about the Joch family?

Kay Joch: Wally and I are “Cheeseheads” from Wisconsin, who love to cheer on the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers. Our family also loves soccer and have been enjoying watching the World Cup. Lauren played soccer for many years before deciding to concentrate more of her time on tennis. Nicki also plays soccer for the SCUFC out of the Irmo YMCA.

On last day of chemo, USTA league player Beverly Hill finds relief

by Jonathon Braden

During the last hour of her final chemotherapy session, Beverly Hill laughed and cried with family and friends.

To her right were her two sisters, Anita Bennett and Meredith Gooding. At a nearby table, her husband, Glen Hill, waited as well.

And to Beverly Hill’s left, longtime USTA league teammate Gabby Swearingen kept her company, too.

For months now, they all had been thinking about this date, July 10, the day Beverly Hill would celebrate her fourth and final round of chemotherapy.

Bhill with team, 71014, chemo

Lori Dodd Harris, Hill, Gabby Swearingen and Carol Wiggins, chat while Hill receives chemotherapy. (USTA SC photo)

In March, Hill had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Since, she has had surgery to remove a lump, a double mastectomy and three rounds of chemo treatment. All the while, family, friends, and the women she plays tennis with on a USTA South Carolina league team have tried to help by dropping off chicken casserole, checking in with calls and texts and sitting with her through chemotherapy.

This final treatment, though, would be slightly different from past sessions. To celebrate the end, Hill would be ringing a bell at the South Carolina Oncology Associates Cancer Center, where she has received her treatment. The center promotes bell ringing as an “emotional lift” for patients and families.

About 1:40 p.m., Thursday, they all waited in the basement of the cancer center, where dozens of patients were receiving chemo drugs intravenously. Hill and other patients sat in recliners, the guests in chairs or stools. Some patients had friends sitting nearby; others wore sunglasses and headphones and reclined.

The sisters and teammates were talking about how much support Hill had received when she reached for her iPad to show them another example.

The photo on the screen was of a student Hill had taught at New Providence Elementary School in Lexington.

The girl was wearing a “Team Hill” T-shirt, and in the photo, she was blowing a kiss to her teacher. The text next to the photo wished Hill well on her final day of chemo.

Minutes of conversation had passed when more friends and teammates arrived, including Hill’s USTA league team captain, Carol Wiggins, and teammate Lori Dodd Harris. Another friend also swung by.

They all were making time during the middle of their Thursday to be with Hill.

They chatted about their children, about which colors Hill wants to paint her new house, and about which furniture will go where in the family’s new home.

Hill lamented that she hadn’t been thinking clearly about her house of late.

“My brain keeps hopping,” she said.

“You’ve only got 25 things on your mind,” Swearingen told her.

The No. 1 thing on Hill’s mind: what would be next. She mentioned an upcoming appointment where the doctor was likely to recommend radiation treatment.

Not long after, Hill’s oldest son, Grayson, arrived and hugged his mom, aunts and friends.

And at 2:20 p.m., Hill’s nurse told her she had finished.

“Yay!” Hill said.

Her nurse unhooked her from the machine, and Hill grabbed another tissue.

She rose from her recliner and started walking to the bell. Her family and friends were right behind her.

At the bell, Hill waited a few more seconds. “Let’s let everybody get over here,” she said.

They all gathered in front of her, iPhones and cameras in hands.

“Ready?” she said.

She shook the bell, smiling and closing her eyes. Tears followed, hugs came next.

“You’ve been wonderful,” her nurse told her during their hug.

“I love you,” Hill replied.

Hugging Hill, Dodd Harris told her she loved her. “I’m sorry I’m squeezing you so hard,” she said.

The teammates and family all posed for iPhone photos next to the bell.

bhill with fam, 71014, bell

Glen Hill, Beverly Hill and their youngest son, Grayson, stand in front of the bell. (USTA SC photo)

They also thought about getting out of there.

“Let’s go conquer something else,” Glen Hill said.

The women, however, had already made plans.

“Where y’all going?” he said as they walked to the elevator.

Hill replied for them all. “We’re going shopping.”

Q&A with Jorge Capestany of

by Jonathon Braden

His name is synonymous with tennis drills that work.

Jorge Capestany, through his website, has helped countless tennis professionals be better at their jobs by providing hundreds of drills for coaches to use. This Sunday, local pros and parents will have the chance to learn from Capestany right here in South Carolina.

Jorge Capestany

Jorge Capestany

Capestany and four other notable tennis professionals will be speaking at the USTA South Carolina Coaches Workshop, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., at the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center. Tickets are only $20, and that includes the cost of lunch. You can go to to register, or you can register at the door.

The workshop is an opportunity for anyone interested in learning about teaching tennis to hear from some of the best minds in the game, including USTA National Trainer Butch Staples. And you can hear them all for the cost of a dinner. Our guarantee: By attending the workshop, you’ll get better at teaching tennis to your students, children, and friends.

Earlier this week, Capestany, who has more than 30 years of teaching tennis experience, took time to answer questions from USTA SC about how he got interested in tennis drills, what makes a great drill, and which drill will help us play like Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon.

USTA SC: You are the expert on tennis drills. How did you get so interested in tennis drills?

Capestany: I have taught over 55,000 hours on the court and was always looking for drills. When I realized it was difficult for coaches and pros to have a place where they could find drills, I started my first website, That site now has more than 1,000 videos of drills that can be viewed online and printed off in diagram form. The site now has subscribers in more than 65 countries.

USTA SC: If I’m a tennis coach or pro, what’s the one thing I need to remember before having my students go through a drill?

Capestany: That the drill needs to have a purpose and the players need to know what that is. I think the most important concept is for the pro to “sell” the drill so that players understand what they are supposed to learn from it. There is too much mindless drilling going on in our country and it kills players’ development.

USTA SC: What makes a great tennis drill?

Capestany: Fun, and (it) has a purpose. It fixes or adds something to a player’s game.

USTA SC: What makes a bad tennis drill?

Capestany: Usually it is the pro. We all know that a drill can go great and if you change out the pro, but still have the same players and same drill, it might go really bad. The difference is the pro running the drill.

USTA SC: What’s the drill that will help people play like Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon?

Capestany: Color-coding. It is a singles drill where the players have to call out red, yellow, or green so they practice sending the correct shot back. This drill teaches that the decision on what you are sending depends on the ball that you are receiving. I have found this to be the most helpful drill I have used.

One-Minute Tennis Tip: Closing Your Shoulder

by Jonathon Braden

In preparation for Sunday’s USTA South Carolina Coaches Workshop, watch this video and get prepared to learn from actual tennis geniuses. Click here to register for the workshop.

South Carolina’s Grass Centre Court

by Jonathon Braden

Cary Davenport can admire the grass tennis courts at Wimbledon, or he can take a few steps into his backyard and experience the real thing.

Davenport, who lives in Landrum, South Carolina, has had his own grass court since 1994, when he moved to the Upstate.

A longtime manager of tennis and athletic clubs, Davenport had always wanted to build his favorite type of court. During the mid-90s, he and others, aided by pizza and beer, made it happen.

Today, Davenport happily maintains one of two known grass tennis courts in South Carolina; the Daniel Island Club maintains the other. (Contrary to the Internet, the Port Royal Racquet Club on Hilton Head Island does not have a grass court. The club’s two grass courts were turned into a croquet court about six years ago, said Susan Cook, sales associate at Port Royal and, we might add, an avid USTA league tennis player.)

Earlier this week, Davenport told USTA South Carolina why he wanted to build the court, what it took, what is “Sprinkler Tennis,” and which all-time tennis great he’d want to play on the court today.

Davenport compared his Landrum grass tennis court to a garden on Tuesday. With stately trees and beds of flowers, it's easy to see why. (Submitted photo.)
Davenport compared his Landrum grass tennis court to a garden. With stately trees and beds of flowers, it’s easy to see why. Around the court, he and his wife plant azaleas, petunias, hibiscus, Confederate jasmine, roses, and other plants and flowers. “The setting is so pretty,” he said. (Submitted photo.)

USTA SC: You built the grass court in 1994, right? How long did it take you?

Davenport: The building of the court required some serious grading, over 120 6″ x 6″ x 6″ landscape timbers and more than 100 dump truck loads of topsoil. We put in a drain field in the middle and around the perimeter of the court, plus an in-ground irrigation system. This took about three weeks.

Once this was completed, the surface was leveled and prepared for 22 pallets of a special hybrid Bermuda grass called 328 II, which is very popular with golf courses. This grass has very thin blades, which are easier to cut with a greens mower. (This grass also) loves the heat, doesn’t require much watering and can take a beating with lots of foot traffic.

The laying of the sod was done with a few of my friends along with pizza and beer. It took two days to lay the sod, and this was done the first week of August, which only left about two months of growing.

USTA SC: What made you want to build it?

Davenport: In 1975 – 77, I managed a grass court tennis club in Tuscaloosa and was the director of the USTA National Junior Boys 18s Grass Court Championships. During this time, we built two more grass courts in order to host this tournament.  I knew then that if I ever had enough space I would want to have my own grass court.

USTA SC: How many hours a week does it take to maintain the court these days?

Davenport: I spend about three hours a week, cutting, rolling, watering and lining the court during the season, which runs from mid-May to the end of October. During the offseason, the court requires pre-emergent and applications of various fertilizers, air raiding, sometimes verticutting, and an application of eight to 10 tons of sand for leveling purposes. Additionally, I have a small sod field where I use a sod cutter and replant worn places on the court with sod from this field.

USTA SC: How often do people play on it? What about during its peak usage?

Davenport: Currently my junior tennis players play on the court four days a week as part of our training program. It’s a great surface for these players to play on and with the swimming pool right next to the court, the kids jump in the pool to cool off, then play the balance of the clinic barefooted.

(Editor’s note: About six years ago, Davenport started Carolina Junior Tennis. The year-round program has about 75 kids and uses an indoor gym during some winter days. And yes, Davenport also has a swimming pool in his backyard.)

USTA SC: What do you do special, if anything, for Wimbledon?

Davenport: Years ago, I hosted some fun adult tennis activities during Wimbledon but now, I just tell the kids about Wimbledon and the history of grass court tennis. Many senior tennis players remember the days when the USTA was the United States Lawn Tennis Association.

(Editor’s note: Tuesday, Davenport planned to show some the kids in his program certain points from earlier Wimbledon matches, including points from the Eugenie Bouchard – Alize Cornet fourth-round match.)

USTA SC:  What’s the biggest misconception people have about owning a tennis court?

Davenport: I have many friends that own private courts, hard and clay. With a grass court, I always have players who want to play on it because it’s so unique.

USTA SC: What’s the best part about having your own grass court?

Davenport: The best part of owning a grass court is that it is a “living surface.”  It’s alive and real. It smells and feels wonderful.  The grass area is 62′ wide and 138′ long, which makes it a great playing area for bocce ball, English lawn bowling, croquet, soccer, football, volleyball, badminton, and many other lawn games. When the family gets together, we use the court for all of the above activities.

There is one tennis game we play that as far as I know is the only one of its kind in the world: Sprinkler Tennis. During the games segment of clinics, I turn the sprinklers on and the kids continue to play tennis.  They love this activity, especially during late July and early August.

USTA SC: If you could have one tennis player from any era play on your court, who would you pick and why?

Davenport: The player I would invite would be John McEnroe. John played in my national grass court championships for two years. He didn’t win but in his book he quoted that that was the best grass court surface he ever played on. Well, (my Landrum court has) the same grass, and I think he would really enjoy playing on his favorite surface once again.

Read more about Davenport’s grass court here.