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Taylor Johnson (UTR Rating 10.68* ) is entering her senior season at UCLA hoping for the best year ever after a summer filled with UTR Pro Tennis Tour match play. She got her fall season started off on the right foot at the Women of Troy Invitational earlier this month, going 3-1 in singles and doubles action.
In May, Johnson wrapped up her junior season by helping the Bruins capture the Pac-12 regular-season championship with a perfect record against all their conference rivals. She then hit the PTT hard over the summer, playing three events in Newport Beach and one in New York.
“I absolutely love UTR PTT tournaments because it gives you matches, no matter what and that's what I needed, I needed to play matches,” Johnson said. “I needed to learn how to win again especially because COVID took a lot of time away from tournaments and PTT has just really helped with my confidence.”
A BUSY SUMMER OF PTT
Johnson compiled a 13-4 record over the summer on PTT, and got to take full advantage of the prize money with student-athletes allowed to accept up to $10,000 per year as well as the NCAA recently adopting a new interim policy for the Name, Image and Likeness policy.
Although she grew up in Arizona and is based in Los Angeles, Johnson has tight-knit ties to New York, where she reached the semifinals of the first-ever PTT event in Randall’s Island in August. Billie Jean King was spotted watching and that was no coincidence.
MAKING THE MOST OF MENTORSHIP
King is one of Johnson’s mentors, along with fellow two-time Hall of Famer Rosie Casals. Johnson stays with King when she’s in the New York area, and trains with Casals when she’s in Palm Springs, which is where her parents live.
“We've known each other for over a decade,” Johnson said. “They have helped me from my junior to college career. It's more than just tennis, it’s life. They are just amazing to me, and I'm so lucky to be able to be in their presence a lot.”
The relationship dates back to Johnson’s early days growing up in the small town of Prescott, Arizona, roughly 100 miles north of Phoenix. The Johnson family happened to live in the same neighborhood as King’s mother, and Johnson’s dad Randy ran into King while working out at the local YMCA.
The mentorship grew from their first day on the courts together, and King introduced the young Johnson to Casals, who became one of her coaches. The lessons Johnson has absorbed from spending time with the two living legends have been invaluable.
“The biggest thing that Billie has taught me is just staying in the present moment, staying in the now,” Johnson said. “Rosie teaches me a lot on the court. She taught me my volleys. If I didn't have King and Casals, I wouldn't have the volleys I have today, which is pretty cool.”
A WHIRLWIND JUNIOR CAREER
Johnson began playing tennis at the age of five. Her dad Randy was a semi-pro basketball player and so Johnson tried many sports including basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, and tennis. At the age of 11, she moved to the Los Angeles area to play tennis full-time at the USTA training center in Carson.
In her teens, she reached as high as No. 8 in the world in the ITF Junior Rankings. After winning the 2017 USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships with Claire Liu, the duo earned a wild card into the 2017 US Open together, making for a memorable experience competing against the best pros in New York.
“I was lucky I got to travel like the world and play all of the Slams,” Johnson said. “It was a really cool upbringing.”
BEING A BRUIN
Choosing UCLA for her college career was a natural choice given her early relocation from Arizona to California.
“I just fell in love with the location and the campus,” Johnson said. “The coaches were so amazing so it just kind of felt right and I committed pretty quickly after I visited.”
Johnson jump-started her college career by enrolling early, in January 2019. With the pandemic wreaking havoc on college sports, she’s had the strange experience of having only played one complete dual season and one fall season.
“I've only got to play one fall and I'm a senior so that's kind of weird to say,” Johnson said. “But it has flown by—COVID made it fly by—but I'm excited for this year. I feel like it'll be the best year.”
After giving it her all for the Bruins this year and graduating with an undergraduate degree in communications in 2022, Johnson wants to pursue a Master’s degree, possibly in sports management. No matter where she goes next, her superstar mentors Casals and King will be supporting her every step of the way.
“They just want me to be happy, which is the coolest thing,” Johnson said. “I feel no pressure from them as long as I'm a good person and just work my hardest, which is pretty special.”
•UTR Ratings and Rankings as of 9 a.m. EST, Oct. 18, 2021.