Steve Johnson, Sr. was the same amicable, familiar face we’d all come to recognize on courts across Southern California. On another picturesque weekend in Ojai at the Championships, Mr. Johnson was there to offer a helping hand, a welcome compliment, or a valuable piece of constructive criticism. Mere weeks later, one of the most popular tennis coaches of our time, “Big Steve” had suddenly passed away at his home in Orange County. The 58-year-old leaves his wife Michelle, son Steve Jr., and daughter Alison.
Before his untimely death, Mr. Johnson was one of the most beloved men in tennis circles worldwide. It was simply evident by the outpouring of remembrances and comments made on social media platforms in the days that followed, from those who’d learned the game from him, sat alongside him in the stadium at Indian Wells, or sought his advice in the clubhouse at Ojai.
He was a big-time coach with a soft demeanor in SoCal tennis circles, and a mini celebrity at places like Wimbledon on a worldwide stage where he was known simply as “Stevie’s Dad,” a nod to the top 25 ranked American and Olympic medalist who won last month in Houston and who bears his father’s name.
A day before he passed, Mr. Johnson spent the day at the Monarch Bay Club in Dana Point, where he met with good friends Frank Giampaolo, Todd Upchurch, and Bill Riddle. Giampaolo later wrote on his personal Facebook page, “Steve & I were planning yesterday, free Tennis Parent Seminars at The World Team Tennis Breakers matches in Southern California. Of course, they had to fall on the 4 home matches Stevie was scheduled to play.”
Mr. Giampaolo added: “Stevie is a lucky man to have had Steve Sr. as a dad. There was no man more proud of his son.”
Remembrances from the tennis world circulated upon news of Mr. Johnson’s passing:
Steve Pratt, Darryl Nash, and Cari Buck contributed to this article.
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