by Sports n' Spokes Magazine Staff November 2016 issue
The 12th anniversary of Johnny Johnston’s legendary wheelchair tennis victory was a more somber one this year. Johnston, one of the main ambassadors for wheelchair tennis, died earlier this year at age 67. A Gainesville, Fla., resident, Johnston made a major impact on the wheelchair tennis scene. A Marine Corps veteran, Johnston was the first wheelchair tennis player to play against able-bodied players at the USA League Tennis National Championships.
In October 2004, Johnston’s Florida team, representing the USA Tennis Florida Section, advanced to the United States Tennis Association (USTA) League National Championship at the Riviera Resort & Racquet Club and Moore Tennis Academy in Palm Springs, California.
Although his Florida team didn’t win the League Nationals, Johnston and doubles partner Rich Romano won a 3.0 level men’s senior team match over two non-disabled players, taking a third set tie-breaker over Mel Brown (Topeka, Kan.) and Jon Weber (Overland Park, Kan.), who represented the USTA Missouri Valley Section. Johnston even declined playing the Quickie U.S. Open USTA National Wheelchair Championship in San Diego – one in which he’d won five previous titles – to play in the USTA League Nationals.
Johnston was just 19 years old when he was shot twice in the side and once in the arm in Vietnam in 1967, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Johnston became a certified teaching pro in 1989, teaching at Santa Fe Community College (New Mexico) and Westside Park in Gainesville and coaching girls’ tennis at Buccholtz High School. He also coached nationally ranked wheelchair tennis players, including Beth Arnoult and Julia Dorsett.
In 2009, Johnston was named the USTA Florida Wheelchair Player of the Year and was ranked the No. 1 wheelchair player in Florida. He was a seven-time U.S. Open Wheelchair Championships winner and was ranked as high as 24th in the world.
*Information was compiled from the United States Tennis Association Florida (ustaflorida.com) and Gainesville Tennis (gainesvilletennis.org) websites.