Ranking points are vital to Luke Johnson but he’ll forego that to play tennis in his ‘own back yard’ in Leeds. Lee Sobot reports.
RANKING points are crucial for budding Leeds tennis star Luke Johnson on the ITF Futures Tour.
Fresh from graduating from Clemson University in the USA, the 22-year-old hopes to gatecrash the world’s top 800 in singles and top 500 in doubles by the end of the year, en route to a place in the world’s top 100 on the men’s ATP World Tour.
So it speaks volumes about this weekend’s NPL Tennis Finals at David Lloyd Leeds that Johnson is foregoing an ITF ranking event for something different in his own back yard.
Johnson is seven months into his new life as a full-time tennis professional which has initially placed the former Fulneck Primary, Grammar School at Leeds and Greenhead College pupil on the ITF Futures Tour.
The Roundhay-based tennis player bagged his first victory at the recent ITF AEGON Pro Series tournament in Shrewsbury and has just returned from the hunt for another in Greece which staged four ITF Futures Tour events in a row.
Similar worldwide events – carrying crucial ranking points and up to $25,000 prize-money – could have been on Johnson’s agenda in April.
But instead, the tennis player will be making the short journey from his Roundhay home to the NPL Tennis Finals at David Lloyd Leeds – an event which carries no ranking points but in Johnson’s view even more important experience and prestige.
Johnson will partner Liam Broady in the men’s doubles at a tournament which will run from tomorrow until Easter Monday and will also feature Jonny Marray and Marcus Willis.
Johnson explained: “I could have travelled to have played a Futures tournament that week but I chose that I wanted to stay at home and play the NPL doubles event because that level of tennis isn’t always going to be available at such a local stage.
“There’s going to be probably four, maybe five, players who will play in the NPL and then will play Wimbledon a few months later so the standard is going to be amazing.
“It’s credit to Mike Dixon who is the organiser of the weekend for getting such a good event on and then obviously you have got to thank Hunters who are the main sponsor to make it such a big event.
“It shows how the hard work is paying off with getting all these big names coming in to play the tournament.
“There will be Broady and then Marcus Willis, who obviously had the run at Wimbledon last year. There’s also Jonny Marray who is another Yorkshire lad and Wimbledon champion.
“There are no ranking points but everyone recognises it as a very prestigious tournament to win and that is just credit to Mike Dixon and Hunters for getting such a good tournament going that people are almost willing to give up the chance to get ranking points just to play the tournament.”
The event is part of the National Premier League series with Johnson set to represent his home club who automatically qualify for the event by hosting it.
Johnson added: “I have not competed in the event before and because I was in America I haven’t had the chance to so that’s another thing and a factor.
“I am excited to play it and it’s going to be nice to be able to get my family and a lot of my friends to come down and watch. There will be mum and dad and my sister and her husband, who will be coming up from London, and my granddad is going to come to it and all the family.
“It has been running a few years and they are making a bigger effort now to try and get bigger prize money for the winning team.
“It’s going to be a big event. There is going to be the dinner the night before and there is going to be a clinic with Marcus Willis, myself and a few of the other players which we are going to do the night before the event.”
Johnson’s attentions will then turn back to the ITF Futures Tour, with the Leeds star hoping to then step up to the ATP Challengers before graduating to the main ATP Tour.
The Yorkshireman has already graduated once in this last year – from Clemson University – but his bachelor of science degree is designed to act merely as a safety net for a tennis player hoping to make a long-term smash for the city of Leeds.
“That’s definitely back-up,” said Johnson, about his degree.
“My dream is that I want to get to the top 100 in the world in singles and hopefully higher but once I get there then you reassess again.
“Futures is definitely going to be the next year or so – year-and-a-half – and after that you will integrate some Futures and some Challengers.
“Within, say, two years I want to be on the Challenger Tour and you can’t really assess from that stage on until I am at that stage.
“The first step is just getting on to the Challenger Tour and getting my ranking up but I would say that by the end of 2017 I want to be ranked inside the top 800 in singles and top 500 in doubles.
“That was my goal at the start of the year and those are still the same and I am on track for those.”
This summer’s Aegon Ilkley Trophy is another event on Johnson’s agenda for the coming year – in which the Leeds smasher is particularly keen to impress the Yorkshire branch of the LTA.
Johnson currently receives no funding from the LTA but the young Yorkshireman hopes that might soon change.
He reasoned: “I worked in New York the summer after graduation to help fund it and then I have got one sponsor – the Czajka Care Group which is based in Bingley – but obviously I am still looking for other sponsors because the yearly cost is £25,000.
“That’s not possible for one person to give me all of that so I am looking for a couple more if possible. And then hopefully the Yorkshire LTA will fund me.
“I have enquired about that but they are monitoring my progress at the moment which is a little bit disappointing but we will see how that goes.
“The LTA’s funding is probably for people whose ranking is around the top 500 in the world, around that anyway, so it will probably be a year or a year-and-a-half before I would get funded from them.
“The county usually give you the funding but Yorkshire haven’t at the moment and I am still needing that because the funding, at this stage of my career, although I may need a lot, it’s the reason why a lot of people actually stop playing.”
Not that there is any intention of Johnson following that path.
“It’s going well,” he said.
“My singles ranking has gone up 600 spots and my doubles ranking has gone up 900 spots now.
“My first tournament was October and it’s now April so seven months.
“To have gone up 600 in singles and 900 in doubles, that is a good start for what I want to achieve in the long run.”
For more information about the Hunters NPL Tennis Finals at David Lloyd Club in Moortown, visit npltennis.com or call Mike Dixon on 07870 778490.