Former UCLA teammates Kimmi Hance and Taylor Johnson face off in singles at SoCal Pro Series - USTA Southern California




Taylor Johnson



JUNE 15, 2023

Taylor Johnson

Redondo Beach’s Taylor Johnson hits a forehand during the SoCal Pro Series women’s singles event at Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego.
(Photo – Lexie Wanninger/USTA SoCal)


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Allies today. Adversaries the next day. One will advance to Friday’s women’s singles quarterfinals at the expense of the other, but Kimmi Hance and Taylor Johnson – friends, former UCLA teammates and current training partners – insist there will be no hard feelings when they meet at the net at the end of their second-round showdown Thursday in the SoCal Pro Series $15,000 tournament at Barnes Tennis Center, along the ITF World Tennis Tour and USTA Pro Circuit.

At lunchtime Wednesday, the fourth-seeded Hance, 20, downed 16-year-old San Diego resident Alyssa Ahn, 6-3, 6-3 and Johnson, 22, cruised past 14-year-old Carlsbad resident Julieta Pareja (who just completed the eighth grade), 6-3, 6-2.

A couple hours later, the duo who played together at UCLA during the 2021-22 NCAA season paired up and nearly knocked off top-seeded Sara Daavettila and San Diegan Katherine Hui in a first-round doubles match. Daavettila-Hui survived three match points and ran off the final five points of a decisive third-set tiebreaker to edge Hance and Johnson, 3-6, 6-1, 11-9.

On Thursday, Torrance resident Hance and Redondo Beach resident Johnson will be on opposite sides of the net until they can laugh about it afterward. Actually, they were already bantering about it, which helped them get over Wednesday’s doubles defeat.

“Up until the ref says ‘Play,’ or when we walk on the court, I’m like, okay, now I have to not be friends with you for the next hour-and-a-half,” Hance said to Johnson. “And then, as soon as the last point is over, it’s like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ It’s a mutual understanding, that we’re both here to win.”

Added Johnson: “There’s a quote I heard the other day, you root for your friends until you have to play against them, but then once you’re off the court, it’s ‘Good match!’ Whoever wins is the better player that day and then you just move on with your life.”

Hance’s misfortune is such that the circumstance of having to play her doubles partner in singles within the same tournament presents itself for the second consecutive week.

Last week at the SoCal Pro Series stop at the University of San Diego, Hance and her current UCLA teammate, Fangran Tian, went on to win the doubles championship (the second for Hance). However, Tian rolled to a 6-1, 6-1 win over Hance in the second round of singles.

“They (the draws) just don’t like me,” Hance joked. “It’s just unlucky. Sometimes it happens. I’ve had to play my sister in the first round (of events) a couple of times.”

Hance’s doubles credentials are well-established on the SoCal Pro Series and collegiately, where she and Elise Wagle (Hance’s doubles partner next week on the SoCal Pro Series at the Jack Kramer Club) were named the Pac-12’s 2023 Women’s Doubles Team of the Year, were ranked as high as No. 7 in the ITA (NCAA Division I) doubles rankings and qualified for the NCAA Division I women’s doubles national championships. But her focus through the SoCal Pro Series is to raise her singles game for when she returns to UCLA as a junior in the fall.

“I love playing doubles. I have so much fun, especially when I am playing with my friends,” Hance said as she panned toward Johnson, “but I just want to see how good I can do in the singles. Obviously, that’s the main focus when I come here. I’m just a little more confident. Coming out of the college season, I played a little higher in the (UCLA) lineup. I’m just here to get as many matches as I can.”

Johnson moved on from UCLA to SMU, where she will return for her final year of NCAA eligibility. She red-shirted last year at SMU while recovering from a plantar fasciitis injury that she received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment on and feels completely healed from. Having missed so much time, Johnson is making her way through her first SoCal Pro Series season on qualifying wildcards. She came out of qualifying to reach the quarterfinals in her SoCal Pro Series debut last week at USD.

“I had a really good college season so I just want to kind of keep that momentum rolling and see what I can do in these SoCal Pro Series tournaments,” Johnson said. “I feel like it’s great opportunity to get matches and just start growing that ITF ranking.”

The two have been training together for the past month and will continue to do so throughout the summer. Johnson often plays with Hance at the Hance family’s tennis academy at the South Bay Tennis Center in Torrance when she is in town.

Hance and Johnson first struck a friendship when both were at the USTA Training Center – West in Carson. Johnson was about to enroll at UCLA and Hance was 15.

Said Hance: “She was my idol. Then we played in the (Girls 18s) finals of (the 116th Southern California Junior) Sectionals (in 2018) and she beat me (6-)0 and (6-) 0.”

And this is where things got less harmonious than they probably will get on-court Thursday.

Johnson: “No, it wasn’t 0 and 0. I think it was, like, 1 and 3.”

Hance: “Well, it felt like 0 and 0 to me.”

Elsewhere in the women’s singles draw, third-seeded Oceanside resident Megan McCray – the SoCal Pro Series champion in Rancho Santa Fe two weeks ago before retiring to a back injury in last week’s first round at USD – dismissed Emily Deming, 6-4, 6-2. McCray was last year’s runner-up at Barnes Tennis Center, and she believes last week’s early exit gave her enough time to recuperate towards another run to Sunday’s women’s final.

“I hope so,” McCray said. “I’ve had a sore back. It comes and goes. It was sore all week at Rancho Santa Fe. I wasn’t expecting to make the finals in both (singles and doubles) and I ended up playing nine matches in five days.”

The upset of the first round was attained by 16-year-old Pasadena resident Kate Fakih. The soon-to-be high school senior toppled Stanford-bound No. 2 seed Eleana Yu, 6-0, 7-6 (7).

On the men’s side, an anticipated second-round singles matchup between the leading two points-getters in the ‘Race to Indian Wells’ did not come to fruition as Rancho Santa Fe’s Jacob Brumm and San Diego native Keegan Smith lost on Wednesday.

Brumm, a 2017 Torrey Pines High School alum and last week’s SoCal Pro Series singles champion at the University of San Diego, retired due to a sore achilles heel while trailing Jamaican Blaise Bicknell, 6-7 (4), 0-3. Brumm attributed the injury to a change in shoes last week during his USD championship run.

“My Achilles bothered me all of last week,” Brumm said. “It feels like it’s going to pop.”

Smith’s homecoming to Barnes Tennis Center as the No. 1 seed was short-lived as the 2017 Point Loma High School graduate and UCLA product fell to qualifier and LSU senior-to-be Ronald Hohmann, 6-4, 6-1. New York native Hohmann knows something about being a successful qualifier. In 2019, Hohmann became the only qualifier in Easter Bowl history to win its Boys 18s singles championship.

Further, Smith plans to skip next week’s SoCal Pro Series event at the Jack Kramer Club in Los Angeles County’s South Bay. He reached the semifinals the past two weeks, in Rancho Santa Fe and at USD, but is managing his health with the hope of being able to play the last three SoCal Pro Series events in Irvine and Lakewood.

“I’ve been playing, this is my (fifth ITF tournament) week in a row, so it will be good for me to get a week off after Barnes and kind of regroup, work with a neurologist to figure some things out,” Smith said.

In April 2022, Smith suffered a skateboarding accident while colliding with a car and smashing his head on the streets of Westwood Village and UCLA’s campus and bordering the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where Smith spent eight days in its Intensive Care Unit after being diagnosed with a broken temporal bone and skull, brain swelling and a blood clot in the brain.

More than two years after his accident, Smith continues to experience aftereffects. In his words, Smith is still “battling some serious demons.”

Added Smith: “I should be more grateful for myself to even be out here competing. It was a serious scare a couple years ago and it’s something that will affect me for the rest of my life. There’s still some serious stuff going on, mentally, with me that is affecting my play. Even physically … it messes with your eyesight and makes you more tired. There’s just a long list of stuff that I am still battling with.”

The most surprising and impressive result of the men’s first round goes to Harvard-bound Rohan Murali, the 2023 CIF-San Diego Section’s singles champion and Player of the Year. The Santee resident and recent Santana High School graduate tallied his first ITF singles victory and ATP World Tour ranking point in blitzing No. 3 seed Stefan Dostanic, 6-1, 6-3, on Tuesday. Irvine resident Dostanic, USC’s No. 1 player this year as a senior, was making his 2023 SoCal Pro Series debut.

“For me it’s huge to get my first ATP singles point. Especially at Barnes because I’ve trained here, basically, my whole life,” said Murali, who leaves for Harvard in mid-August. “It’s special to get it here and, I think, just another step forward to show that I belong with these guys.

“Stefan’s a really tough player. He probably didn’t have the best day. But it’s good to know that I can compete at that level and start getting wins against guys like this. Pretty surprised with the first set, and then the second set it started getting a little tight I figured he’s probably going to raise his level a little bit, which he did, and I managed to come through.”

Murali, 18, will face UC Irvine sophomore and 2021-22 Big West co-Freshman of the Year Noah Zamora, 20, in Thursday’s second round. Zamora, who won the CIF-San Diego Section’s individual singles title as a St. Augustine High School senior in 2021, also gained his first ITF win and ATP ranking point Tuesday by dispatching Mexico City resident and University of Oklahoma freshman Luis Alvarez, 6-2, 6-4.

Among the first-round highlights in men’s doubles, El Cajon’s Isaiah Strode and Matt Kuhar rallied to beat San Diegans Patrik Trhac and Zamora, 2-6, 6-2, 10-8 (third-set tiebreaker). Strode teamed with Trhac to finish runner-up in the SoCal Pro Series’ doubles tournament at USD last week.

Los Angeles resident Cassius Chinlund, 16, and Newport Beach’s Krish Arora, 17, broke through for their first ITF doubles victory on Tuesday with a 5-7, 6-1, 10-8 (third-set tiebreaker) comeback over 25-year-old twins Jack and Jamie Vance. Next up for the junior duo is a quarterfinal meeting with top-seeded Colin Markes and Andrew Rogers.

Chinlund and the Georgia Tech-bound Arora were standouts in April’s Easter Bowl. Chinlund won the Boys 18s singles championship to elevate him to the USTA’s No. 1 overall junior ranking (Boys 16s and 18s) while Arora won the Boys 18s doubles title.

The SoCal Pro Series is showcasing is final $15,000 ITF World Tour men’s and women’s tournament in San Diego County this week. Debuting successfully in 2022, the SoCal Pro Series gives Southern California players the chance to earn valuable ATP and WTA world ranking points.


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