She’s got game: Local 6-year-old Shae Johnson has tennis skills beyond her years
Shae Johnson darts around the tennis courts at South Tahoe Middle School on a warm summer morning. She hits groundstrokes with different spin, then comes to the net and volleys with consistency before smacking line drive serves from the service line.
It’s a quality display of tennis shot after shot, and impressive given the source. Johnson is a 6-year-old elementary school student, and wields a pink, orange and white racket that looks massive compared to her petite stature.
“It’s really fun,” she said shyly about what she loves about the game.
Johnson is going into the first grade at Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School, and has spent mornings during the last two summers playing tennis with her father Garry and brother Seth on the courts at STMS. Tennis is what she loves to do, and has been ever since she first stepped on the court two years ago.
“I brought them down here just to get familiar with the game,” said Garry Johnson. “And their enthusiasm just kept growing — it unfolded.”
On the court, Johnson’s talent has not gone unnoticed. Deanne Larsell, tennis pro at Zephyr Cove Tennis Club, was impressed with what she saw when she had Johnson for a group lesson earlier this summer.
“Everybody needs to get her autograph right now,” joked Larsell, who compared Johnson’s skill set to that of a player three years older. “I wish I was around to teach her all the time, because she’s going to be really good.”
When Johnson showed up at the club for the group lesson, Larsell initially kept her out because she didn’t want her to get in the way. But after seeing Shae in long rallies with her dad, she invited her back — and after the lesson Johnson held her own against a fourth grader.
“I was able to teach her every single stroke, so she has the full array right now in her game — and she’s able to pop it out at the right time,” Larsell said. “I’ve taught kids for years and years, and this little first grader is amazingly talented.”
As summer turns to fall, Johnson will hit the court with her father and brother, a fourth grader at the magnet school, after school until the days get shorter. The winter months involve periodic trips to Lampe Park in Gardnerville, or using a golf net to hit shots in the family’s South Lake Tahoe garage.
“She’s definitely got the competitive spirit,” Garry Johnson said. “It encourages me to do anything I can think of to keep them interested and wanting to play tennis.”
Johnson and her brother both listed world No. 1 Novak Djokovic as their favorite professional tennis player. When it comes to her game, Johnson said serving is the part she likes most.
“It feels good,” Johnson said. “My dad always tells me, ‘If you hit a good shot try to do it again.’”
Many good shots have already come off Johnson’s racket in just two years playing tennis. And many more appear to be on the way for the promising youngster.