Former Sailor impresses at national championships at the Tennis Center at Steamboat |

Former Sailor impresses at national championships at the Tennis Center at Steamboat

Aaron Johnson, left, and Charlie Smith battle in a men’s 5.0 doubles match Friday at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Playing tennis is undoubtedly a workout. So, even though it’s not as physical or as lengthy as a soccer match or a football game, it still warrants a warmup. 

Ahead of a 5.0 men’s doubles match, Aaron Johnson spent a few minutes jumping rope outside. The warm weather paired with three minutes of the tiring activity got his blood pumping and body warm.

“I always like to do a jump rope,” Johnson said. “When I went to college tennis they taught you how to stretch beforehand, just doing some remedial, dynamic stretching, stuff like that.”

Meanwhile, Johnson’s partner Charlie Smith jogged out of sight towards the road, reappearing a few minutes later.

“I’m a big fan of the footwork to get going,” Smith said. “That is what I lack the most.”

Once on the court, the preparation wasn’t over. Five minutes of volleying preceded the opening serve.

Behind bewildering serves and rapid reflexes, Smith and Johnson defeated their opponents, Jamal Haydari and Nick Salazar in a 5.0 doubles match, 6-1, 6-0 on Friday, Aug. 2.

Johnson and Smith are playing together for the first time as part of the National Tennis Rating Program Championships, hosted by the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.

The tournament, which includes women’s, men’s and mixed doubles as well as women’s and men’s singles, features skill levels ranging from 3.0 to 5.0 and will conclude Sunday, Aug. 4. For the first time, the 5.0 singles bracket includes a $300 cash prize for the men’s and women’s winners. Division finalists will receive $150, serving as further motivation to excel in the most competitive bracket.

A National Tennis Rating Program Championships competitor returns the ball back to his opponent. The tournament, hosted by the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs attracts hundreds of players from across Colorado and beyond.
Shelby Reardon

Smith, who competed for Steamboat Springs High School, is now the No. 1 singles player on the Oregon State club tennis team. Since he grew up in Steamboat, he’s competed in the championships tournament before. This is the first year for Johnson though, who has been an assistant director at the Tennis Center for less than a year.

Smith, 20, and Johnson, 26, played for about an hour together a few days earlier, but had to come up with a quick solution to communicate with each other on the court.

“I let him tell me what to do,” Smith said, laughing.

“It seems to work so far,” Johnson added.

The Tennis Center has hosted the championships for years, and for the past 12 years, Bo Stempel and his wife, Suzie, have been the sponsors. 

“We came up here and played in the tournament, fell in love with the town and moved up here two years later,” Bo Stempel said. “Steamboat is unique. It has this kind of a public tennis facility available. … We thought it kind of fitting. It’s why we’re here, why not sponsor it?”

Dozens of players and spectators gathered around courts 1 and 2 inside the Tennis Center on Friday to watch a pair of 5.0 men’s doubles matches. While Smith and Johnson’s match was between sets, the crowd would direct their attention to a match with local Louis Nijsten and Paul Whipple playing against Greg Peehler and Kevin Ponis, both of Arvada.

The tournament brought hundreds of people to Steamboat, with about 85% of participants from out of town. While most players hail from Colorado, some traveled from as far as Houston and Austin, Texas, to participate in the championships.

“To come up and spend four or five days in Steamboat and play in a tournament, as a tennis player, it’s about as fun as it can be,” Bo Stempel said.

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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