Marcelo Bielsa's magic is penetrating the tennis courts as Luke Johnson eyes up UK Pro Classic glory, writes Will Jennings.
Avid Leeds United fan Johnson is currently competing at the inaugural event at St. George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club, losing against James Ward 6-0 7-5 on Wednesday but still in with a shot of lifting the trophy.
Roundhay's British No.19 beat Henry Patten on Tuesday to inject impetus into his Classic Week campaign, the culmination of five individual qualifying weeks where players compete in a unique round robin format.
Johnson came into the event buoyed by the Whites' memorable return to the big time - and wants to make Weybridge a fortress just like his beloved Elland Road.
“James served a lot better than I did and played better towards the end of the match, so fair play to him,” he added.
“I had a few chances on my own serve in the first set and didn’t take them, but he’s a good player. I got into it again in the second set, and again had some chances.
“I followed all of it and was just glad we finally got over the line [Leeds’ promotion].
“It was amazing - I was ten the last time we were in the Premier League and all my family are Leeds fans so it’s weird to remember that, and I still remember the day we got relegated.
“I used to go to games a little bit more when I was younger but now I haven’t been for a couple of seasons.
“But we’re lucky because we’re one of the bigger clubs in the Championship we get on the TV a lot!
“We got on the TV a bit more so I was able to watch a few more - I want to go but it’s just tricky because it’s not the biggest stadium. It’s difficult to get tickets but hopefully I will get more.”
Johnson's followed in Leeds' footsteps by competing in the widely-billed ‘Premier League’ of tennis, duking it out against a glittering array of talent including Harriet Dart and Eden Silva in the women’s draw and James Ward and Liam Broady in the men’s.
The innovative format was devised by Andy Murray’s coach, Jamie Delgado, with players on Classic Week being split into two boxes of six ahead of finals weekend on August 15th and 16th.
Tennis: the best sport in the world one day, the most frustrating the next!— ukprotennis (@ukprotennis) August 12, 2020
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The idiosyncratic format allows the cream of the British crop to play competitively on a day-by-day basis, with players being handsomely paid owing to the innovative initiatives of organisers River Media Partners.
Johnson was singing the praises of the format and is hoping for a run-in similar to the one Leeds had as Bielsa's boys capped Championship nirvana last month.
“It’s good to be here and mix it with the best in the country - I’m enjoying it and I’ve enjoyed all the weeks. Financially, this is really good timing for all of us tennis players,” he added.
“You’ve just got to take care of your matches each day and not look too much into what other people do.”
12 of the UK’s top women and men have qualified through the UK Pro Series for the UK Pro Classic - www.ukproseries.com. The final 3 days of competition will have national free to air coverage: Freeview Channel 64, Sky Channel 422, Virgin Media Channel 553, TalkTalkTV Channel 64, BT TV Channel 64 and on download app FreeSportsPlayer.tv