Steve pulls out of Knoxville due to shoulder injury.
Trash talk is a common occurrence between cornerbacks and wide receivers, point guards and, lately, presidential candidates.
But between pro tennis players who actually consider themselves friends?
Yes, on Wednesday afternoon Rhyne Williams and Steve Johnson — two of the better up-and-coming young Americans — engaged in some verbal repartee at the Boar’s Head Sports Club.
In the end, Williams emerged with a hard-fought 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Johnson in the second round of the Charlottesville Men’s Pro Challenger.
Williams, a former player at the University of Tennessee, will take on No. 2 seed Alex Bogomolov Jr. of Russia in Friday’s quarterfinals.
“We’re both pretty emotional players and there was a lot of stress out there today,” Williams said. “It was a big match for both of us.
“It’s kind of a little rivalry I guess. We’re buddies off the court, but we’re both very serious when we get on the court.”
Late in the second set, there weren’t many signs of a friendship.
The 253rd-ranked Williams missed a serve and started bickering with the chair umpire. At that point, Johnson, the former USC star, told Williams that his serve was several inches out. As Williams continued his argument, Johnson said to him: “All day, all day — that’s all you do is run your mouth.”
The verbal exchange was the peak of sniping and gamesmanship that had gone on for the better part of the match.
A few moments later, Williams closed out the set with a service winner.
In the third set, Johnson seemed affected by a right shoulder injury that had previously caused him to take a medical timeout and Williams broke him twice, jumping out to a 4-1 lead.
Johnson broke back to pull to 4-2, then held easily to make it 4-3. With Williams serving, Johnson got out to a 30-15 lead. However, he lost three straight points — the last coming when he netted a backhand off a Williams second serve that had seemed returnable.
After Johnson held his serve, Williams was able to close out the match on his.
“All the credit to him,” Johnson said. “He served really well and kept me on my toes.”
Johnson, a two-time NCAA singles champion, said he doesn’t know what’s going on with his shoulder.
“It’s been kind of an ongoing thing for about a month now,” he said. “It kind of got worse today. We’re not sure what the problem is.”
The matchup between Williams and Johnson was an intriguing one due to their similar styles.
“We both play almost the same way — good serve, good forehand and weaker backhand side, so we were picking on each other’s backhands the whole match,” Williams said. “It was like a chess match to see who could hit the backhand better.”
In the first set, Williams had looked out of sorts. He slammed his racket at least a half-dozen times and scolded himself loudly. When Johnson broke him to close out the first set, he launched a ball toward a court at the far end of the facility and received a code violation from the chair ump.
But in the second set, Williams seemed to temper his emotions. He broke Johnson to go up 5-4, then held his serve.
Williams and Johnson are quite familiar with each other from their college days. In 2011, Johnson defeated Williams in the NCAA Tournament finals.
After Wednesday’s match, the two pooh-poohed their trash talking.
“It’s no big deal,” Johnson said. “That’s what happens. We’re two competitive guys who don’t want to lose to each other. That’s what happens.”
Williams, the nephew of University of Virginia Foundation CEO Tim Rose, said all is good.
“We talked at the net after the match and both said sorry,” he said.
Williams added: “We’re friends off the court, but enemies on the court.”