By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com
La Jolla, Calif. – Kelly Jones is going to feel right at home when he steps on the court at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club to play his first-round match in the 124th Annual Pacific Coast Men’s Doubles Championship.
The 48-year-old Jones, the head men’s tennis coach at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., is a former San Diego resident returning to play in one of the oldest tournaments in the nation – 32 years after his initial appearance.
The Pacific Coast Men’s Doubles Championship, which features a draw of 128 doubles teams, begins with first-round matches on Thursday afternoon and concludes with the semifinals and championship on Sunday.
In addition to former standouts and current coaches, the draw also includes college players, independent players such as teaching professionals, junior players, college coaches and former tour players.
Jones was born in Fort Gordon, Ga., but his family moved to San Diego when he was 13, after his father retired from the military. Jones said his he began focusing on tennis while growing up in San Diego’s Point Loma community.
When Jones was 16 years old and competing at the junior level, he played in his first Pacific Coast Men’s Doubles Championship at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. That year he met Allen Fox, who was then the head men’s tennis coach at Pepperdine University.
"When you’re a junior player and all of the good college players come to play that event, you get a little feel for college and you look forward to being there one day," Jones said.
As a result of that meeting with Fox, Jones committed to and attended Pepperdine University, where he was a four-time All-American, winning the NCAA doubles titles in 1984 and 1985. Also while playing for Pepperdine, he teamed with teammate Jerome Jones (no relation) to win the 1984 Pacific Coast Men’s Doubles Championship.
"That was really a special event for us to win," Jones said. "I had played the tournament since I was a junior (player).We were really excited to win. It was fun for me, obviously being in my hometown."
After completing his collegiate career, Jones went on to play on the ATP World Tour from 1986 to 1998. In 1992, he reached the doubles final at the Australian Open and US Open and was the No. 1-ranked doubles player in the world.
After finishing his professional tennis career with two singles titles and eight doubles championships, Jones served as a national coach for the USTA and went on to coach many players including James Blake, Mardy Fish and John Isner.
"This is coming full circle for me," Jones said. "Now I’m bringing my college team back to my roots. The guys on my team don’t know what to expect. They’ve never experienced this before. I know they’re going to walk away realizing the same thing I did, how special this event is and what a great opportunity it is to be able to play."
Jones, who now lives in Greenville, S.C., is scheduled to play in the tournament with Peter Smith, head coach of the University of Southern California men’s tennis team. They are seeded fifth.
The tournament’s top-seeded collegiate team is Campbell Johnson and Christoffer Konigsfeldt of University of California, Berkeley. The top-seeded independent team is K.C. Corkery, who won the tournament in 2005, and Blake Muller of San Francisco.