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MONDAY, JANUARY 29, 2007
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Former Austin High and Samford tennis standout Tara Tiller, left, teaches Katelyn Riant, 9, a little about the game at the Jimmy Johns Tennis Center.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Former Austin High and Samford tennis standout Tara Tiller, left, teaches Katelyn Riant, 9, a little about the game at the Jimmy Johns Tennis Center.

Back to familiar territory
Ex-Austin, Samford tennis standout Tiller returns to area courts as an instructor

By Mark Edwards
medwards@decaturdaily.com · 340-2461

It’s a sight that’s familiar to tennis-playing Decatur residents of the 1990s:

Tara Tiller, a cap pulled down to shield her eyes, standing on a Point Mallard tennis court, hitting ball after ball and making the person on the other side of the net chase down her shots.

However, this is Thursday, and Tiller and her playing partner aren’t involved in a match. Instead, Tiller is busy teaching 9-year-old Katelyn Riant, a fourth-grader at Leon Sheffield.

Also, the court where Tiller is teaching her lesson didn’t exist when she was one of the state’s top junior girls tennis players. It’s one of the new courts at Point Mallard’s Jimmy Johns Tennis Center.

Even so, Tiller, 29, has returned home to Decatur, and even though it’s been a decade since she played No. 1 singles at Austin High, she’s back on the tennis courts. This time, she’s teaching the game at the same facility where she sharpened her game as a child.

Back then, she stood in the same position as Riant did Thursday, chasing down tennis ball after tennis ball from Ron Brooks.

“It’s cool to be on the other side of the net,” Tiller said. “I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Tiller graduated from Austin in 1996.

As a junior in ’95, she won No. 1 singles at the high school sectionals.

Former Austin High and Samford tennis standout Tara Tiller works with Katelyn Riant, 9, on her forehand.
Daily photo by Gary CosbyJr
Former Austin High and Samford tennis standout Tara Tiller works with Katelyn Riant, 9, on her forehand.
After Tiller, no other Austin girls player won No. 1 singles at a sectional until Meleana McCutcheon did it in 2006.

Tiller missed her senior year with a broken ankle, but college programs already knew about her. She landed a scholarship at Samford and played there for four years. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there and did work on her Ph.D. at UAB before returning home a little more than a year ago.

While in Birmingham, she earned her teaching certification from the United States Professional Tennis Association.

She began teaching at Point Mallard in the fall alongside city tennis director Tommy Wade.

“I spent so much time and put so much effort into tennis,” Tiller said. “I like coming back and I want to help the tennis community. I want to help it grow and thrive.”

The Jimmy Johns Tennis Center has changed radically from her time as a child.

Back then, the center had six hard courts. Since then, the city has added eight hard courts and a 38-foot-tall protective bubble covers two of them, which allows players to avoid the elements. Construction on four clay courts and a tennis building is under way.

“Tennis growing here,” Tiller said. “With the bubble and the courts, they’re accomplishing something here.

“I want to help.

Tara Tiller at a glance

  • Played tennis at Austin High during 1993-96 and Samford during 1997-2000.
  • Certified to teach by the United States Professional Tennis Association.
  • For lessons with Tiller, call 509-7933 to schedule.
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