For many college student-athletes across the country, their competitive playing career ends in their twenties; a lucky few extend their career into their thirties if they are lucky enough to play professionally. However, former Auburn tennis player Bill Knestrick continues to play well into his late 50s, even after a 30-year hiatus from the sport.
National champion in the USTA 55+ division and internationally ranked in doubles, he represented the United States in international competition this summer.
Knestrick was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, but a university about 300 miles south of there ticked a box for him both academically and athletically.
“When I was a senior in high school, I knew I wanted to go somewhere where I could play. And coach Hugh Thomson showed some interest in me. From a tennis perspective, that was a really good one. choice for me,” Knestrick said recalling his college decision in 1982. “And then academically I wanted to go into building sciences. Auburn, Purdue, Florida and Clemson were basically the four schools that had building science programs at the time I visited these other schools and didn’t like them as much as I liked my visit with Auburn and Coach [Hugh] Thomson at the time. It was an easy adjustment.”
In addition to the building science program and the opportunity to play tennis at Auburn, Knestrick’s mother, Anne Holladay, also had a connection to Auburn as she attended the university herself.
It didn’t take long for the Nashville native to find success on the court, as Knestrick was part of the Tigers’ first-ever SEC championship in 1983 when he sported a 15-3 singles record, which he says , is the highlight of his time on the plains.
After his freshman year, the SEC champ followed that up with a strong sophomore in 1984 when he won a varsity letter. Knestrick credits much of the team’s success to Coach Thomson, who taught the team to fight hard.
“He was a coach who demanded success on the pitch,” he said. “And you knew that the first time you met him. He was very competitive. He was also a very good tennis player. I think when he was a coach he could have played three, four or five on our He knew how to win and he wanted us to fight hard. That’s what I remember him from when I was at Auburn.
After his second season however, Knestrick’s college playing career was cut short due to a shoulder injury.
“I got injured the summer of my sophomore year and had two shoulder surgeries. I couldn’t recover from it and decided to really stick to my studies and my other activities. So I really stopped competitive tennis for more than 30 years.”
Without tennis, Knestrick still had plenty to keep himself busy in the Plains, as he pursued his undergraduate studies in building sciences, was president of the School of Architecture and Fine Arts, was a Plainsman from Auburn and was asked to be in the Auburn Spades Honor Society his senior year. After graduating, he jumped straight into the construction industry.
“When I left Auburn, I went to work for a general contractor in Atlanta and worked there for two years. And then I got married, had two kids, and went back to work for my dad and his construction company, Knestrick Construction. When I was 32, I bought it out and basically built this company.”
As his competitive tennis career began to become a distinct memory, the 1983 SEC champion felt the call to return to the game he loved.
“About six years ago I thought, ‘Maybe I can get back to this game and enjoy it, instead of it being a job or it being stressful.’ I called my old doubles partner , Jim Shackleford, who I’ve played with all my life and said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking of playing tennis.’ His jaw almost dropped to the floor.
He said, ‘I would like to go out with you. Let’s do it. You know, I was expecting this. And we went out and started playing and we really enjoyed it,” Knestrick said. “I realized I missed it. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I started playing. And then the shoulder injury was still there. And so I had to have a total shoulder reconstruction.”
After undergoing shoulder reconstruction, he got involved in the USTA 55 & Over division where he was successful in the competitive scene. In this division, Knestrick won a national category and two doubles tournaments before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to this, Knestrick had the opportunity to compete in doubles with some familiar faces from his time on the Plains.
“I got to compete with Colin Smith, who was our graduate assistant coach when I was a freshman. He played four years at Auburn and then helped Hugh Thompson coach our team. He and I played a tournament doubles together a couple of years ago and I had a great time, which was a lot of fun. I also won that Category 2 title with Carlos Garcia, who played at the University of Tennessee. So, the reconnection has been great.”
Knestrick noted that being competitive after being inactive for 30 years was not as easy as people might think.
“People thought it would be like riding a bike. Hitting the ball was like riding a bike, but not competing. It’s not like riding a bike.”
Knestrick’s success in the 55+ division earned him an invitation to represent the United States in the 2022 Gordon Trophy competition, which began in 1949 and is the second-oldest international tennis competition (behind the Cup). Davis). The event is played annually between the United States and Canada and features the highest caliber of tennis players aged 45 and over.
“I was invited to play on the United States team to face Canada in what is called the Gordon Trophy. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep the cup that weekend, but I had a great time representing the United States. It was just an amazing experience. he says of the July contest in London, Ontario.
Not only does Knestrick stay involved in tennis, but he also stays connected to Auburn. In 2018 Knestrick attended the 35e anniversary of the 1983 SEC Championship team and was recognized on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had in my life. Honestly, one of them. Being able to see all these guys I haven’t seen since college and then be featured on the 50-yard line of the LSU-Auburn game, with our names sent through the PA system, is pretty phenomenal,” he said. “It was without a doubt the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced in sports. It was phenomenal.”
Knestrick went on to talk about his experience of being welcomed back in 2018 explaining how grateful he was to the current men’s tennis coach. Bobby Reynolds for inviting the team back and how excited he is about the future of the program under Reynolds.
“Policeman [Reynolds] and chris [Hooshyar] do a great job coaching and they do a great job with the team. Inviting us to come back like that and spearheading the recognition we got was really, really interesting of them. It’s about talking to the elders. It’s just a good feeling I have about what’s going on out there on the Plains in terms of a title shot. I have a feeling they will definitely win the title very soon.”
Knestrick is also a proud two-time Auburn parent, as his children, Kathrine and Andrew, both attended Auburn, as did his stepdaughter; Andrew met his wife when they were students in the Plains.
After spending most of his life in his hometown of Nashville, Knestrick married his wife Kristi in November and retired to Naples, Florida. He has two grandchildren and expects two more grandchildren to arrive in December this year.