Gladden making a name in tennis

Published Apr 10, 2014 at 9:28 am (Updated Apr 10, 2014 at 9:28 am)

Canon-McMillan tennis coach Jim Kochanski annually pays a visit to the district’s middle school and attempts to recruit players. Two years ago, with 30 hopefuls in the classroom, Kochanski posed the question now being asked around the WPIAL today.

“Who is Chris Gladden?”

The sophomore single-handedly busted the Class AAA bracket when he toppled last year’s runner-up and took the No. 1 to the brink, before finishing fourth.

“When I asked who he was back then, he raised his hand and quietly said, ‘I am Chris Gladden.’ Nothing more,” explained Kochanski. “His demeanor is amazing and don’t let his size fool you.”

On the scholastic level, Gladden fooled the best. While the Canonsburg native is widely known on the amateur circuit – he is ranked No. 6 by Middle States Tennis Association and No. 2 in the Class of 2016 by tennisrecruiting.net – Gladden missed his freshman year of tennis due to an injury. The son of Stephanie and Jim Gladden had suffered a concussion during a travel soccer game and could not play high school tennis last year.

However, Gladden is a seasoned veteran. According to Kochanski, he has taken tennis lessons since fourth grade under a handful of instructors. Currently he trains under Chris Kennedy at the Upper St. Clair Tennis Center.

“Chris has had some very good instructors,” said Kochanski. “His game is solid. He does all things well. He has no major strengths or weaknesses. Chris is just so consistent.”

Plus, Gladden is a fierce competitor as demonstrated by his tournament performance.

After capturing the Section 5 title by blanking Kyle Hicken of Chartiers Valley, 6-0, 6-0, Gladden scored his biggest win in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL tournament. He came from behind to beat Peter Hazlett. In a pro set, Gladden dispatched the Mt. Lebanon senior, 11-10 (7-4). Hazlett, who was the 2013 WPIAL runner-up and 2014 Section 4 champion, had led the match, 5-2, before Gladden rallied and forced the tiebreaker.

“Chris is definitely a warrior. He battles and fights,” Kochanski said. “He had never played Peter before, but he knew he had to play well to beat him.”

During a break in the match, Kochanski reminded Gladden of his strategy.

“I told him, ‘You are not focusing on what you want to do. You don’t have a plan. You need to start attacking. You’re too passive.’ When Chris attacked his backhand, he was able to come back,” Kochanski said.

Though Gladden succumbed to Adam Blasinsky, who went on to win his second straight WPIAL title, in the semifinals, 6-2, 6-4, he came back and battled Michael Santa-Lucia in the consolation match. Santa-Lucia had been top-seeded in the tournament but fell to Chad Kissell of Latrobe, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in the other semifinal.

Gladden finished fourth in the WPIAL. He succumbed to Santa-Lucis, 7-6 (7-0), 7-6 (7-2) in a match played at Bethel Park High School.

“Chris never says die,” Kochanski said. “He never gives up. He’s a fighter. He’s not going to give up. He’s very focused.”

With his bid for a PIAA singles’ berth lost, Gladden is now focused on WPIAL doubles play as well as the team competition. The sectional tournaments were held earlier this week and qualifiers advanced to the district doubles championships set for April 20-21.

Regardless of the outcomes for the remainder of the season, Gladden’s future in scholastic tennis and beyond is bright. Kochanski predicts he will play Division I tennis in college and the sky’s the limit regarding his talent.

“Chris definitely has more than what we’ve seen. His best days are ahead of him. If he stays healthy, there’s nothing but good to come from him because he’s very focused, he trains hard and he never gives up.”

NOTES: Dom D’Amico and Fernando Escribens from Upper St. Clair, Ryan Farrell from Peters Township and Hicken all were eliminated in the first round of competition in the WPIAL singles tournament. First-day action was held at the Lakevue Racquet Club in Valencia.

Escribens was the Section 4 runner-up to Hazlett, falling 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (7-4), 6-0, in the finals. D’Amico finished third in the section after beating Dane Bendel of Mt. Lebanon, 6-3, 6-0.

Farrell was the third-place finisher in Section 5. The freshman beat teammate, Brendon Dollard, a sophomore, in the consolation match, 6-3, 6-1.

Mike Wilke of Seton-La Salle qualified for the Class AA tournament however the freshman dropped his first-round match, 11-9, to Cody Schrecongost of Valley. Schrencongost was the Section 4-AA champion. Wilke was the third-place finisher in Section 5-AA, topping Chandra Muthiah of Keystone Oaks, 6-2, 6-0, in the consolation match.

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