Poland’s Gardner to compete in regional tennis event

There’s no rest for the weary, nor is there rest for Poland’s Garrett Gardner.

Three weeks after competing at the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tennis tournament in Columbus as a junior, Gardner will compete at the United States Tennis Association Boys 18U Midwest Outdoor Closed Championships starting today, the only player in the area to do so.

In order to qualify for the event, Gardner needed to a top-six finish at the Midwest Qualifier Pattison Championships two weeks ago at Boardman High School. He lost in the semifinals but pulled out a third-place finish to qualify comfortably for the Midwest sectional, marking his first time qualifying to the big tournament in Indianapolis.

Gardner said he understands how big of an accomplishment it will be to play at the Midwest tournament.

“It is a very big deal going all the way to Indiana to compete in this tournament,” Gardner said. “Travel-wise, it’s probably going to give me a little bit (of nerves) just from how far away it is and how big of a tournament it is. This will probably be one of the biggest tournaments I’ve ever competed in my life.”

While the sheer size of the tournament is daunting, so is the competition.

The cream of the cream from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin will participate. Of 128 participants in the Boy 18U age group, only 32 players are seeded, and to show the level of competition Gardner will see there, the Division II boys state champion in Ohio, Cincinnati County Day School’s Asher Hirsch, is the 32nd-seed.

“When I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh wow, this must be the real deal,'” Gardner said. “There are a few kids that are ranked higher than him – around 16 or 17 – that I have competed against and actually have beaten. The rankings, I’d say the Top 10 kids are phenomenal players, but when it starts going into the 20s and 30s, though, I think those are some of the kids I can battle with and take a few sets off of them.”

The third-ranked player in Northeastern Ohio on the USTA Website, Gardner goes into the tournament unseeded and is an underdog to qualify for the Junior National Championship in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Aug. 2.

The soon-to-be senior likes that underdog card, though, and he said that he could pull off a few upsets and perhaps make a run toward Kalamazoo. If he were to do that, the 5-foot-10 player will need to use his quickness to chase down most balls hit on his half of the court, an ability that has made him one of the top players in the area.

“Anything can happen,” Gardner said. “It will be challenging, but I think that once you get there, you’re going to have to play a pretty good seed every once in a while. If I get by a few of those seeds and just keep playing really good tennis and with enough confidence, I think I could qualify.”