2021 Champions
4.5 Champion - Kyle Hurtgen

In only 4 years since learning how to play this game, Kyle has taken over the top spot of the highest level of the St Louis league.  To do it, he had to overcome a knee injury and some challenging rivals.  The playoff run started in the quarters vs. Byron Baptist.  Byron gave Kyle a stiff challenge in the quarters in two tight sets, but Kyle’s serve stayed strong and he was able to prevail by breaking serve once each set for a 6-4,7-5 win.  A default win over 2 time Champion Danny Schneller put Kyle int the finals for the 2nd straight year. His finals opponent, Paul Reiss, had defeated Kyle both times earlier in the regular season.  The first set was very tight up until 5-5, and a knee injury he had sustained earlier in the year was bothering him again.  But Kyle started seeing the ball better and through a narrowed focus and determination, he was able to pull away with a 7-5, 6-1 win.

Kyle’s story:  I played a number of sports earlier in life and decided to take up competitive tennis in 2018.  I bought a racket and started hitting against a wall.   I fell in love with practicing and found it to be a great way to get exercise.  I then started hitting with a group of older guys after work each week, then discovered Gladiator Tennis from a friend at the local gym. I’ve made a number of new friends in the league, and I really enjoy the challenge of trying to improve my results against the same players.   Everyone is friendly, but it’s all out war on the court, and I have especially enjoyed my rivalries with Travis Blair and Danny Schneller.  Through my relationships in Gladiator I have also been invited to join a USTA team and play every Sunday over the winter.

The format of the league works well for me - It’s an opportunity to play singles, allows us to play out the 3rd set, and I can play my home matches locally at the park near me.

4.25 Champion - Douglas Becker

This was Doug’s first year in the league, and remarkably his first experience playing organized competitive tennis!  But he has been in the thick of the sport for many years as you will see in his biography below.  Doug entered the Summer Season at 4.0 and went undefeated, then finished the last season with a 4-1 record at the 4.25 level.  Doug’s semifinal encounter with Neri Risti proved to be the stiffest challenge.  Doug jumped out to a 4-1 lead, then Neri came storming back to take the lead at 5-4 and on the verge of taking the 1st set.  However, Doug was able to bear down with renewed focus and grit out a comeback and ultimately prevail 7-5, 6-1. Doug was able to defeat another strong 4.25 player, Ryan Cochran, for the win in the final.

Doug’s Story:  The experiences I had with other sports growing up set a good foundation for my adult entry into the game of tennis.  I gained athletic skills through playing competitive basketball, baseball, and soccer, plus I played a lot of Ping pong which is a great tutor on certain technical aspects of how to play tennis.  I had dabbled in tennis with family and friends for fun, but never played competitively.  Then I took a position teaching at Duchesne HS and they asked me to coach a brand new girls tennis program.  So I started the Girls tennis team at Duchesne, and after 1 year I also took over as head coach of the boys team.This was back in 2004, and I have remained the head coach ever since.  The parent of one of my players this year suggested that I try playing in the league, so I decided to jump in to organized tennis for the first time this summer with Gladiator Tennis.  Everybody has been friendly, and I have enjoyed good competition with players at my skill level.

4.0 Champion - Brandon Johnson

Everything fell into place perfectly for Brandon in his 4th year in the league.  He had a strong 16-4 regular season record, and peaked at the right time, winning his last 10 matches in a row in the final season and the playoffs.  Despite the momentum, he had a close call in the playoff final against Wesley Law, going down a break at 5-4 in the first set.  Brandon had to dig deeper and find his best tennis to break back and ultimately take the match 7-5,6-2.

Brandon’s story:  I did not play tennis until 2015.  At that time, my mom worked at the U.S. Open and sent me videos of Nadal and Federer.  I was awed by their ability and it inspired me to play.  I started studying instructional YouTube videos and taught myself how the basic strokes and principles of the game.  Upon moving to STL, I ran into Jim Diekroeger at Racketman Tennis Shop, and Jim told me about Gladiator.

Gladiator Tennis is the first competitive tennis I played, and my first year in the league was 2018.  Through the players I have met in the league, I was recently invited to join a USTA team and have now played a couple seasons with them also.  What I like most about Gladiator is the many players I have met, the flexible scheduling, the opportunity to better players as I get better, and the year end playoffs which the league builds to all year.    

3.75 Champion - Steven Archer

Steven is one of the founding members of the STL league, having played in every season since it’s beginning in 2015.  Steven lost 3 of his last 4 matches in the regular season, but with a little extra practice on a ball machine, he was able to get his groove back for the playoffs.  The first round pitted Steve against Craig Holman who had beaten him during the regular season.  After a tight first set, Steven was able to pull out a 7-5, 6-0 win. Steven needed all of the confidence that came from that match to get through the rest of the draw, because he had to go to 3 sets to win each one of the remaining rounds against Paul Petruska, Gayle Chyu and Narinder Singh.  The match against Narinder in was worthy of a playoff final.  Narinder possesses a great drop shot, and had a different style of play that Steven had not faced before.  Both players were playing very well, a few key points went Steven’s way, and he prevailed in a 3rd set tiebreaker to win.

Steven’s story:  I started playing tennis in high school, then continued with intramural play in college.  In 2012 I joined the West County Tennis ladder, which was run by Jim Diekroeger and Racketman.  When the West County ladder converted into Gladiator Tennis in 2015, I continued playing.

I keep playing Gladiator because it has been a great way to meet other players and play singles, and meet new people that come into the league each year. Through my friends in Gladiator, I have been recruited to play on a USTA team that plays indoors through the winter.

3.5 Champion - Santosh Chintapally

2021 was Santosh’s first year in Gladiator Tennis, and he was in the drivers seat of the 3.5 level all year long.  He finished with a 15-4 regular season record, and entered the playoffs as the #1 seed.  However, nothing came easy at any stage of his playoff run with the exception of his 1st round bye.  He fought off a stiff challenge from David Morgan in the 2nd round, 6-4,6-4, then faced previous playoff champion Ryan Migneron in the semis.  Ryan took the first set 6-3, before Santosh figured things out and cruised through the next two sets 6-0, 6-1.  In the final, Santosh faced off against #2 seed Randall Baker.  In a match with back and forth momentum, they split the first 2 sets before Santosh got back in the drivers seat again and finished the 3rd set off 6-3.  Santosh take his game to the next level for 2022!

3.25 Champion - Matthew Suddarth

In 2020, Matthew picked up a tennis racket for the first time, joined Gladiator Tennis, and won the 2.5 playoffs.  He was double promoted into the 3.25 level this year, and encountered a learning curve at this level, finishing the 1st 2 seasons with a 4-9 record. But he was acclimating to the higher level of play and finished with a 5-2 record in the final season, peaking just in time to make his playoff run.

The biggest test in Matthew’s run to his 2nd championship in a row occurred in the quarterfinals vs. Bhaskar Mohanraj.  Matthew lost the first set 6-4, and the two of them were knotted up at 4-4 in the 2nd.  At that point, Matthew became determined to grind out every point, and play error free tennis.  Matthew’s defensive approach led to a service break which gave him the added confidence to play more aggressive and finish out the 2nd set 6-4.  His newfound momentum carried him through the super tiebreak in lieu of the 3rd set, and he won it 10-4.

The following semifinal was a rematch with Venkata Kalagotla who had beaten him earlier in the year.  Matthew’s 6-3, 6-1 victory demonstrated how much he had improved over the course of the summer.  All the confidence that Matthew gained from these two wins helped in carrying him past Troy DeArmitt in a close final 7-5, 6-4.

Matthew’s Story:  I played baseball, basketball, and track growing up.  With other sports shut down last year due to the Covid pandemic, I decided to pick up tennis.  I learned about Gladiator Tennis by searching online - the opportunity to play at an entry level competitively was what drew me. After winning the 2.5 playoffs in Gladiator, I then decided to join a USTA team and played every Sunday throughout the winter.

The format of Gladiator Tennis works for me because I’m in law school and need the flexible scheduling.  I’ve also enjoyed meeting so many new players, and I practice with Troy Dearmitt for fun beyond the league matches.

3.0 Champion - Nicholas Hargrove

Nicholas picked up the game of tennis in recent years and started playing Gladiator Tennis at the 2.5 level in 2020.  He moved up to 3.0 this year and finished the regular season with a 16-5 record, entering the playoffs as the #2 seed.  Nicholas moved through the playoffs without dropping a set, and finished off his playoff run by defeating his friend Guillermo Herrera in the final.

Nicholas’ Story:   I enjoyed playing Mario tennis and watching the pros on Youtube, and it inspired me to get into the game myself.  Guillermo Herrera referred me into the league and is my practice partner and best friend. We were both happy to make the finals and play one another.

Through studying instructional Youtube videos over the past year, I have improved my serve and incorporated a split step into my footwork, which has enabled me to cover the court much better. I love the adrenaline rush of competition, and the challenge of moving up to higher levels in the league.  I can measure my improvement from one season to another as I am matched up with players at the same skill level.

2.5 Champion - John Clark

John motored through the semis and finals without dropping a set.  That’s a significant improvement since his first foray into competitive tennis in 2020.  Congratulations John!

John’s Story:  I played racquetball for over 25 years, and recently decided to pick up tennis.  I practiced with a friend for awhile but wanted to branch out and meet more people.  I had been going to Racketman for racquetball equipment for many years. The owner, Jim Diekroeger, recommended that I try out Gladiator Tennis and so I joined it last year.

The league gives me the opportunity to get better with different opponents and I have gained practice partners. The players are easy to get along and play for the right reasons - They want to have fun and get better.

I didn’t play sports as a kid, so I’m still learning some of the basic elements of a competitive mindset - how to problem solve, sticking to a game plan, and staying mentally focused.  It all came together in the playoffs this year, and I was definitely playing with my best foot forward.

3.5 Champion - Laurie Burke

The was Laurie’s 1st year in the league, and she competed well throughout the regular season to earn a 14-7 record, and earn the #1 seed for the playoffs.  It was fitting that she matched up with Morgan Connell in the final. The two of them played on 4 occasions in the regular season, each match went to a 3rd set tirebreaker, and each of them had won twice.  They could not have been more evenly matched!  Once again, their 3.5 final went to a 3rd set tiebreak, and Laurie was able to prevail 10-3.   

Laurie’s Story:  I was a competitive swimmer from junior high school through age 40.   I wanted to try a new sport as I became older,  and tennis was being taught in our community adult education program, so I signed up for the beginners’ lessons and loved it from the first day. After awhile I joined the USTA and now I captain and play on a USTA team.  I also play some recreational league tennis as well.

I first learned about Gladiator Tennis from a USTA player who thought I might enjoy the flex scheduling format of the program.  I have been a Chiropractor and Acupuncturist for the past 40 years and it fits in perfectly with my current practice office hours.

What works best for me with Gladiator Tennis is the flexibility of playing the matches, knowing ahead of time the number of matches and the players, and meeting all the wonderful new players I may not have ever met, as many of the players do not play USTA tennis.  I also discovered many new parks that have tennis courts.

3.0 Champion - Irene Taranhike

This was Irene’s 1st year playing Gladiator Tennis, and her 1st time playing in 4 years.  Irene credits a a Saturday morning clinic for helping her, and says that a turning point in her play came in a 3 set loss to Katie Homan.  The two of them had long rallies and Katie moved her all around the court, and the match gave Irene enough hits to rediscover the feel for her strokes and movement around the court.  This was her last match before the playoffs, and she was able to then cruise through the playoffs without losing a set, including a rematch with Katie in the 3.0 final.

Irene’s story:  My parents signed me up for tennis lessons when I was in 1st grade in Zimbabwe. Every student in our school chose 2 sports to play, so my two sports were tennis and field hockey.  I played throughout grade school and high school for my school.  I came to the states on a college scholarship for field hockey.  I wanted to play tennis in college also, but did not have the time to do both.

I was referred into Gladiator Tennis by my friend Nageen, so I decided to get back into the game after a 4 year layoff.  I’ve since signed up for USTA, and look forward to playing with them also.

2.5 Champion - Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly defeated Melissa Maracle to win the 2.5 playoffs in her first year in the league.  Congratulations Kimberly!