PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Ben Gigliotti is a tactician on the tennis court.
While other players try to bludgeon the opponent with rocket serves, powerful forehands and by rushing the net, the Punxsutawney senior prefers to wait back, extend points and wear out his foe.
It’s a useful strategy for Gigliotti, whose endurance is tough to match.
By the second set, his opponent is gassed. Meanwhile, Gigliotti is still fresh. That’s when he pounces.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 3, so that really helps not getting tired when I’m playing because I can really just outlast my opponent,” Gigliotti said. “I can make them run around the court and get super tired.”
That worked well for Gigliotti in the District 9 Class 2A championships recently. Gigliotti played the long game against Elk County Catholic’s Anthony Messineo, winning 6-4, 6-1, and again in the final against Neel Gupta, wearing out the DuBois Central Catholic junior, 6-4, 6-2.
Gigliotti was able to render both of his foes exhausted by the end.
“What usually happens is my games are super tight in the beginning, but then they get tired,” Gigliotti said. “I was just able to move around the court more than they could move around the court. In the end I tired them out. Really long rallies and then I’m able to capitalize.”
It was a long road to the D9 championship for Gigliotti, who has been playing tennis since he was in the seventh grade.
His freshman year in high school was derailed by a broke collarbone suffered in a snowboarding accident.
His sophomore season ended abruptly because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.
As a junior, Gigliotti advanced to the district semifinals, where he lost.
This year, he finally broke through for a long-awaited D9 crown.
Gigliotti said he owes a lot of his tennis success to his older brother, Vincent, who is in his second year on the Penn State New Kensington men’s soccer team.
Vincent was also a standout tennis player at Punxsutawney, finishing runner-up in the district in 2019..
“He’s the one who really taught me to move them around the court, because that’s what he’d do to me,” Ben said. “I was like, ‘Wow. This really works against people.’”
Vincent also provided Ben with an invaluable practice partner.
“When we’d play, the score would usually be 6-5,” Ben said. “I think he’s better than me. He’s able to hit it harder. I’m trying to get to that point. Hopefully by states I’ll be able to get to the point where I can hit it harder across court.”
The PIAA Boys Tennis Singles Championships begin May 27 at the Hershey Racquet Club.
Ben Gigliotti will draw the District 11 champion.
His first match is at noon. If he wins, he’ll play again at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
The semifinals and final will be held Saturday.
Gigliotti has no idea the strengths and weaknesses of anyone he might face in Hershey on Memorial Day weekend.
“That may be a good thing,” Gigliotti said. “They don’t know anything about me, either.”
This will be Gigliotti’s last time on the tennis court before he heads off to join his brother on the Penn State New Kensington soccer team in the fall.
Gigliotti is also a standout on the soccer pitch. The left-footer was a potent goal scorer for the Chucks.
Gigliotti has a plan. He’s going to Penn State New Kensington for two years before transferring to the main Penn State campus to finish up his degree in computer science. From there he plans on getting his master’s degree in artificial intelligence engineering.
Perhaps only a sophisticated AI can keep up with him on the tennis court.
He said he is looking forward to playing soccer with his brother again.
“He’s excited as well,” Gigliotti said. “I’m interested in seeing what the competition is going to be because since I was little, I always played in my brother’s age group. I really played well in high school because I was actually playing against older kids, so it was really fun.”