Coming off a fourth-place finish at the Class 3A state tournament, senior Gunnar Thorstenson is ready to make another run at a state singles title and, in the process, hopes to help lead the Shorewood Thunderbirds boys tennis team to its fourth consecutive Wesco 3A South crown.
Thorstenson — who attends King’s High School but plays at Shorewood because the former has no tennis program — is entering his third year as the Thunderbirds’ No. 1 player. At 6-foot-5, he has the stature and power to be a matchup nightmare for opponents.
“Guys on the other teams aren’t used to handling that,” Shorewood coach Arnie Moreno said of Thorstenson’s aggressive style. “He’s gonna attack the net a lot, he’s gonna serve and volley, or he’s gonna look for that short ball and come on and put pressure on right away — so points don’t last long.
“If he’s having his way, he’s ending points quick.”
That’s something Thorstenson tries to do out of necessity.
“Tennis has a lot of small players. I can’t last with them,” Thorstenson said. “So logically the progression is that I need to end points quicker.”
Moreno calls the smaller players who stay back on the baseline and try to wear out their opponents “grinders.” Lasting with those “grinders” is something Shorewood’s team captain has worked on heading into this year.
Thorstenson has trimmed down a bit in an effort to increase his stamina. He knows he needs to change up his play against those opponents.
“It’s a different strategy when you play against guys that stay back,” Thorstenson said. “I try and mix it up a lot, which people don’t really do anymore. Throw in a serve and volley and throw in some dropshots to keep guys guessing.”
Thorstenson works on his game year round. He plays pickup games and USTA tournaments through the summer and during the six-month layoff between the district and state tournaments.
“You can get away without playing other sports year-round,” Thorstenson said. “but with tennis, you kind of have to.”
Tennis started to become a main focus for Thorstenson when he was 13 — a few years after he started to play with his family. He joined Shorewood’s varsity as a freshman, starting the season as the team’s No. 2 player but also playing Nos. 3 and 4 singles.
As a sophomore, he took over the role of Shorewood’s No. 1, dropping his first match 6-0, 6-0. “It was kind of a learning experience,” he said.
He learned pretty quickly.
He wound up posting an 18-9 record that year, capturing a 3A District 1 singles title and becoming the first Thunderbird to make it to state in singles since 2010. Last season, he improved to 21-7 overall, placed third in districts and fourth at state. His only loss at state came against eventual runner-up Ranjan Sharangpan of Capital.
Moreno said Thorstenson has what it takes to play at the highest level of college tennis after this year.
“Definitely I see him as a Division-I level player,” Moreno said.
After graduating Thorstenson plans on going to college and would like to play tennis. He’s been in touch with some smaller schools at the NCAA Division III level.
But school comes first.
“Tennis is just so darn competitive, especially at Division I. I want to play but don’t want to sacrifice any kind of academics to go,” Thorstenson said. “I’m gonna have to try and balance those two.”