Emily Hadler is just your run-of-the-mill great high school tennis player who carries a 4.5 grade-point average and is on the Highland yearbook staff and a member of the school’s peer leading group.
She’s not busy at all these days, though. As an eighth-grader, Hadler somehow participated in tennis, soccer, track, AAU basketball and recreational league softball in the fall sports season alone.
“It was crazy,” the easygoing 16-year-old said. “I was already signed up for four sports, then my friends convinced me to run track. When I asked my parents (Gary and Elizabeth) they thought I was crazy, but for whatever reason they let me do it. I went from track after school to tennis to basketball.”
Soccer and softball were mainly on the weekend, so there was plenty of time left for the now two-time Gazette MVP in girls tennis to maintain her outstanding work in the classroom.
“Luckily, I was in eighth grade, so there wasn’t a whole lot of studying to do,” Hadler said with a laugh. “I made it work, but eighth grade was pretty easy.”
The fifth of six tennis-playing children, Hadler often has made it look easy on the court, but what’s too easily overlooked is not only how hard she’s worked to be successful, but how much effort she puts into everything she does.
The icing on the cake is that she doesn’t consider herself the least bit special.
“Emily’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet,” Highland first doubles player Maddie Arbuckle said. “She’s very soft spoken and a really great friend and teammate. She never thinks of herself as better than anybody.”
Hadler, however, is better than most on the tennis court. The three-time All-Gazette pick finished her junior season with a 34-4 record, reached the Division I state tournament in doubles with Rachel Fannin — Hadler made it in singles as a sophomore — and won her third straight Suburban League American Conference Tournament first singles title as Highland three-peated as league champion.
Hadler dropped just one singles match this season, to Revere freshman Morgan Dobos in the regular season, but avenged that loss with a victory in the first singles title match at the SL American Tournament.
“I thought the season went pretty well,” she said in her typical understated style. “I had to win a lot of tougher matches because a lot of good freshmen came in, but overall it was a good season.
“(Beating Dobos) was a pretty big accomplishment because she had beaten me in the regular season. It’s always good to beat someone that you’ve lost to.”
As level-headed as they come and extremely knowledgeable about other players in the area, Hadler then decided to play doubles in the postseason. She and Fannin, who played second singles in the regular season, went on to win the Medina Sectional and finish fourth at the Medina District before losing a tough first-round match at the state tournament.
“I had it in the back of my mind for the entire season,” Hadler said. “I knew a lot of the singles players that had gone doubles last year would go singles this year. Luckily, I was right about that.”
Luck had very little to do with it.
“She’s super knowledgeable,” Arbuckle said. “She knows how everything’s set up for sectionals, districts, all the brackets. ‘If we win this, we’re going to play this.’ She’s the go-to person whenever we have any questions.”
“We always go right to her,” Highland third singles player Joelle Petek added. “She knows everything about tennis. Everything!”
With one high school season remaining, Hadler is unsure whether she will play singles or doubles in the postseason — “Oh, my gosh, I have no idea,” she said — but history suggests success will follow.
The owner of a 96-16 career record, Hadler already has qualified for districts three times — twice in singles and once in doubles — and the state tournament twice.
“When you’re watching her, you don’t think she’s the most aggressive player,” Arbuckle said. “But when you play against her, you know by the shots you’re getting that you’re not going to win.”
“Her consistency is unbelievable, and her accuracy,” Petek said. “I’ve played her a few times, and it didn’t go too well for me. She beats me every time — by a lot.”
Standing 5-foot-4 and weighing 125 pounds, Hadler is not a physically imposing player. Plenty of her opponents have bigger serves or more powerful groundstrokes, but few can match her consistency, endurance and intelligence.
It may take a game or two — or sometimes even a set — but Hadler almost always is able to dissect her opponent and find a weakness she can exploit.
“It’s such a mental game compared to any other sport I’ve played,” she said. “Figuring out your opponent is one of the more fun parts of the game. I like to think and analyze things, though sometimes it’s not to my benefit because I overthink.
“There’s always room for improvement. I’ve been working on some of the same things for years now, and they’re still not where I want them to be. I don’t know if I should say them, because it’s been the same things for years now and people still haven’t figured it out.”
After having the gall to take “an entire week off” after the state tournament, Hadler is back to playing tennis daily — she’s dropped all those other eighth-grade athletic pursuits — with the goal of capturing her fourth SL American Tournament first singles title, winning a few matches in singles or doubles at the state tournament and continuing her career at the D-II or D-III college level.
“I try not to be too hard on myself, but everybody has those days where you’re not playing well and you get frustrated,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just a sport.”
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