Anthony Kirchner’s unconventional tennis trek started in the sand of a New Jersey beach.
He honed his skills on asphalt in New Providence, made national news on hardcourts in Texas, and created international intrigue on Florida clay.
He hopes his journey ultimately leads to the hallowed grass of Wimbledon.
Kirchner, a fifth grader at Providence Elementary School, is regarded as the best 11-year old boys tennis player in the world.
Kirchner earned that distinction by winning singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles in 11-year old age bracket at the "Little Mo" Internationals in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida earlier this month.
In the singles competition, Kirchner defeated opponents from the Bahamas, Canada, United States and South Africa.
Kirchner and doubles partner Ryan Allen saved four match points and Kirchner and mixed doubles partner Gabriella Rosenberg saved eight match points.
In September, Kirchner won the 10-11s Little Mo Nationals in Austin, Texas, his second straight tournament title at Little Mo Nationals.
His record this year is 68-13. Participating in many 12-under tournaments, Kirchner is 43rd in the nation in the Unitd States Tennis Association national rankings, third in Middle States, and second in Central Pennsylvania, all the more impressive considering Kirchner is a year younger than many of the other competitors in that age group.
Anthony’s parents, James and Julie Kirchner of New Providence, are more concerned about helping their only child stay grounded while letting the groundstrokes take care of themselves. "My goal is to support him in everything he does," James Kirchner said. "School. The charities off the tennis court. And obviously on the tennis court. My goals are whatever his goals are. I'm here to support him. I don't play tennis. I'm here to support him.Whatever he chooses to do, I got him. Travel, I'll get him where he needs to go. Other than that, my goals are for him to be happy and live a long, healthy, happy life and enjoy what he’s doing.That's it. Tennis is second to me. His happiness and health are the important things."
Said Julie Kirchner. "I want whatever Anthony wants. That's the main focus for Anthony. It took a long time to have him so he's truly a blessing in our life."
The tennis trophies, some nearly as tall as Anthony, are nice. The Kirchners place more importance on the kindness and sportsmanship awards he’s won from Middle States and the 2021 Little Mo Nationals.
"That's why everybody gravitates toward Anthony," his dad says. "He's never banged a racket on the ground. He's never yelled. He's won multiple sportsmanship awards and kindness awards. That's the stuff I love. Tennis is awesome, but that is powerful."
His parents' influence inspires Anthony to take everything in stride. "Yes, you might lose a point, but there are many more," Anthony said. "Yes, you could lose a match but there are many more matches, also. It doesn't matter about that match. If you play good, that's all that matters. You don't want to lose, but somebody has to."
Both of Anthony’s parents grew up nearby and they moved to New Providence in 1995. Anthony is from Lancaster and Julie hails from York. They were both active in athletics but neither played tennis.
When Anthony was four years old, he and Julie were playing paddle ball in Ocean City, New Jersey, when a chance encounter with a stranger changed their lives. “We had a 100-point rally,” Julie Kirchner recalls. “Some lady was walking the beach and she came up to us and said, 'Whatever you do, you need to get him into tennis. His hand-eye coordination is unbelievable.’ We just kind of laughed and I said to my husband, 'Oh, tennis?!’”
They decided to heed the lady’s advice. “I played all other sports and so did he (James) but never tennis," said Julie Kirchner. "We called and asked if there or any tennis activities or tennis clubs and there was."
The first attempt did not go well since Anthony was more mature than most kids his age. “We tried group lessons but Anthony thought it was too silly for him,” Julie said. “He didn't like the joking and goofing around.”
That’s when Eric Steinman of what was then known as Racquet Club West (now RCW Athletic Club) informed the Kirchners he would provide individual lessons.
“If Eric wouldn't have done that, there would be no tennis for Anthony,” said James Kirchner. “He opened the door for Anthony."
Steinman was immediately impressed by Anthony’s poise and potential. "Anthony was more advanced athletically and intellectually and had a high maturity level," Steinman recalls. "Right away I saw he had the hand-eye coordination, athletic ability, and love of the sport."
Steinman still works at RCW Athletic Club, which is located in Lancaster, and closely follows Anthony's progress. He thinks his former pupil has the potential to play professionally. "Tennis is an international sport," says Steinman. "You have to be one of the Top 100 players in the world. It's not like football where there are 50 players on every team. Anthony has the passion, desire, and athletic ability and is always smiling. He's an amazing kid."
Anthony still trains at RCW Athletic Club, now under the direction of coaches Ben Zink and Tom Mastromarino. Anthony also practices on a big wall his father built outside their home and plays on the Sinking Spring YMCA courts in the summer when not playing in a tournament.
Mastromarino first met Anthony last summer when Mastromarino returned to the area from Florida.
“I was so impressed with this little kid,” said Mastromarino. “He looked so good, and more importantly, was having a lot of fun. And he loves to compete. Either you have that or you don’t and he loves to compete. He has the attitude and feistiness you need to be a high-level player.”
Kirchner keeps getting better. “He was what I call a retriever where he would force his opponents to have to hit a lot of balls,” Mastromarino said. “In the last several months Ben [Zink] and I have worked with him to be a little more aggressive and take time away from his opponent. When you do that, you can make a few more mistakes. He understood that and has become a better player to where he has an all-court game, which is pretty impressive for an 11-year old.”
Mastromarino says Kirchner is deserving of being recognized as one of the top 11-year old tennis players in the world. “He’s so much fun to work with,” said Mastromarino. “He’s a sponge and he wants to learn. He has the support from his parents.”
Like Steinman, Mastromarino is confident Kirchner can achieve his goal of becoming a professional tennis player.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” said Mastromarino. “He has the work ethic you must have. He has a tremendous attitude. You have to love the process. Everyone sees the finished product, but not the thousands of hours you need to put in to put yourself in that position. You have to love it. There are so many things you have to do, which is why it’s not easy. His love of the process means he can be as good as he wants to be.”
Zink agrees: “Anthony’s talent, athletic ability, and his understanding of the game put him a step above most of the other competitors,” the coach said. “His maturity, competitiveness, and understanding of how to win points and matches are skills you can’t teach. They’re innate.”
Anthony has a different regiment than many others on the youth tennis circuit. “It’s an expensive sport,” James says. “Some families spend $25,000-$50,000 a month while traveling every weekend. We’re hitting off a wall. Some kids are training six hours a day and Anthony practices four days a week. But he's loving it and he's having fun. He's a giant-killer, they say.”
The Kirchners take a practical approach, making sacrifices to enable Anthony to set his own schedule whenever possible. “We’re a team,” James says. “We are all in this together. We’re enjoying this and the time we have. This has to be fun and I see this kid and he's always smiling. It took 10 years to have Anthony and I beat Stage 4 cancer. I'm blessed. The way life is, you have to make things fun. This isn't a job. I'm not his boss. I'm his dad. I'm not his coach. He has to pick and choose. If he says he really wants to play Indian Wells, I'll make it work. I'll figure out a way and we'll get there. It's his thing."
James has a career in sales. He says Julie has the most challenging job, monitoring and assisting with Anthony’s Solanco Virtual Academy assignments, taking her son to tennis practices, and handling tournament registrations and travel plans.
"She is everything," James Kirchner says of his wife. "Without her, he doesn't play tennis."
A righty with a two-handed backstroke, Anthony models his game after Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi, an eight-time major champion and cultural phenomenon who retired years before Anthony was born.
"They attack and I love Andre Agassi's return of serve," said Kirchner, who has Agassi’s book.
Anthony also likes to play some serve-and-volley, something his two favorites were not known for doing.
His “money shot” is a backhand down the line usually set up by a strong forehand. He makes swing volleys look easy because of his coordination.
And when none of those things are enough? “Sometimes I win matches with my heart and hustle," Kirchner says. "The kids get so frustrated because I try to get to every ball."
Prominent tennis figures are taking notice. English tennis legend John Lloyd, one of the sport’s most respected voices, watched Anthony's matches at the Little Mo Internationals and passed along pointers.
Australian Nathan Healey, who once coached former world number one Lleyton Hewitt, has also worked with Anthony, especially on strategy.
Anthony has big plans in 2023, including a trip to the Indian Wells Easter Bowl in California this spring and he is hopeful of earning an invitation to the IMG Future Stars Invitational in Greece, which only accepts the Top 24 boys in the 12-under age group.
“My biggest goals for  are to win the Eddie Herr International and the Orange Bowl (two of the world's most prestigious junior tournaments),” said Anthony, who is sponsored by Babolat, a France-based tennis equipment and apparel company which provides equipment and clothing.
Anthony's ultimate objective is to compete on the world's biggest stages such as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He has his longterm sights set on the 18-under LI tournament in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the winner qualifies for the main draw at the U.S. Open. That is several years away, but Anthony knows how he can get there. "Practice hard and practice will make perfect," he says.
Anthony will also continue playing doubles and mixed doubles. doubles and mixed doubles. "In doubles, you have less nerves because you're with a partner," Kirchner said with a straight face, before delivering the punchline to make it clear he's just joking. "So your goal is to play better than your partner so if you lose you can blame it on them."
Anthony also enjoys running, camping, and fishing. During the summer, the family frequents Sun Retreats Lancaster County (formerly known as Lake-in-Wood) in Narvon where Anthony is something of a celebrity, more because of his personality and cornhole prowess than for his tennis talents.
Fellow campers and staff are big supporters and Sun Retreats even rearranges big cornhole tournaments to suit Anthony's schedule.
When not fishing or playing cornhole, Anthony participates in every other activities to earn Gnome dollars to pay for ice cream.
Anthony attends Providence Elementary in the morning and then classes through the Solanco Virtual Academy, where he works hard to stay weeks ahead of schedule. The Kirchners understand doors will open for Anthony if he has a great education, no matter what happens with his tennis career.
In order to play competitive tennis, Anthony must maintain good grades, something that's not an issue for the conscientious fifth grader. "I focus on one thing at a time," Anthony said. "Then once that thing is done, you move on to the next step. I make sure I focus on school so I can have free time and play tennis."
"He's an excellent student. He's a hard worker and problem solver," Anthony's teacher Lindsey Orr said. "He demonstrates time management with his schedule since he leaves. He does online learning in the afternoon and he's here with us in the mornings and he's very responsible about getting his work done on time and making up assignments that he would miss when he does leave for his tournaments and practices. He's an ideal student."
The family will eventually face a difficult decision. Although thrilled with life in Lancaster County, the Kirchners will consider moving to a warmer climate if they determine it’s best for Anthony’s tennis career.
"That's a really tough question because we don't know what the future holds," James Kirchner said. "We're very happy with Solanco. New Providence has been nothing but kind to us. We're so blessed to have the teachers and administrators at Providence and the kindness they show toward Anthony. And it's a mutual respect. Julie's going to have to handle that because this is her thing. She's made unbelievable decisions for Anthony to get him to where he's at. You can see it by looking at him smiling. We're going to have to figure that out. 'Everybody tells me we have to move. You have to go where Anthony can play year round outside in the temperatures and the heat. This is not where he needs to be.' They say if he stays here he's not going to be able to get to where he wants to go. When that happens, if that happens, we will deal with it. We'll just keep going through the process, and as people come into our lives, and it makes sense, then we'll visit that idea."
It’s all part of the Kirchners’ belief in taking things one day at a time and enjoying life as it comes, something James appreciates even more after his cancer battle and a lesson he is teaching Anthony.
“We talk all the time about slowing down, taking mental snapshots, cataloguing it,” James said. “Don’t rush through life. Appreciate the little things and remember the moments.”
Going by the sport’s scoring system, love means nothing to a tennis player. It means everything to the Kirchners, who are most proud of Anthony’s sunny disposition and desire to help others.
Anthony donated half of his Little Mo winnings to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and also supports Make-A-Wish and Water Street Mission. Anthony has provided gift cards during Christmas for Noah’s Ark children and reads to the kids there. Julie visited the Solanco Food Bank last week to deliver a $100 donation from Anthony.
"It's about giving back, not taking,” Anthony says. "The more you help, you more you feel like you become a better person."
Zink believes all of Anthony’s intangible attributes give the Providence student an advantage. “Anthony has the capability to do great things,” said Zink. “He’s a wonderful kid. He’s a sportsman and respectful. He understands he’s a great player but he has a lot of humility. Those things and a love of the game will carry him a long way.”