Year In Review

2012 Year In Review: USTA Wheelchair Tennis

December 31, 2012 02:00 PM
Tom Snow gives an induction speech for his son, Randy Snow, during the International Tennis Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies.
The team of Nick Taylor (left) and David Wagner captured their third Paralympic Games gold medal as a duo.
14-year-old Chris Herman is emerging as one of the best junior tennis players in the world.
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
 
Gold medals, great performances and grand inductions highlighted the 2012 USTA Wheelchair Tennis season. As part of USTA.com’s "Year In Review" series, we take a look back at the year that was in the wheelchair game:
 
Snow Honored with Hall-of-Fame Induction, ICON Award
 
Randy Snow, the Wheelchair Tennis trailblazer who helped standardize the training programs and curriculums that top American players utilize in present day, was honored this year by being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July and with a USTA ICON Award for cultural significance at the 2012 US Open in September. On both occasions, Snow’s father, Tom, accepted the awards posthumously for his son. Snow passed away at the age of 50 from a heart attack.
 
The 2012 honors are the latest in a line of noteworthy acknowledgements for Snow. In 2004, he became the first Paralympian to be inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.  In 2011, he was accorded the Paralympic Order of Honor.
 
"There came a point in my life where Randy ceased to be known as ‘Tom Snow’s son,’ and instead I became known as ‘Randy Snow’s father,’" said the elder Snow in front of packed audiences of tennis players, coaches and fans. "It’s the greatest honor a father can have – that a parent can have – to be known by your children’s accomplishments."
 
A three-time Paralympic medalist – of which he was the first man to ever win gold in Wheelchair Tennis Men’s singles in Barcelona in 1992 -- Snow won 22 major tournament titles as a tennis player during his career and achieved world rankings of No. 2 in singles and No. 1 in doubles. Upon winning the first International Tennis Federation (ITF) Wheelchair Tennis World Championships in 1991, Snow was named ITF Wheelchair Tennis "Player of the Year" that very same year and later USA Wheelchair "Athlete of the Year" in 2000. Snow was also a member of the U.S. Men’s World Team Cup squads during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
 
Above all, Snow found passion in teaching the game to younger players, traveling around the world – including volunteering in El Salvador, a trip during which he met his untimely death in 2009. From 1987 to 2005, he initiated and developed the curriculum and directed the Quickie/Randy Snow Wheelchair Tennis Camps, held in more than two dozen states across the U.S.  In 1994, Snow co-authored the first major Wheelchair Tennis instruction book, "Wheelchair Tennis: Myth to Reality," with Dr. Ballard "Bal" Moore.
 
With induction, Snow is the second wheelchair player in history to be enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame after friend and mentor Brad Parks, the pioneering founder of USTA Wheelchair Tennis, was inducted in 2010.
 
Best in the World
 
In a Paralympic year, the elite Wheelchair Tennis talents in the United States established themselves at the forefront of contendership in international competition, with the duo of David Wagner and Nick Taylor bringing home a combined four medals – gold in quad division doubles, a silver and bronze respectively in singles – at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London.
 
It was the sixth time that the Paralympics featured Wheelchair Tennis competition, and the third to feature quad (short for players classified as quadriplegic) participation. The Wagner/Taylor combination had won gold previously in 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing), but a three-peat required a victory over two Great Britons in two-time quad singles gold medal winner Peter Norfolk and current world no. 1 doubles player Andrew Lapthorne, battling for the top prize in front of supportive countrymen. In a lengthy struggle between historic rivals, the mighty Norfolk faltered in his service game at 2-2 in the third and deciding set and the Americans seized the crown, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
 
Through loud catcalls emerged healthy chants of: "U-S-A!"
 
"This crowd was amazing," said Wagner after the final, noting the enthusiasm of the audience. "They understand tennis. It's an honor to be part of something so great. They were supportive."
 
A few days later the two would once again take to the stand as second and third place finishers, the bronze being Taylor’s first Paralympic medal in quad singles. Israel’s Noam Gershony would capture gold after defeating Wagner 6-3, 6-1.
 
"Noam played incredible," said Taylor, who watched closely as Gershony prevailed over his longtime partner. "He just never let [David] In it. His strokes, his style are just so high percentage. He doesn't try for the big winner; he doesn't try for the big shot, he just controls everything. It's hard to get an error out of him."
 
For their efforts in England, Wagner and Taylor earned one final win later in the summer: the two were selected by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) as the 2011-2012 Paralympic "Team of the Year." With the accolade, Wagner and Taylor became the first Quad tennis players, singles or doubles, to be recognized by the USOC for the honor since the USOC first established the award for Paralympians in 2009, and also became the first tennis players to receive this honor since Jennifer Capriati won the USOC "Sportswoman of the Year" award in 2001.
 
"David Wagner and Nick Taylor have been the foundation of American wheelchair tennis for years," said Dan James, U.S. Paralympic Tennis Coach and USTA National Manager, Wheelchair Tennis. "Being named the Paralympic Team of the Year is an honor well deserved and solidifies their legacy in Paralympic history."
 
Due to the schedule of the Paralympic Games, Wheelchair Tennis competition at the 2012 US Open was postponed and will return next summer at the 2013 event, where Wagner and Taylor will look to defend their 2011 quad singles (Wagner) and doubles crowns in Queens. 
 
Rising Juniors runner-up at World Team Cup
 
The spring season saw Team USA charter a flight around the globe to Seoul, South Korea for the BNP Paribas 2012 World Team Cup (WTC) in late May – and despite missing out on at least one first-place finish for the first time since 2009, a surprise performance lent itself to optimism for when the U.S. descends on Antalya, Turkey in 2013.  
 
Of the four divisions – Men’s, Women’s, Quads and Juniors – competing in the Far East, the Juniors arrived with history firmly suggesting the bleakest odds. Since the Junior division debuted in 2000 WTC play, American youngsters have finished first just once, in that inaugural campaign. In the decade since, Team USA Junior teams have finished in second place just once (2003) and never higher than fourth in each year following as nations such as The Netherlands and Spain have continued to develop star youths in the Wheelchair Tennis world.
 
Enter 17-year-old Shelby Baron and 14-year-old wunderkind Chris Herman.
 
Baron, who experienced her first WTC in 2011 with a pair of wins in South Africa, made deeper impact through the 2012 main draws in both singles and doubles, compiling a 7-2 record in match play. Herman, in his first foray overseas as a Wheelchair Tennis player, would team with Baron and shock the eventual champions Diede De Groot and Thomas Zomerdijk, by a score of 6-4, 3-6, 10-8, putting a dent in what was an otherwise flawless run for the Dutch in Seoul. In all, the U.S. Junior team blanked Russia and Mexico by 3-0 margins, plus a defeat of perennial powerhouse Great Britain 2-1 to earn a second place finish to The Netherlands.
 
Team USA Head Coach Dan James, who each year leads the Men’s squad into WTC action, was particularly impressed in watching Herman play and his offered extremely high praise for Herman’s future prospects. The young Floridian went undefeated at the California-based Cruyff Foundation Junior Camp tournament – which features a "who’s who" of young international tennis talents -- in July and the PTR Championships, an International Tennis Federation (ITF) 2 Series event, in September in South Carolina. 
 
"Chris Herman has transitioned from a junior with talent to a leader, accomplished player, and the future of American Wheelchair Tennis in 2012," said James. "With unlimited potential we are all excited to see what Chris does in 2013."
 
The U.S. Quad team, featuring Wagner and Taylor, finished third in Seoul, while the U.S. Women earned a sixth place finish out of 12 competing teams. The U.S. Men took home seventh place, avoiding relegation remaining in the prestigious World Group I. 
 
***
 
For the best shots of Wheelchair Tennis action in 2012, check out our USTA.com photo gallery.
 

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