Nick Taylor and David Wagner live to see another day in doubles at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, while young Mackenzie Soldan and Emmy Kaiser are out after Monday.
© Steve Goldberg
By Steve Goldberg, special to USTA.com
LONDON -- And then there were three. The London run for Mackenzie Soldan and Emmy Kaiser came to an end on Centre Court at Eton Manor as the Paralympic debutantes lost a third-set tiebreaker to the German tandem of Sabine Ellerbrock and Katharina Kruger. Both had lost in singles earlier in the day and had hoped to take that frustration to victory in the doubles.
Kaiser took on the no. 8 seed, Great Britain's Lucy Shuker, and the home crowd at Centre Court, losing 0-6, 2-6. Soldan faced the no. 5 seed Marjolein Buis of the Netherlands with less success, losing in straight sets 2-6, 0-6.
"She was just hitting her lines," said Kaiser of the home country favorite. "To play her, you have to keep it out of her wingspan, which is not small and the biggest ball she hits is pretty much every ball she hits, you can't react quick enough to put it anywhere but there."
Soldan admitted that playing one of the Dutch dynamos got the better of her. "I kind of froze up. I tried my hardest but I just couldn't do what I needed to do to win. The Dutch thing -- they are intimidating."
Down 1-4 in the first set, it didn't look like that doubles redemption was even a possibility, yet the two youngest members of the U.S. team - Kaiser is 22 and Soldan 20 - steeled their resolve and started winning by not trying to hit winners every time. Watching Soldan attempt a sharp angle drop shot off a return where angels would fear to tread, coach Dan James remarked that "she might not have made that choice with more experience." But he was quick to add that he would not be the one to coach that aggressive creativity out of her. Shape it, of course; lose the passion to win from whence it comes, never.
Yes, she missed some cheeky attempts but she also made some as her partner Kaiser started finding the right mix of velocity and targeting. The pair knocked the far more experienced Germans on their heels to even the set at 4-4 and then win it in a tiebreaker.
If only that was enough. Experience would win out. Ellerbrock, 36, the world no. 4, and Kruger, the no. 13-ranked player who's also 22 but in her second Paralympics, took the second set 6-2 and weathered another tiebreaker in the third to send the Americans packing.
Tiebreakers were the order of the bright sunny day. In the quad doubles semifinal that preceded the women on Centre Court, David Wagner and Nick Taylor won the first set 6-3 but ended up chasing the second against the Israeli duo of Noam Gershony and Shraga Weinberg. They caught up after spotting the Israelis a 3-1 lead. It was a game of long but hard fought rallies with a number of Israeli and American flags draped through the stands. With a very supportive crowd for both teams chanting "Go USA" or "Kadima", which is Hebrew for forward, there was a palpable energy on Centre Court for the first time that day.
With Wagner and Taylor the defending gold medalists from Beijing, and the British duo of Peter Norfolk and Andrew Lapthorne considered number two, the Israelis stand at number three and could have had the win on any given day. In the second set, it looked like they wanted it to be this day.
Yet Wagner and Taylor are fierce competitors and every hard won point brought exclamations of "Come on!" They fought to get ahead 6-5 but Gershony and Weinberg were not going to concede quietly. They jumped ahead in the tiebreaker 4-1 and it looked as though a third set was imminent. When Wagner's shot hit the net to make it 6-2 in favor of the Israelis, it seemed done. Their backs against the wall, Wagner and Taylor, who seems to be the Misty May of this duo - getting all the serves but punishing the opposition nonetheless - took each point by force of will, either hitting a winner or causing a mistake. Experience won the day.
The U.S. quads will face Norfolk and Lapthorne, winners over the Japanese pair of Kawano and Moroishi, and the whole of Britain in the final.