Mackenzie Soldan is proving to be an ace for Team USA in recent international compeititons.
© Jeremiah Yolkut
By Mackenzie Soldan, special to USTA.com
USTA.com is following the action from this week's BNP Paribas World Team Cup competition from Seoul, Korea. The World Team Cup annually matches the very best athletes of Wheelchair Tennis in a unique international team competition. From the United States, four teams - Men's, Women's, Quads and Juniors - are representing Old Glory in the Asian metropolis, which has also hosted the Olympic & Paralympic Games in 1988 and the FIFA World Cup in 2002.
Mackenzie Soldan of Louisville, Ky. anchors the 2012 U.S. Women's team at the World Team Cup, playing doubles with partner Kaitlyn Verfuerth. The two have already scored big wins over Spain and Chile in Seoul and look to knock off Thailand in their next tie on Saturday. The 20-year-old is the newcomer to the squad, but is a World Team Cup veteran, having last played for Team USA as a junior in 2010 in Antalya, Turkey. Soldan's stock has risen dramatically in the last six months amongst the international Wheelchair Tennis coterie, going undefeated in seven matches at the 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico last November. There, she teamed with another current World Team Cup teammate, Emmy Kaiser, to take doubles gold in addition to singles.
Soldan describes her experiences in Seoul thus far:
I woke up like every other day here in Seoul to the swift opening of curtains, followed by the sound of my roommate Kaitlyn Verfuerth’s voice saying: "Get up dear, it’s time for school!" I then rolled out of bed and went downstairs for our buffet-style breakfast composed of such things as rice, french fries, salad and dessert items.
I was enjoying my meal when my coach, Paul Walker, approached me saying there had been a time change to practice and that I had to be on court in 45 minutes. This unexpected turn of events served as foreshadowing of what was to come later. I rushed upstairs to get my tennis gear on and caught the shuttle over to the courts, all the while trying to prepare mentally for another grueling practice with Coach Walker. We would be gearing up for a tough round against England in the early afternoon.
Seen as the underdogs of the matchup, we knew we had to be on top of our game today. England’s best two players are both ranked in the Top 15 in the world. First up for us was Kaitlyn, playing the position of number two singles against England’s Jordanne Whiley. The two battled it out and Kaitlyn claimed the upset, taking Jordanne down in three sets, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. This was a huge win for us, and meant that we only had to win just one of our next two matches to win the whole tie.
Next up was Emmy Kaiser, playing the number one position against Lucy Shuker. Lucy brought her A-game and showed why she deserved to be ranked among the best in the world: She took Emmy down in straight sets, bringing it down to a final doubles match. It was up to Kaitlyn and me to take down the experienced doubles team of Jordanne and Lucy.
Getting out on the court, my nerves began to grow as I realized how important it was that we win this match. If we won, we would then be playing for a shot at first place overall. If we lost, we would finish no higher than fifth. Kaitlyn and I knew that we had to scrap for every ball and keep each other motivated. The first set was very close, with us and the Brits trading games for a while until they pulled it out by capitalizing on the big points, which we had failed to do. The first set went to England 6-4.
After a good pep talk by Coach, we rolled back out with more determination then we had before. It was now dark and most other matches had finished, just leaving us and our U.S. cheering section in this crucial moment of the match. The second set began with us taking the lead 3-2. Our movement was great and we felt like this set was ours. The momentum was in our control as we fought hard through many deuce-ads to get to 5-4. This is where it all went oh-so-wrong. I’m still not sure what changed at that point, but I think it may have been the fact that we couldn’t believe we were up, which is a tennis faux pas. Both games slipped away from us fairly quickly and that left it at 5-6, and it was my serve. I tried to keep calm and keep believing, but the match slipped right through our fingers then.
To end the match I threw in the classic double-fault on match point, which is a terrible way to end such a close, hard-fought contest. The second set and the match were lost, 7-5. We were right in it until the very end, and I'm confident that we can go out and win the rest of the way based on how we performed on this day.
Let’s go U.S.A.!