Freshly-minted bronze medalist Nick Taylor (left) of Team USA earned more than just a medal in London -- he's also gained an admirer in ITF COO & Executive VP Juan Margets.
© Steve Goldberg
By Steve Goldberg, special to USTA.com
LONDON -- "You're crying too. You've got to stop crying so you can hear me."
Nick Taylor was on his mobile phone talking to his father, Bill, a short while after he won his first singles medal in three Paralympic tries. His father was in London yet wast too nervous to watch in person as his son took court. With the match not being televised, he was getting updates from team personnel while following the scores on the information system back at the Paralympic Village.
After two previous swings at the Paralympic Games - Taylor fell in 2004 to Bas van Erp of the Netherlands and in 2008 to doubles partner David Wagner - he finally got his singles medal, winning it in a three-set final over Israel's Shraga Weinberg 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The win gives the USA three medals - Taylor's bronze, the Quad doubles gold he shares with Wagner, and Wagner's yet-to-be-determined gold or silver in singles - in the London Paralympic tennis competition, second only to the Dutch and possibly tied with France when all is done.
Taylor wouldn't claim that the singles bronze is shinier than any of the three doubles gold medals he owns but admitted it was finally good to get one in singles.
"I've come so close both times and didn't get it," Taylor sighed. "To finally get it here is just huge."
Coming into the games, Taylor admitted that if someone told him he would win a singles medal, he wouldn't have agreed. He thought the competition too thick this time around.
It looked as if Taylor's singles frustration would continue as Weinberg, an 0-6, 0-6 loser to countryman Noam Gershony in the semifinal, regained the verve and shotmaking that helped him oust two-time defending gold medalist Peter Norfolk in the quarterfinals. In regards to his lackluster performance against Gershony, Israeli coach, Jakob Wiener, remarked, "Yesterday doesn't exist." Hitting aces - 12 for the match - and finding the corners (49 total winners to 29 for Taylor), Weinberg took the first set 6-1.
"He couldn't miss," said Taylor. "I thought this was going to be my third bronze to lose."
But this wasn't Taylor's first rodeo and he jumped to a 4-1 lead in the second set before holding service to win out at 6-3. Taylor changed his game and started using the wind to his advantage, something he says is "a Kansas thing." His high balls came heavier and deeper, with more spin. A quick start to 4-0 in the second set had the American contingent feeling good -- perhaps too good as Weinberg fought back with four straight wins to even the match. The Israeli was having success coming to the net but Taylor's power caught him in no man's land to win the ninth game for a 5-4 advantage.
On serve, Taylor steeled himself and Weinberg's last swing put the ball into the net and Taylor's dream into reality.
"This is a guy who doesn't give up," said USA coach Dan James.
The large crowd on Court 1 stood and cheered; Taylor hit some souvenir balls into the stands, and went to hug his coaches before taking the call from his dad. He signed autographs and took photos with volunteers and fans.
Taylor's performance had earned him another fan as well. International Tennis Federation (ITF) Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President Juan Margets was absolutely gushing about the American -- he made it a point to catch up with Taylor after the match.
"Your understanding is fantastic, how you generate the different shots, low service, spin, higher balls," he told Taylor. "You use everything to 100-percent, it's impressive."
Appreciatively, Taylor, who has short arms and must use a power chair, explained, "I have so much physically less than the other players that I have to think really hard and use every little thing I can: spin, change, wind, everything."
Margets explained his admiration for Taylor's game.
"The first thing that struck me about Nick when I saw his match (earlier in the week) was that he is playing in a classification where his motion and his movement are much more limited than the others," said Margets. "When I saw him play the first three points, I thought, wrongly of course, that there's not going to be a match here. After watching him over the week I am so impressed at his ability as a tennis player to use everything he has and put it into the ball. It's fascinating."
Margets was asked how this competition and Taylor's play in particular compared to the wonderful Olympic tournament that preceded it.
"I would put him at the level of those players who use everything they have, absolutely comparable to any of the big stars we have. I think he's a star quite frankly -- that's what I'm trying to say."