Herman and Stroud
Making Most of Wheelchair Masters Moment
Victoria Chiesa | November 21, 2019
ORLANDO, Fla. -- After a 2019 that saw them reach several personal milestones, American wheelchair tennis players Chris Herman and Conner Stroud might've been looking forward to a relaxing holiday, and a solid training block before jetting off to start the 2020 season.
That is, until the phone rang--and they were more than eager to put those plans on hold.
“I’d just gotten back from a tournament...and I got a call from our [USTA wheelchair] national manager [Jason Harnett]," Stroud said.
"He said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, ‘Oh, I’m just so happy to be home for a minute,’ and he said, ‘Well, about that…I’ve got an opportunity, maybe, for you to come and play at the Doubles Masters with Chris.'
“He said, ‘I won’t know for sure until tomorrow, but I’ll let you know,’ and then the following day, it worked out, so we went and booked the flights.”ADVERTISEMENT
Currently ranked world No. 50 and No. 58, respectively, by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in wheelchair doubles on the 2019 UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, the 21-year-old Herman and teenaged Stroud are punching above their current weight at the year-end championships, which features 39 of the world’s top players from 15 countries competing across singles and doubles.
While their fellow competitors in Orlando were racking up Grand Slam trophies at the top of the rankings, the pair of former junior world No. 2s were making their own moves as they continued to gain experience over the course of the year.
North Carolina's Stroud, the younger of the two and born in the year 2000, reached a career-high singles ranking of world No. 44 in October. Herman, a two-time winner of the USTA Collegiate Wheelchair National Championship, won a silver medal at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru with Casey Ratzlaff, and later cracked the Top 50 in doubles for the first time.
Now suddenly set for their latest first, and called into action to replace Japan's Shingo Kunieda and Satoshi Saida in the men's wheelchair doubles, the young Americans were drawn into Pool A of the round-robin draw alongside some of the sport's greats after the 11th-hour withdrawal: reigning UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters champions and overall top seeds Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer; 2019 Australian Open and Wimbledon champions Joachim Gerard and Stefan Olsson; and Parapan gold medalists Gustavo Fernandez and Agustin Ledesma.
While their tournament started off with a 6-2, 6-1 defeat to the pairing of Houdet and Peifer on Wednesday, Herman and Stroud nonetheless took positives from their Masters debut against the decorated French duo, who were also the Rio 2016 Paralympic champions.
“We were happy with how we played [in the first match] overall. They’re the best doubles team we’ve ever played, especially together, and they’re gold-medal winning, Grand Slam-winning,” Herman said.
“To play them was just a very good experience, to kind of get our heads right, get into the tournament, and get us going.”
Regardless of how, or if, their stay in Orlando ends before the tournament wraps next Tuesday, the opportunity to feature alongside a decorated field of champions has not been lost on the rising Americans.
“We learned a lot throughout the [first] match, executing what we want to do,” Stroud said. “In doubles, we’re trying to incorporate going to the net more and playing more aggressive, in the style of the better and the more experienced players on the tour.
“Usually in the past, I’d like to just stay back, just try to rally and win the point by an error, but now, we’re watching and learning from them. A lot of them move in on the points and the shots that they can get, so that’s what we’re trying to work on. Definitely, there’s a lot to learn.”
And it’s that education and experience in the showpiece event of the 2019 season that the American duo hopes will carry them forward into 2020—as they look to keep reaching new heights, and also aspire for a berth in another elite championship.
“Being here at our first Masters and everything, we’re just looking to put up some good fights and try to do the best we can,” Herman said.
“But over the next six months, a big target for both of us is qualifying for the Paralympics in Tokyo. We’ll know that in June, and that’s kind of a big thing that we’re both chasing right now.”
The NEC Wheelchair Singles Masters and UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters run simultaneously at the USTA National Campus until next Tuesday, Nov. 26. For more information, click here.