By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Holding serves and trading points and games back and forth, the Americans and the Germans battled for gold in the mixed doubles final Saturday at Dema Tennis Center.
Then the Germans broke a serve from Americans Daniel and Emily Hangstefer and rallied to win the second set, the match, and the gold medal, 6-3, 6-3.
“Daniel and I was a little disappointed,” Emily Hangstefer said. “We didn’t play like we wanted to, but we did what we could today and sometimes, that’s all that you can do. But I’m happy that we were able to come away with a silver medal.”
The Hangstefer siblings stepped onto the red clay court Saturday with gold medal aspirations. Emily had won gold Friday with Laura Chapman in women’s doubles, and she wanted a second.
On the other half of the court stood the toughest test of the tournament the siblings would face: top-seeded Germany’s Heike Albrecht and Urs Breitenberger.
Earlier that day, Albrecht defeated Chiu-Mei Ho of Chinese Taipei in the women’s singles championship, and Breitenberger had advanced deep into the men’s singles tournament.
The Hangstefers stumbled on the opening serve and landed in a 2-0 hole. The resilient siblings fought back to cut the lead to 4-3, but Albrecht and Breitenberger shut the door on the first set by winning the next two games.
In the second set, both teams held serve until they were in familiar territory – 4-3, Germany. The Germans in similar fashion shut down the Americans before they could gain momentum.
Albrecht and Breitenberger clinched the gold in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, and the Hangstefers took silver.
Emily Hangstefer was still upbeat about their run through the tournament.
“The biggest thing that I’ve learned is anything is truly possible with the help of God. I know He has helped me through my matches,” she said.
The Hangstefers said they were slightly overwhelmed by their experience in Sofia – the immersion into deaf culture, learning signs and making friends.
They said the experience also helped their tennis game by giving them a taste of elite international competition, which enabled them to become stronger mentally, helped build their confidence and made them more determined to pursue their goals.
Emily said when she and Daniel get home, they plan to dive back into training for the Dresse Cup next summer in Chattanooga, Tenn., as well as the 2017 Deaflympics in Ankara, Turkey.