By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – As Chiu-Mei Ho’s return volley sailed out of bounds on the match point Thursday in the women’s doubles championship match, jubilant Americans Laura Chapman and Emily Hangstefer rushed toward each other and embraced on the red clay court.
In the bleachers, American fans, who showed up in flocks at the Dema Tennis Center, erupted in cheers. The U.S. women’s doubles duo had defeated the top-ranked Chinese Taipei team of Chiu-Mei and Hsiu-Hsiang Ho in straight sets, 6-4, 6-1.
“No words can describe what is going through my mind right now,” Hangstefer said.
Coach Katie Mancebo echoed that sentiment.
“I’m so proud of Chapman and Hangstefer. I never had any doubts about them today,” she said.
In the first set, the Americans held serve, broke Chinese Taipei’s serve once, and held a solid 3-0 lead. Chinese Taipei wouldn’t go away that easily, though, fighting to knot up the first set at 4-4.
Before the match, Mancebo had emphasized to her players to play hard, stay focused and have fun on the court.
With those words of encouragement in mind, Hangstefer and Chapman wrapped up the first set by winning the next two games.
In the second set, the Americans again started strong, winning the first four games. They nearly made it five, but the Ho duo fought back, forcing a 40-40 deuce four times before breaking through.
The U.S. clamped down, though, and won the next two games to seal the gold medal.
“The fans were absolutely great today,” Chapman said. “We got the best support ever from the fans today, and they really helped us out.”
The pair already are ready for 2017.
“We’ll definitely be back in four years to defend our gold,” Chapman said.
Teammate Brad Minns said he was thrilled to see the U.S. win gold.
“I’m really happy for them today – U.S. tennis came to Sofia this year with high expectations and a strong team,” Minns said. “The future looks very bright for our deaf tennis program.”
Seeing Hangstefer and Chapman win gold was a particularly satisfying moment for Minns, who won the U.S.’s last gold in tennis in the 1997 Copenhagen Games.
Tennis concludes play Saturday with the mixed doubles final, in which Americans Daniel and Emily Hangstefer take on Germans Heike Albrecht and Urs Breitenberger for the gold medal at 2 p.m. (7 a.m. ET) at Dema Tennis Center.