By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – During their semifinal match Wednesday, the U.S. women’s doubles team of Laura Chapman and Emily Hangstefer cruised past Germany’s No. 1 seed duo of Heike Albrecht and Verena Fleckenstein, 6-3, 6-1.
Before the game, Hangstefer and Chapman were pumped and carried their momentum into the game, reinforcing each other after each point with high-fives.
“We told ourselves that we had to play hard and to stay on the offensive, attacking the ball and finishing volleys,” Hangstefer said.
Even though Germany cut an early U.S. lead to one point in the first set, the Americans surged to win it, 6-3.
Chapman and Hangstefer stayed on the offensive in the second set and made short work of the Germans, who looked frustrated at times with having no answers to the Americans.
“They made a lot of great shots from the baseline today and stayed aggressive. They had good returns on serves, which was key to the win today,” coach Katie Mancebo said.
Later in the day, Emily and her brother, Daniel Hangstefer, took on Verena Fleckenstein and Sebastian Scheffer of Germany.
Emily carried her hot hand over from her earlier game, and the siblings stormed through the first set, 6-1.
They started off the second set on the wrong foot, though, and the Germans jumped ahead, 4-0.
At that point, Daniel said, he composed himself and told himself, “Ok. We just need to refocus. We became too passive, allowing them to dictate play.”
The Hangstefers rallied to tie the set, 4-4, but the Germans held serve in the next game, regaining the lead.
With their backs to the wall, the Hangstefers held serve and won the next three games to take the second set, 7-5, and advance to Thursday’s semifinals.
“Emily kept telling me, ‘One point at a time.’ We just needed to stay in the moment. We couldn’t afford to look too far ahead or be preoccupied with the past,” Daniel said.
The other U.S. mixed doubles team, Laura Chapman and Brad Minns, had a tall order: taking on the No. 1 team of Heike Albrecht and Urs Breitenberger of Germany.
The Germans took the first set, 6-3, overpowering the Americans with smash aces and strong returns.
“We should have stayed back a little more on return serves. We weren’t able to break serve, so we needed to improve our returns,” Minns said.
In the second set, Chapman and Minns took the first game, catching the Germans by surprise with aggressive returns and net game.
The Germans countered by targeting their shots to the holes in the Americans’ defense and won, 6-1.
“We only just met for the first time here at Sofia … so we could have practiced a few more times to get the feel for each other,” Chapman said. “But the Germans were a very good team, and we did our best today.
With Chapman and Hangstefer’s win, the U.S. is guaranteed a medal in tennis, the country’s first in the sport since the 1997 Copenhagen Deaflympics, when Minns won a gold in men’s doubles, silver in singles and bronze in mixed doubles.
As Chapman and Hangstefer prepare for Friday’s gold-medal mixed doubles match with Chiu-Mei Ho and Hsiu-Hsiang Ho of Chinese Taipei on Friday, Mancebo said, “I will do my all to help them remain focused, be positive and well taken care of.”