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Wheelchair Tennis Teammates Nick Taylor And David Wagner Aim For Fourth Straight Paralympic Gold Together

By Joanne C. Gerstner | March 10, 2016, 6:18 p.m. (ET)

Nick Taylor (L) celebrates with David Wagner after winning gold in men's quad doubles at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games on Sept. 26, 2004 at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece.

Nick Taylor and David Wagner know the look.

It comes on the tennis court, when they have that fleeting second of eye contact during a big match. The American quad doubles partners, the three-time defending Paralympic gold medalists, remain beautifully connected after more than a decade playing together.

“Around at least 75 percent of the time, I can tell you before David hits it that I know what he is going to do, where it is going to go — and that is so much fun,” Taylor, 36, said. “Every now and again, he does something I didn’t see coming. And when that happens, I think, ‘Huh, that was pretty awesome too.’

“That is why we are such as strong team. We know what to do out there.”

Taylor and Wagner are aiming for a fourth Paralympic Games this summer in Rio de Janeiro. The process, which closes May 22, involves points accumulated through singles play since May 23, 2015.

Players in the International Tennis Federation’s top 12 by the cutoff, with no more than three per country, will be eligible for the Paralympic Games.

Wagner, the world’s most successful quad singles player since 2000, is currently ranked No. 2. Taylor is ranked 10th. They’re ranked first (Wagner) and second (Taylor) in ITF quad doubles.

Taylor is optimistic he will have enough points to qualify, taking the studious approach of tracking and analyzing his status on his smart phone.

Still, they’re trying not to stress too much because of the added weight of another Paralympics looming.

“You learn not to overanalyze everything that’s on the calendar, but you know that everything is important at this point,” Wagner said. “We’ve both grown as tennis players since London (Olympics). But we have to; our division is constantly getting stronger. You have to figure out a way to maximize your disability and your game.

“I think the bottom line for us always has been that we love what we do. We want to be the best in the world in singles and doubles.”

Both are also successful singles players at the Paralympic Games. Wagner has two silvers (2004 and 2012 Games) and a bronze medal from 2008. Taylor won bronze in London singles.

Add in numerous Grand Slam and Masters titles — as a doubles team and individually in singles — and it’s clear Wagner and Taylor are leaving a legacy.

Their court formation is set: Wagner up front, by the net, causing havoc through quick hands and rifled volleys, and Taylor holding down the baseline. Taylor is the backboard, consistently returning with deep and heavy balls that kick up with high spin.

“It just works so well,” Wagner, 42, said. “I guess the best answer is this: we’re on top. We’ve been together for so long, we just know what to do. We’ve seen every situation. We know.”

Wagner and Taylor are the equivalent of the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, the American team that has won 16 Grand Slams and the 2012 Olympic gold medal.

Except most don’t realize that.

Doubles, in general, does not receive the acclaim — or airtime — of singles. Also throw in the slow evolution of the Paralympic Games into mainstream press coverage and public awareness.

World Tennis Day was March 8, and the doubles team hopes everybody will come to love the sport as much as they do.

“I think if people were exposed to what we do, they would instantly fall in love, because we are doing one of the few sports where wheelchair can play with the able-bodied and have it be the same sport,” Taylor said. “I hit all the time with able-bodied players. That’s what makes our sport so special. It’s tennis. We all love this game so much, and we can all play it together.

“I see things getting more talked about — slowly — but we are nowhere where we need to be yet.”

Wagner, who has won 15 Grand Slam titles and been ranked in the top three in the world for the past 14 years, has picked up some sponsorship, such as Nike Tennis for apparel, Head for racquets and Sunrise Medical for wheelchairs.

But he still wishes for Paralympic tennis players to be highlighted in commercials or have more endorsement opportunities.

“Tennis is still relatively young in the Paralympics and Olympics,” Wagner said. “So to expect a change overnight … it’s not reasonable I guess. I keep the hope that there will be those sponsors, and fans too, who will see the sport, see the tennis, and want to be part of it.

“I never got into this at the start to be the best in the world. That just happened along the way. I got into this to have fun, for the love of playing tennis, to be with my friends, and that still is really there for me. I love what I do, and I know Nick does too. I think that shows.”

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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