(L-R) Casey Ratzlafff and Chris Herman posing for a picture at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 28, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
At 20 and 21 years old, Casey Ratzlaff and Chris Herman’s combined age is younger than that of their teammate, four-time Paralympian David Wagner.
But the wheelchair tennis doubles pair has been playing together for six years, and are two of the rising stars of their sport – Ratzlaff (Wichita, Kansas) holds the top ranking in the United States, and Herman (Gulfport, Florida) is currently number three.
“We first met each other in 2013 and since then, we've been playing together more and more,” Herman said. “I think 2014 was when we first played together at the World Team Cup, which is our equivalent of the Davis Cup. That was where we started the journey.”
They are currently vying for a medal at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019. The pair advanced to the final round of doubles competition after earning a 6-4, 6-2 semifinals win against Brazil's Gustavo Carneiro and Daniel Rodrigues at the Club Lawn Tennis courts on Wednesday. They beat Peru in the semifinals 6-0, 6-0 on Tuesday.
“It's certainly the biggest event we've ever played, just grandiose-wise, the whole thing is huge,” Ratzlaff said. “It feels like the real deal.”
Ratzlaff is the third seed in men’s singles at the Parapan Am Games and has advanced to the semifinals, where he will face top-seeded Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina. Herman was knocked out of men’s singles in the second round after playing Argentina’s Agustin Ledesma, who is ranked 13th in the world.
“For me personally, I got knocked out a little earlier in singles than I would have liked,” Herman said. “But now I have all of my sights set on doubles and going for as good of a medal as we can get.”
Herman and Ratzlaff won back-to-back junior titles at the World Team Cup in 2015 and 2016. Their experience playing together has made them a stronger team over time.
“We both understand each other's games very well. We know what we can and can't do, we know where we have our strengths and weaknesses,” Ratzlaff said. “We know each other's personalities and it's really important on the court to have that connection. I think we definitely have a chance of winning a medal in doubles. That’s the biggest goal here, and it would be incredible especially for our first Parapan Games.”
The pair said they have benefited from being on a team with veterans like Wagner (Portland, Oregon) and two-time Paralympian Bryan Barten (Hart, Michigan).
“We came in and they were there to show us the ropes and help us out with our games and learn,” Herman said. “I think we're all pretty good friends and it's nice being able to cheer for everybody. Otherwise, it's all just single events and you never really have this team atmosphere where everybody is in your corner rooting for you.”
The team’s toughest competition? Argentina, with Fernandez and Ledesma’s combined forces on one side of the net.
“They've played together a lot just like us, so they definitely know each other’s games well,” Ratzlaff said. “They've been around a long time, so they're tough. They're the ones to beat.”
Regardless of their performance in Lima, Herman and Ratzlaff will be names to know. The young pair has been getting better and better as they’ve had more time to compete and grow together.
“During the last World Team Cup, we qualified to stay in and compete at this year’s event. That's the best placement that we've had in a long time,” Ratzlaff said. “As a team, I think we're playing really well together. We may be the youngest team out here but we’re growing a lot and really improving.”