Pan Am Championships: 8 Medals for USA, 4 Golds for Lily Zhang
(by Steve Hopkins.Photo by ITTF)
The 2019 ITTF-Pan American Championships were held this week in Asuncion, Paraguay. The tournament featured Team events (men & women), singles events (men & women), and doubles events (men, women, and mixed). Results were solid for Team USA across the board with 8 medals (four Golds, a Silver, and three Bronze) secured in the seven events played. But it was the women who stole the show winning the Women’s Team, Women’s Singles, and Women’s Doubles. And it was Lily Zhang who lead all players with four Gold medals, as she finished first in the Team/Singles/Doubles/Mixed Doubles events.
TeamUSA started strong in the Women’s Team event with a win over Puerto Rico 3-0. Lily Zhang and Jennifer Wu won 3-0 over Melanie Dias and Daniely Rios. Amy Wang then pulled out a very tight 3-2 win over Adriana Diaz. Jennifer Wu sealed the win with a 3-1 win over Daniely Rios. Brazil defeated Chile in the other Semifinal setting up a USA/Brazil Final.
In the Final, Wu/Zhang again sealed a win – this time with a 3-1 victory over the Brazilian team of Yamada/Kumahara. Bruna Takahashi then tied the match score with a 3-1 victory over Crystal Wang. Lily Zhang gave the US a short-lived lead with a 3-2 win over Kumahara, and Takahashi evened the score with a 3-2 win over Jennifer Wu. The deciding match was between Jessica Yamada and Crystal Wang, and it was USA’s Wang who pulled out the 3-2 win to secure the gold for TeamUSA.
Lily Zhang and Jennifer Wu teamed up in doubles and were the top seed in the event. They needed a comeback to win their first match against Mexico’s Barcenas/Silva, winning 3-2. But after that match, they rolled through the competition, defeating Puerto Rico’s Diaz/Rios 3-0 and winning the title over Chile’s Ortega/Vega 3-0. TeamUSA’s second Gold, and a second Gold for both Wu and Zhang.
American teams dominated Mixed Doubles. It was Nikhil Kumar and Amy Wang to struck first, taking out the top seeded Brazilian Team of Jouti/Takahashi 3-0. USA’s Kumar/Wang team then defeated Argentina and Puerto Rico on their way to the Final.
In the lower half of the draw, the USA team of Lily Zhang and Kai Zhang defeated Chile 3-1, then Puerto Rico 3-1, and then upset the second seeded Argentinian team of Cifuentes/Arguelles 3-0. This set up an all-USA final. The American teams were very evenly matched with three of the four games being decided after deuce. But ultimately, it was Lily Zhang and Kai Zhang winning with a 3-1 score (7, 13, -10, 12). This was Lily Zhang’s third Gold medal.
In Women’s Singles, it was Canada’s Mo Zhang seeded first, USA’s Jennifer Wu seeded second, Brazil’s Bruna Takahashi seeded third, and USA’s Lily Zhang seeded fourth. USA’s Amy Wang had a strong match against Mo Zhang, leading 3-2 and ultimately finding herself tied in the seventh game at 10-10. But Zhang managed to outlast the young American and move forward. Two matches later, Mo Zhang fell 4-0 to Lily Zhang in the Semifinal. In the other half of the draw, Jennifer Wu and Takahashi Bruna each advanced to the Semifinal relatively easily. It was Takahashi who pulled off the minor upset (No. 3 over No.2) to advance. Wu fell behind early and the game score was never close – as Takahashi won 4-1.
Lily Zhang put her mark on the Women’s Singles Final, just as she had in the other three earlier event Finals. She won the first game 11-8, pulling ahead near the end and outpacing her opponent. She built a lead and maintained it in the second game to go up 2-0. She dominated the third game from start to finish. And the fourth game was close – but was the final game in a sweep. Not just a 4-0 sweep of the Singles Final, but Lily Zhang’s 4th Gold medal as she swept her way through all of the events.
In the Men’s Team event, TeamUSA fell to Brazil in the Semifinals. USA’s team of Kai Zhang and Nikhil Kumar lost to the Brazil team of Jouti/Ishiy 3-1 in doubles. Kanak Jha then beat Gustavo Tsuboi 3-1. Nikhil Kumar then fell to Vitor Ishiy 3-2 and Kai Zhang fell to Tsuboi giving Brazil the 3-1 win. Brazil went on to secure the Gold Medal – as TeamUSA settled for the Bronze. In the other half of the draw, it was Puerto Rico that upset Canada before losing to Brazil 3-1 in the Final. Canada joins USA with Bronze, and Puerto Rico secured the Silver.
In Men’s Singles, USA’s Kanak Jha entered the event as the top seed. He rolled through to the Semifinals, losing only one game in three matches. However, he faltered in the Semifinal, falling 4-2 to Argentina’s Gaston Alto. Alto is a solid and seasoned player, but with a ranking of 141, he was a heavy underdog to Jha (World No. 22). Alto won the first game 12-10 to take the early lead. Jha then won the next two easily, but Alto secured another 12-10 win in the fourth. Jha never recovered, losing the fifth game 11-4 and then falling just short on the sixth and final game 11-9. A bronze for Jha and Team USA.
In the other Semifinal, it was Brazil’s Vitor Ishiy upsetting Gustavo Tsuboi 4-3. Ishiy then went on to dominate the Final 4-1. A great outcome for the 24-year-old Ishiy who defeated Marcelo Aguirre, Alberto Mino, teammate Tsuboi, and Gaston Alto. Ishiy has been the odd-man-out for the strong Brazilian team who normally features the three players ranked above Ishiy: Cardano, Tsuboi, and Jouti.
Solid results across the board for TeamUSA, but Lily Zhang’s flawless performance takes top billing. TeamUSA leaves Asuncion after medaling in 8 events. Four of those medals were Gold – all four included Lily Zhang on the podium. Congratulations TeamUSA. Congratulations Lily Zhang.
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