(by Steve Hopkins, photo courtesy of ITTF)
The 2019 Pan American Games finished over the weekend in Lima, Peru. The tournament began on August 4 and concluded on Saturday, August 10. The tournament featured Singles, Doubles, and Team events.
The top seed in Men’s Singles was Brazil’s Hugo Calderano, with a World Ranking of No. 6 and the top ranked player in this hemisphere. Calderano’s teammate, Gustavo Tsuboi, was the second seed (World No. 32), and USA’s Kanak Jha (World No. 33) was the third seed. As you would imagine, the top Men’s Team seed was Brazil with Tsuoboi and Calderano joined by Jouti (World No. 55). Chile was the second seed with Gomez, Lamadrid, and Moya. Team USA was seeded third with Kanak Jha, Nikhil Kumar, and Nicholas Tio.
The top ranked woman was Canada’s Mo Zhang at World No. 27. Adriana Diaz (No. 30) of Puerto Rico was second, and Americans Jennifer Wu and Lily Zhang were seeded third and fourth (at World No 35 and World No. 66). Team USA was the tournament’s top seed with Amy Wang joining Wu and Zhang. Puerto Rico was the second seed with Adriana Diaz, Melanie Diaz, and Daniely Rios.
The biggest story in Men’s Singles event was Jiaji Wu of the Dominican Republic Jiaji immigrated to the Dominican Republic from China and is clearly better than his ITTF World Ranking of No. 648. Jiaji’s run at this tournament included a 4-2 win over the tournament’s second seed Gustavo Tsuboi in the Round of 16, a 4-1 win over Brian Afanador, a 4-2 win over the tournament’s third seed Kanak Jha, and two leads over World No. 6 Hugo Calderano. Ultimately, top-seeded Hugo Calderano needed all seven games to beat Jiaji Wu to claim the title. The final score was Calderano over Jiaji 4-3 (8, -6, -8, 7, -8, 8, 2). Kanak Jha and Eugene Wang claimed the bronze medals.
In Women’s Singles, second-seeded Adriana Diaz claimed the title with a 4-1 win over USA’s Jennifer Wu. Melanie Diaz and Takahashi were the bronze medalists.
There was real excitement in the Men’s Team event with two unexpected teams making the Final. Cuba unexpectedly advanced to the Semifinals, eliminating second seeded Chile along the way. But it was Argentina that topped Cuba to reach the Final. In the other Semifinal, Team USA scored two upsets to defeat Brazil 4-2. To see the detailed review of the match, view Pan Am Update: A Puncher’s Chance – USA Upset Brazil.
In the USA/Argentina Final, it was USA that struck first with the doubles team of Kumar/Tio scoring a 3-1 win over Cifuentes/Alto of Argentina. Earlier in the tournament, this same Argentine team defeated Kumar/Tio on their way to the Silver medal, but it was TeamUSA that was the better team the second time. USA scored a second win when Kanak Jha outclassed Pablo Tabachnik for a quick win. The next two matches went to Argentina with Horatio Cifuentes (World No. 91) defeating Nikhil Kumar and with Pablo Tabachnik topping Nicholas Tio. But the final match was another mismatch with Kanak Jha topping Gaston Alto 3-0. For detailed coverage of the match, view Pan Am Games: USA are Men’s Team Champions.
While the USA men were executing their unlikely upset of Brazil, the opposite was occurring in the Women’s Team event. The USA Women won the doubles to take the early lead, but then lost 3 of 4 of the singles matches despite having the two highest seeded singles players. The order of the matches and the individual match-ups bring strategy into play – and on this day, Bruna Takahashi scored two singles wins, and Jessica Yamada scored the decisive third, and that was enough for Brazil to advance. In the other Semifinal, it was Puerto Rico over Canada in a dominant 3-0 performance.
In the final, Puerto Rico won the doubles without using their top player, Adriana Diaz. This strategy allowed Adriana to play singles twice and should have been an advantage – but Bruna Takahashi beat Adriana 3-1. After Kumahara defeated Rios 3-1, Brazil seemed to have everything set up for a win. However, Adriana Diaz won the next match to tie the score, and then Melanie Diaz upset Takahashi in the final singles match to give Puerto Rico the win.
The Men’s Doubles title went to Brazil (Calderano/Tsuboi) over Argentina (Alto/Cifuentes) 4-2. The semifinalists were Puerto Rico (Afanador/Gonzalez) and the Dominican Republic (Santos/Gonzales). The American team of Kumar/Tio lost early to Argentina’s team of Alto/Cifuentes 4-2 – a match that would be replayed on a bigger stage on the last day of the tournament.
The Women’s Doubles title went to Puerto Rico’s Diaz and Diaz team. They defeated TeamUSA’s Jennifer Wu and Lily Zhang 4-3. The semifinalists were Brazil (Takahashi/Yamada) and Canada Cote/Zhang).
The Mixed Doubles title went to Canada’s Eugene Wang and Mo Zhang who defeated Brazil (Tsuoboi/Takahashi) 4-1. Puerto Rico (Afanador/Diaz) and Argentina (Alto/Cifuentes) received the Bronze.
Team USA: Gold (Men’s Team), Silver (Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles), Bronze (Men’s Singles, Women’s Team)
Canada: Gold (Mixed Doubles), Bronze (Women’s Team, Women’s Doubles)
Puerto Rico: Gold (Women’s Team, Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles) Bronze (Men’s Doubles, Women’s Singles, Mixed Doubles)
Brazil: Gold (Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles), Silver (Women’s Team, Mixed Doubles), Bronze (Men’s Team, Women’s Doubles)
Argentina: Silver (Men’s Team, Men’s Doubles), Bronze (Mixed Doubles)
Dominican Republic: Silver (Men’s Singles), Bronze (Men’s Doubles)
Cuba: Bronze (Men’s Team)