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Xianyao He

Pan American, Cuenca, Ecuador experience

(By Xianyao He)

The medical room is dim and much quieter than the outside. The constant chanting and occasional roaring continued at a distance, where the singles final was being played. The adrenaline rush from the doubles match I played fifteen minutes ago began to disappear and I started to feel my stomach pain again.

The ITTF Pan American U13 and U11 tournament was in Cuenca, a city high in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. Once we started practicing at the playing hall, the high altitude was immediately noticed by everyone. Balls jumped faster, higher, and with more spin. It was also very difficult to serve short, and many short serves became half long serves. The deep long push proved to be very effective in these conditions. Luckily, we came 3 days before the tournament started, which helped us to become more accustomed to the environment.

In our very first event, U13 boy’s teams, my teammate, Krish Gandhi, and I beat a strong Peruvian team 3-0. We thought that they were not very good, but they proved us wrong later in the tournament. We managed to win all of our matches until the semifinals. There, we lost 0:3 to the eventual champion, the Puerto Rico’s A team.

After the bronze medal finish of the team event, Krish and I had become more familiar with each other’s play styles. We started to play much better in doubles. In the round of 16, we beat a very good Brazilian pair 3-1. Afterwards, we dismantled a Colombian team in the quarters. Later that day, I played in the mixed doubles event with Aria Shi. We had a good practice session with other team USA mixed doubles pairs at noon, but after that, I experienced unusual coldness, which wasn’t normal for me. I did not mention this, and decided to play it out. We played the top seed of the mixed double event, and narrowly beat them 3-2 in a roller coaster ride of lead changes, edge balls, and deuces. That night, I went to bed much earlier than normal, and felt extremely cold. The next morning, I could barely walk, could not eat, and had diarrhea and a fever. As a result, I had to default my singles and mixed doubles matches of that day.

The next day, I still had the boy’s double event that I had hoped to play. In the morning I felt a little better, and ate real food for the first time in 36 hours. It wasn’t much, just some instant noodles that my mom had packed before the trip. Even warming up before the semifinals was a major task that I barely completed. My teammate kept warmups short, realizing that I couldn’t do much anyways. On an empty and hurting stomach, weak body, and basically no warmups, we started to play. Krish started attacking more often, to make up for my lack of physical ability at this time. Every set was very close, but we played better at crucial points, and we were able to beat the Ecuadorian team 3-0 and we were in the finals, where we would face the Peruvian team who we previously beat in the team event.

Krish and I were bewildered by the performance of the Peruvian team. For the U13 boys double event, they beat the USA’s first team 3-2 in the quarter finals, and beat the Brazil’s A team 3:0 in the semifinals. Going into the final, we knew it would not be easy as they played at a much higher level than at the team event. Each game was accompanied by loud chanting by the Peruvian fans with instruments being played. In the fourth set, we had a few match points, but the Peruvian team never lost their spirit, being backed by their enthusiastic fans. They came away with a thrilling 18-16 win in that set. In the final game of the match, the noise became increasingly louder. The lead swung back and forth, until we had a 10-8 lead. The Peruvians, however, decided to play even better and tied it with two clutch points. I anticipated a half-long serve, which occurred, and we took advantage of it, winning the point. Then, when it was our advantage, we decided to serve a heavy topspin ball that surprised them completely, and his loop went out. Even while sick, nothing could stop me from smiling.

Soon after my final match, I had to lay down in the medical room. After a short wait, a doctor came and saw me, and prescribed some medicine so that I could feel better and travel home on the same night. I’m very grateful to the team USA staff and coaches who had been taking care of me for the entire tournament trip, especially when I was sick.

For most of my teammates and myself, the ITTF Pan American U13 and U11 tournament was our first international competition representing team USA. We were given the official team USA apparels which Butterfly and Bowmar Sports has generously sponsored. We were thrilled to have opportunity to showcase the sport at the international stage as every member of the team got at least a medal.

Xianyao He's article for Pan American tournament experience

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