Saturday, October 9, 2021

Longoria & Vargas into LPRT final at 2021 UnitedHealthcare US Open

Mexican Paola Longoria, the #1 player on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT), fended off a strong challenge from the USA's Erika Manilla, winning 15-13, 15-10, to reach the final of the 2021 UnitedHealthcare US Open in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She'll play in her 13th consecutive US Open final Sunday, and she's won 10 of those 13, including the last last 9 in a row.

Maria Jose Vargas stands between Longoria and #11, as she won the first semi-final, coming back to defeat Angelica Barrios, 10-15, 15-4, 11-3. Vargas will play her 2nd consecutive final Sunday.

Manilla was the Cinderella story of the week, as she's ranked 34th on the LPRT, so had to go through qualifying to make the main draw of 32. Then she beat the 4th, 5th and 21st seeds to get to the semis. It was an impressive run.

Early in game one it looked like the run might continue, as she and Longoria were neck and neck. Manilla actually led 6-3, and then again 10-6, and 12-7. But Longoria responded with a run of four points on as many rallies to get within one at 12-11. Manilla called timeout.

They exchanged sides outs after that, but it was Longoria who continued to score, moving into a 14-12 lead. Manilla hit a forehand winner to stave off Longoria's first game point, and hit another to make it 14-13.

But a Longoria forehand winner put a stop to that. She then cracked out a drive serve to the left side for game point, winning 15-13.

Manilla played solid in game one, so it seemed like she might be able to sustain it, and perhaps get the match to a tie-breaker. Indeed, Manilla led the from the start, at 6-1 and 9-5.

Then at 10-8, Longoria hit her.

On the play, the ball is high, so Longoria tries to go for an overhead shot. Except the shot goes into - not over - Manilla's head. The ball and Manilla are both in front of Longoria, so she should be aware of where her opponent is. Yet she hit it into Manilla.

Longoria does like the overhead pinch shot, so it's not an uncommon choice for her. Should she have held up rather than taken the shot? Probably. Was Manilla in the way of the shot? Perhaps, but she doesn't have to give Longoria the side wall, and if Manilla was blocking any of the front wall, it wasn't much.

Manilla was clearly hurt by the play, as she immediately walked off the court to collect herself and get some attention from her support team.

After a few minutes, Manilla was able to continue. But she didn't score another point, and only served twice more. Longoria won 9 of the final 10 rallies to come back and win game two 15-10, and take the match in two straight games.

But Longoria hitting Manilla casts a shadow over the victory.

Vargas, the 3rd seed, had a slow start in her match, as the 10th seed Barrios came out on fire, going up 10-2 and 14-3 in game one. At that point, we were thinking one of these players is playing like she's the LPRT's #3 player, and the other is Maria Jose Vargas.

However, Vargas dug in, and put some points together after fending off two game points. She won 7 points on the next 9 rallies to get to 14-10.

But a Barrios forehand wide angle pass ended that run. On her 4th game point opportunity, Barrios cracked out a drive serve to the left side for an ace and the game winning point.

But momentum had changed, and any nerves or early morning rust that Vargas was feeling in game one dissipated in game two. They were back and forth early in that game with the score tied 2-2. But Vargas slowly built the score up to 9-3.

A Barrios timeout got her a side-out when play resumed, and another point to make it 9-4, Vargas leading. But that's the last point Barrios scored in game two, as Vargas pushed on to win it, 15-4, and force a deciding game three.

Despite losing game two, Barrios was still only 11 points from her first US Open final, and it looked like she was intent on getting there, as she won the first three points of the breaker to lead 3-0.

Then it was as if Vargas said, "enough," as she hit a forehand winner to take the serve back, and get on the board with a drive serve ace to the right side.

Barrios did get the serve back on the next rally with a backhand down the right side, but she skipped the ensuing rally to hand the serve back to Vargas.

And she never served again.

Vargas won 10 straight points on as many rallies. Two directly off her serve. Six off winners, and only two off Barrios errors (skips). Thus, it was Vargas winning the match, not Barrios losing it. If she's going to win on Sunday, Vargas is going to need to be that good again.

Look for the action via the LPRT YouTube channel, as well as the LPRT Facebook page.

2021 UnitedHealthcare US Open Racquetball Championships
October 6-10, 2021 - Minneapolis, Minnesota

LPRT Singles - Semi-finals - Saturday

1) Paola Longoria d. Erika Manilla, 15-13, 15-10
3) Maria Jose Vargas d. 10) Angelica Barrios, 10-15, 15-4, 11-3

LPRT Singles - Final - Sunday

1) Paola Longoria v. 3) Maria Jose Vargas - 10 AM

Follow the bouncing ball…..

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