Sunday, March 5, 2023

Mejia wins 4th straight LPRT event at 2023 Frontline Boston Open

Montserrat Mejia has done something only one other player has done in almost 15 years: win four consecutive events on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT), as she won the 2023 Frontline Boston Open in Marlbrough, Massachusetts on Sunday. In the final, Mejia defeated 8th seed Angelica Barrios, 15-9, 15-14. In 2008, Rhonda Rajsich won six tournaments in a row, and since then Paola Longoria has won the vast majority of the LPRT events.

Until now.

Mejia got off to a good start in the final, going up 7-0 in game one. But Barrios settled in, and got within two points at 11-9. However, Mejia held her at 9, as she closed out game one 15-9.

The reverse happened in game two, as Barrios stormed out to an 8-0 lead. Mejia plugged away, and came back to tie the game at 10-10, then she went ahead 12-10. Barrios called a timeout.

When play resumed, Barrios hit a soft backhand down the right side to get the serve back. She then won four points on as many rallies to reach game point at 14-12. On her first game point, Barrios hit a touch shot in the front court, and Mejia was right there to hit it, which resulted in an avoidable call, which seemed like the right call.

But Barrios’s disappointment at that call may have carried over to the next two rallies, as she skipped shots on both, which put Mejia on match point at 14-14. Mejia didn’t need a second opportunity, as she hit a forehand reverse pinch winner from deep on the left side to make it 15-14.

Despite the loss, the result is encouraging for Barrios, who will be trying to defend her Women’s Singles Pan American Championship beginning March 31 in Guatemala.

Mejia had a chance to win doubles as well on Sunday, as she and Erika Manilla were in the final against veterans Longoria and Samantha Salas. But it was the veterans, who are the current International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Champions, who were able to get the win, 15-4, 14-15, 11-7, in what turned into a very feisty affair.

Longoria and Salas dominated game one with three of Manilla and Mejia’s four points coming on their first time serving. Game two had a similar start, as Longoria and Salas were up 6-1, but Manilla and Mejia came back to within on at 7-6.

The game stalled at 8-6, as there were seven sideouts in a row. The young team broke the deadlock and then went ahead at 12-9, so the veterans called a timeout. Longoria and Salas were then able to draw level with Manilla and Mejia at 12-12, so the young team called a timeout.

No feistiness between the teams so far, and even some genuine concern when Manilla bumped her head on the side wall as she tried to get out of the way of Longoria setting up for a shot. Manilla was on the floor after hitting the previous shot, and as she pushed out of the way towards the left side wall she made contact with it.

All three of the other players were concerned for Manilla, who took a couple of minutes to recover from the incident. Looking at the play, it seemed worse that it could have been, as Manilla’s head was not the primary point of contact as she pushed herself out of the way. Thankfully, she was able to continue the match.

When play resumed the score was 13-13 with the veterans serving. Mejia skipped a forehand reverse pinch that put Longoria and Salas on match point at 14-13, but then Manilla and Mejia hit cross court winners on back to back rallies to put themselves back in the service box.

Longoria skipped a serve return off of a Mejia drive serve, and appealed for a screen serve, but the call was upheld, which made the score 14-14. At that point, Longoria and Salas were out of appeals. That’s crucial for what happens next.

On the next rally, Manilla hits a shot, and feels that she’s been hindered somewhat, so her left hand is in the air, as she is moving to get out of the way of Salas, who is going to hit the ball next. It seems like Manilla is out of Salas’s way, but in making her swing Salas may have contacted Manilla, and Salas’s shot skipped.

We say “may have” here, because the referee didn’t see any contact, so called no hinder, and Longoria and Salas were out of appeals, so they couldn’t appeal the call to the line judges. Salas is adamant there was contact, and is clearly annoyed that nothing was called. Looking at the play on video, it seems possible there was contact, but it's not definitive.

Manilla immediately after the play puts her hand up to high five Salas, as the game is over and high fives or fist bumps between opponents are common after games as symbols of sportsmanship. Salas doesn’t feel the game should be over, so she’s not interested in a high five with Manilla, who pursues Salas around the court for over 7 sec looking for a high five until Salas says something presumably to the effect of “get your hand out of my face” before going to talk to the referee.

Salas’s discussion with the referee didn’t change the call of no hinder and skipped shot, so the game ended there at 15-14 for Manilla and Mejia.

Fair to say that tension was higher than normal going into the tie-breaker. It was the veterans that took the early lead in the breaker at 5-1, so Manilla and Mejia called a timeout.

A few rallies later, Salas is serving at 6-2, and her drive Z to the right comes out towards the centre of the court, and Manilla hits a cross court return right into Salas’s leg. It seemed like there could have been enough space to go cross court, and players had held up several times during the game, but Manilla didn’t in this case.

As Salas was already annoyed with Manilla, this didn’t help. Manilla seemed apologetic to Salas, but as she tried to give the ball to her opponent, Salas had some words for her. That went on for a few seconds, and their respective partners got between them, so as to calm the situation. The referee came on the court, and explained the result of the play was an avoidable, so the serve went to Longoria.

That call was accepted without further incident.

But there was another incident a few rallies later, as Salas and Manilla were close together as Longoria was making a shot on the left side. All of a sudden Manilla was on the floor.

There didn’t seem to be any cause to Manilla’s fall, although on review she and Salas are moving at the same time, and Salas steps on Manilla’s foot, which seems entirely accidental. However, given what happened earlier in the match it didn't seem to be taken as accidental, so some more words are exchanged, although it’s unclear from outside the court what those words were. Hence, the referee, who has warned the players about their behaviour, can’t make a call about something he didn’t hear, although Longoria and Salas talked to him for awhile about it.

The upshot is a hinder on the play.

The veterans extend their lead to 9-2, so the young team calls a timeout. That doesn't stop Longoria and Salas from getting to 10-2 as Salas holds up on a forehand with Manilla in front of her. Remarkably, the veterans had to appeal to get this called an avoidable, as the referee judged it to be a hinder, although it seemed to be almost a textbook avoidable situation.

Manilla made up for that on the next rally with a backhand killshot winner with her back physically against the wall as well as numerically - in facing game point. With the serve back, she and Mejia got three points to make it 10-5, so the veterans called timeout.

Manilla and Mejia got two more points after the timeout, making the score 10-7, but then Salas hit a cross court winner to stop the comeback. She followed that up with another cross court winner on their second game point to finish off the match.

After the final shot, the teams exchanged high fives, and then Longoria and Salas embraced for several seconds, which was perhaps a mixture of relief, joy, and “take that!”

The LPRT will next be in action at the Battle at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, April 27-29. If you missed any of the action from Massachusetts, go to the LPRT YouTube channel. There were several good matches through the weekend, as well as some feisty performances.

2023 LPRT Frontline Boston Open
Marlborough, Massachusetts, March 3-5, 2023

Final - Sunday

2) Montserrat Mejia d. 8) Angelica Barrios, 15-9, 15-14

Doubles - Final - Sunday

1) Paola Longoria & Samantha Salas d. 3) Erika Manilla & Montserrat Mejia, 15-4, 14-15, 11-7

Follow the bouncing ball….

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