Thursday, March 28, 2024

Four countries win gold at 2024 Pan American Racquetball Championships

Maria José Vargas of Argentina won two Pan American Championships Thursday at the XXXV Pan American Championships in Guatemala City. In the Women’s Singles final, she comprehensively beat Chilean Carla Muñoz, 11-1, 11-3, 11-5, but in the Women’s Doubles final Vargas and Natalia Mendez had their hands full with the young American team of Naomi Ros and Lexi York, as that match went a full five games before Argentina prevailed, 7-11, 11-8, 10-12, 11-9, 11-9.

On the men’s side, Mexican Rodrigo Montoya defeated Canadian Samuel Murray in the Men’s Singles final in four games, 11-7, 6-11, 15-13, 11-8, while the Costa Rican team of Andrés Acuña and Gabriel Garcia beat Murray and Coby Iwaasa in the Men’s Doubles final, 7-11, 11-7, 11-6, 11-7, 11-1, to capture the 1st Pan American Racquetball Championship for Costa Rica.

Canada and the USA also faced off in the final of Mixed Doubles, Americans Sam Bredenbeck and Michelle Key defeated Canadians Iwaasa and Juliette Parent, 11-7, 7-11, 6-11, 11-7, 11-1. The win is the first US gold medal at the Pan Am Championships since 2018, when Rhonda Rajsich won Women’s Singles. Three different countries have now won Mixed Doubles at Pan Am Championships since it was introduced two years ago. The first two titles went to Mexico and Bolivia.

Vargas’s singles win was overwhelming, as she hit 25 winners, as well as 3 aces and one service winner. Muñoz only skipped the ball four times, so it’s not like she gave the match away through errors or poor play. Vargas hardly let her play, as many of the rallies were a few shots at most.

That performance is partly why the doubles match was so surprising, as the expectation was that Argentina would steam roll the Americans. Yet that didn’t happen. The USA led for most of game one, although Argentina tied it at 7-7. Then Ros hit four winners on consecutive rallies to close out game one 11-7, and despite being on the losing side, she was arguably the player of the match.

Argentina jumped out to a 5-0 lead in game two, and held on to win, although the USA did get within one at 9-8 before Argentina won it 11-8. Argentina did switch sides at the start of that game, as Mendez went from the left side, where she was in game one, to the right, and vice versa for Vargas.

In game three, they were close the whole way, including being tied at 8-8 and 10-10. York got her side the last two points to close out game three, 12-10, and put the USA up 2-1 on the top seed Argentina team.

Game four was also close all the way, and Argentina had switched back to their usual spots with Mendez on the left and Vargas on the right. The USA had small leads in the middle of that game at 7-5 and 8-6. However, Argentina outscored them down the stretch, 5-1, to win game four 11-9.

Argentina jumped out to a 4-0 lead in game five, and led all the way from there. However, the USA did get within one at 5-4. Argentina got match point at 10-5, but the USA won the next four rallies to get within one again at 10-9 with Ros serving. She hit a short serve, and then tried to play it safe by hitting a Z serve to the left, where Mendez was receiving serve, but Ros hit a three wall serve, so double faulted to end what was one of the stranger matches in recent memory.

Vargas has now won four Pan Am Championships: two in singles and two in doubles - both with Mendez. She previously won singles in 2014, and they first won doubles two years ago in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

In the Men’s Singles final, neither Montoya or Murray really had their A game. After splitting the first two games, the turn really came in game three. They were close early in that game, but then Montoya went out to a 8-4 lead. Murray called a timeout at that point, but Montoya extended the lead to 10-5.

But as he’s shown several times, Murray can come back from deficits like no one else. He won the next five rallies to tie the game at 10-10 with a forehand winner. Murray had a game point at 11-10, but Montoya forced him into trying to keep the ball in play by hitting it into the back wall, which was unsuccessful.

Murray didn’t get another game point opportunity after that, but did fend off two Montoya game points before the end came as Murray skipped a forehand reverse pinch serve return of a lob to the right side, which made the score 15-13 for Montoya.

They were close all the way in game four, with no leads greater than two points until the end, when Montoya won it with a backhand boast - side wall, side wall, front wall - to win it 11-8, and the match 3-1.

Montoya’s win is the 8th Pan Am Championships title for Mexico in Men’s Singles, and the first since 2017, when Alejandro Landa won it. The other previous Mexican winners are Alvaro Beltran (2007, 2008, 2009), Daniel De Rosa (2011, 2016), and Polo Gutierrez (2013). Montoya broke the streak of Bolivian Men’s Singles Pan American Champions at four. Conrrado Moscoso won the last two Pan Am Championships and Carlos Keller the two before that.

The team event begins at 10 AM Friday with the Men’s Team event going first. For draws, look to the R2 Sports website. Also, some of the matches are being streamed live, so check out the IRF Facebook page or the IRF YouTube channel for matches.

XXXV Pan American Racquetball Championships
Guatemala City, Guatemala - March 23-31, 2024

Women’s Singles Medal Round - Final Thursday

3) María José Vargas (Argentina) d. 5) Carla Muñoz (Chile), 11-1, 11-3, 11-5

Women’s Singles Elite Draw - Final Thursday

2) Lexi York (USA) d. 4) Maria Cespedes (Dominican Republic), 11-9, 11-8, 11-8

Men's Singles Medal Round - Final Thursday

1) Rodrigo Montoya (Mexico) d. 3) Samuel Murray (Canada), 11-7, 6-11, 15-13, 11-8

Men’s Singles Elite Draw - Final Thursday

2) Jaime Mansilla (Chile) d. 1) Jose Caceres (Guatemala), 11-7, 11-8, 11-5

Women's Doubles - Medal Round - Final Thursday

1) Natalia Mendez & Maria Jose Vargas (Argentina) d. 2) Naomi Ros & Lexi York (USA), 7-11, 11-8, 10-12, 11-9, 11-9

Men's Doubles - Medal Round - Finals Thursday

4) Andrés Acuña & Gabriel Garcia (Costa Rica) d. 2) Coby Iwaasa & Samuel Murray (Canada), 7-11, 11-7, 11-6, 7-11, 11-1

Mixed Doubles - Medal Round - Final Thursday

3) Sam Bredenbeck & Michelle Key (USA) d. 4) Coby Iwaasa & Juliette Parent (Canada), 11-9, 12-10, 11-9

Follow the bouncing ball….

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