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The Challenge for Pan America

January 22, 2013 by Rajeev Sharma

Brazil’s 27 year old Cazuo Matsumoto won the Men’s Singles title at the ITTF 2013 World Tour Spanish Open in Almeria on Sunday 20th January and in so doing carved his own niche in the history books.

Prior to his win in the Mediterranean coastal city, his best ever Tour performance had been a Men’s Singles semi-final defeat at the hands of Japan’s Kazuhiro Chan in August 2012 in Chile. Winning in Almeria meant he became the first ever Brazilian, the first ever South American and the first ever Latin American to achieve the feat.

In fact he is only the second player from the whole of the Pan American continent to reserve the top step of the medal podium in a Men’s Singles event at an ITTF World Tour tournament and there has been a wait of over 15 years since it last happened.

At the Polish Open in Gdansk in 1997, Canada’s Johnny Huang won the Men’s Singles title beating Kim Taek Soo in the final.

Accepted, the ITTF 2013 World Tour Spanish Open was a Challenge Series tournament; the first step on the three tier ladder with Major Series and then Super Series being the next in ascending order. The super powers were not present but a title is a title; for Cazuo Matsumoto and for Brazil it is a boost. It is a motivating factor, win an international title and a potential sponsor may just prick his ears.

Furthermore, Cazuo Matsumoto survived some very nervous moments to secure gold; in the final he recorded a five games victory over Frenchman, Christophe Legout but at the quarter-final stage against Portugal’s André Silva and in the penultimate round in opposition to Spain’s Marc Duran, he had to recover from the precipice of defeat.

In fact in both the Men’s and Women’s Singles events, there was a plethora of close matches, in a Challenge Series tournament that provided three major openings.

It gave junior players the chance to pit their skills against more experienced adversaries, it gave some a chance to resurrect careers having spent recent years as first reserves for the national team and it gave some a chance for glory, a chance to win a few dollars.

Now, in the United States of America and in Latin America there is a growing number of impressive young players; in the latter notably from Brazil and Puerto Rico.

Is not the Challenge Series the ideal opportunity for those players to pit their skills; experience the ambiance of international competition and face players of different styles?

Possibly it is one reason why Cazuo Matsumoto won in Almeria; he is totally different prom the players of the modern era. In fact, he is a throw-back in time; left handed, pen-hold grip, using one side of the racket only, it is not a technique propounded by modern day coaches. How many young Americans have ever confronted that style of play?

Yet I look at the calendar of the International Table Tennis Federation for 2013; all I see in the whole of Pan America are two Challenge Series tournaments; one in the United States in July, one in Brazil in August.

If the whole of Pan America is to move forward, international play is paramount; accepted South America is not blessed with the rail network of fast motorway links of Europe but surely for 2014 could more countries stage Challenge Series tournaments in the continent?

It would surely benefit a whole host of players; whether those in the tender years or those in the more mature age range.

Now it is time to plan for 2014.

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