by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
First place in the initial stage group without a blemish, the good form continued on the second day of play in the small Central American country’s capital city of San Salvador.
In Guatemala, on more than one occasion Kassandra Maldonado had kept her nerve to win closely contested five games duels; in El Salvador she did just the same.
At the semi-final stage against Mexico’s Monica Muñoz and Maria José Castillo, as well as in the final when facing the El Salvador ‘A’ Team duo of Monica Mendoza and Camila Villalta; Fabiola Diaz gave Puerto Rico the perfect start.
She beat Monica Muñoz in four games in the penultimate round (11-13, 11-8, 11-8, 11-7), before in the title deciding contest overcoming Camila Villalta (11-5, 11-4, 11-6).
A good start for Puerto Rico, in the ensuing contests, Kassandra Maldonado swayed the momentum inexorably in favour of the Caribbean island. She overcame Maria José Castillo in the contest against Mexico in five games (11-6, 9-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6), before in an even closer duel giving her team the vital advantage when overcoming Monica Mendoza in the final against El Salvador. She emerged successful in a quite titanic duel (12-10, 6-11, 11-9, 5-11, 14-12).
Two-nil ahead, Puerto Rico was in the driving seat; no changes to the line-up; against Mexico, the doubles was secured in four games (11-8, 5-11, 11-8, 11-5), similarly in opposition to El Salvador ‘A’, it was the same margin of victory (7-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-9).
An eventual comfortable semi-final success for Puerto Rico; at the same stage for El Salvador ‘A’ when facing El Salvador ‘B’ the outcome had been much closer.
The contest went the full distance with Monica Mendoza, the mainstay of the victory. She beat both Lesly Gonzalez (11-3, 11-5, 11-5) and Cristina Machado (11-7, 11-8, 11-7) whilst teaming with Camila Villalta to secure the doubles (11-4, 11-6, 11-8).
Both Puerto Rico and El Salvador ‘A’, having finished in first places in their respective groups, received direct entries to the semi-finals.