by Simon Daish
Under 21 glory in Asuncion
Opening his under 21 men’s singles campaign with a convincing display against Chilean opponent Nicolas Burgos (11-7, 11-6, 11-6), Horacio Cifuentes recorded a fine victory over Romania’s Cristian Pletea (11-6, 9-11, 11-5, 11-9) to book his spot in the final.
Overcoming Belgium’s Florian Cnudde in a fierce encounter (11-4, 11-6, 10-12, 11-4), Cifuentes secured his second under 21 gold of the year having achieved the same feat at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Spanish Open in Guadalajara.
Dream run and a huge scalp
A fantastic outing in the under 21 event and his run in the senior competition was just as impressive, fighting off stern opposition on his way to a top four finish.
Needing just four games to see off Ecuador’s Emiliano Riofrio (11-2, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7), Cifuentes produced another sterling effort in round two to negotiate Zhang Kai of the United States (8-11, 11-6, 11-7, 11-8, 11-8) who, one round earlier, had proved responsible for top seed Koki Niwa’s elimination.
Two solid outings from Cifuentes but the best was still to come from the no.11 seeded Argentine: facing the experienced Slovakian Lubomir Pistej in the last eight, Cifuentes showed great belief to stun the fifth seed 4-1 (11-6, 12-10, 11-8, 5-11, 11-8) to reserve his place in the semi-finals.
In dreamland following his quarter-final scalp but Cifuentes’ journey ended at the penultimate hurdle, falling to eventual champion Masataka Morizono (11-9, 11-6, 11-7, 11-7).
Defeat for Cifuentes but a fantastic campaign nonetheless for the 21-year-old, who boasts a fine record on South American soil: at the 2017 Pan American Championships, Cifuentes guided Argentina to a bronze medal finish in the Colombian city of Cartagena de Indias and the result was the same later in the year at the 2017 South American Championships in Buenos Aires.
Last year in Asuncion, Cifuentes was a quarter-finalist at the 2018 ITTF Pan American Cup, replicating the feat at the 2018 South American Games. However, it was the 2018 ITTF Pan American Championships in Santiago, Chile, that surely took the biscuit for the Argentine, as Cifuentes battled his way to a runner-up finish in the men’s singles event.
Horacio Cifuentes has truly developed into one of the finest young players his continent has to offer and, if his performance at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Paraguay Open it anything to go by, more exciting times lie ahead for the Argentine.