25 Oct 2019

Time and again, despite thorough preparation, the first match in any tournament can be fraught with gremlins. Acclimatisation to the conditions and atmosphere can take time.

On Friday 25th October, at the 2019 Latin America Team Qualification tournament in Lima for places at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in the women’s event it was a question of whether Brazil, the no.2 seeds or Chile, the next in line, would adapt the quicker.

by Ian Marshall, Editor

The Brazilians responded the quicker, a 3-0 win was the order of the day for Caroline Kumahara, Bruna Takahashi and Jessica Yamada in opposition to Daniela Ortega, Valentina Rios and Paulina Vega.

It was a contest in which a good start was essential, the good start was given Caroline Kumahara and Jessica Yamada. They recorded a four games win in opposition to Daniela Ortega and Paulina Vega (11-4, 6-11, 11-6, 11-7).

Attitude and endeavour

Delight for a pair from virtually different generations, Caroline Kumahara is 24 years old, Jessica Yamada celebrated her 30th birthday earlier this month; a player you must salute for her attitude and endeavour.

High in the Andes mountain range in the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca at the 2007 Latin American Junior and Cadet Championships, when Freddy Almendariz, the Competition Manager on duty in Lima, was a fledgling umpire, Jessica Yamada won the junior girls’ singles title.

Playing carefully, her rhythm slightly slower than most but her controlled top spin play, as is the case in the present day, proved too consistent for her opponents. However, since that triumph now 12 years ago, there has been immense disappointment. Yet, to her great credit, Jessica Yamada has risen above those moments of despair.


In 2012, the Latin American Championships and Latin American London 2012 Olympic Games Qualification tournament were held consecutively in Rio de Janeiro; Jessica Yamada won the women’s singles title at the Latin American Championships but just missed out in the Olympic Games qualifier.

Adding to the disappointment, Gui Lin, who some months earlier had received her Brazilian passport was preferred for the London journey alongside Ligia Silva and Caroline Kumahara.

Fast forward four years to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and once again Jessica Yamada was the lady in waiting. Ligia Silva was at the end of her career, she was replaced by the exciting rising talent in the guise of Bruna Takahashi; once again Gui Lin, who had been the silver medallist at the Toronto Pan American Games and Caroline Kumahara completed the line-up.

“I tried to look forward and focus on the next opportunity; I’m so pleased to be here in Lima. I’m totally focused on the matches here; we have a good team and a really good team spirit.” Jessica Yamada

Now to some extent, Jessica Yamada has replaced Gui Lin in the first team selection, the tables have turned; after an absence of some six years from the international stage, she returned to action at the 2018 Latin American Championships in Cuba.

Senior player

Moreover, she is the senior player, Bruna Takahashi is 19 years old; Laura Watanabe, very much in Lima for the experience and resigned to bench duty against Chile, is only 15 years old.

“I’m now the oldest member of the team, so sometimes I can give a little help but it also works the other way, they really help me.” Jessica Yamada

Importantly, Jessica Yamada has the experience of playing in the heat of European competition; undoubtedly most beneficial.

“I played for six years in France and two years in Sweden; I think it was recently in Sweden when I played my best. I beat Ni Xialian. Also in the French League I beat Daniela Dodean and Irina Ciobanu.” Jessica Yamada

Make no mistake, the win over Ni Xialian is most creditable; for players beyond Asian boundaries her pen-hold grip style of play is a nightmare. In 1983 she was a member of the Chinese outfit that won the women’s team title at the Tokyo World Championships before partnering Guo Yuehua to mixed doubles gold. The European champion in 1998 in Eindhoven and in 2002 in Zagreb, earlier this year Ni Xialian was a bronze medallist at the European Games in Minsk.

“I think playing abroad teaches you how to solve your own problems, you have to make your own decisions; it makes you mentally stronger. Also in Europe all the matches are at a good level.” Jessica Yamada.

A good start for Brazil against Chile, as it was for Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz, Melanie Diaz and Daniely Rios in opposition to Peru’s Ana Aragon, Lucciana Cisneros and Maria Maldonado; a 3-0 win was the end result.

Debt to settle

It is against Puerto Rico that there is a debt to settle; in August in the final at the 2019 Pan American Games, also in Lima, the Caribbean island trio recovered from the brink of defeat to emerge victorious in sensational fashion.

“The 3-0 win against Chile has given us confidence; they are a good team. All of us have a really big motivation to win this tournament, all of us will be fighting hard in the next matches. Just one last word, to everyone in Brazil, thanks for supporting us!” Jessica Yamada

After the first day of play, the signs are that two days hence Brazil and Puerto Rico will clash to decide who gains the Tokyo ticket.

The Pan American Games final is now resigned to history. It is time to look forward, there is no-one better at that skill than Jessica Yamada, the past has proved that fact.

2019 Latin American Team Qualification Jessica Yamada

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Day 3 - 2019 Latin American Team Qualification