by Ian Marshall, Editor
One year earlier Nikhil Kumar had been one of the stars of the tournament, only 16 years old at the time, expected to disappear from proceedings in the group stage, he reached the quarter-finals. Equally last year on the ITTF World Junior Circuit he had excelled, very much a name to note, a young man most capable of upsetting the order of merit.
Against Horacio Cifuentes, he found a player in form and perhaps with an extra source of motivation.
In the immediate preceding contest his colleague, colleague Gaston Alto, the no.9 seed and the player with whom Horacio Cifuentes had sensationally won the men’s doubles title last year at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Series Polish Open, had departed proceedings. He had suffered at the hands of Mexico’s Marcos Madrid, the no.5 seed (11-7, 8-11, 11-9, 11-7, 14-12).
Likewise, he was a player with a debt to settle, last year he had been a group stage victim of Nikhil Kumar (7-11, 11-8, 11-8, 9-11, 6-11, 14-12, 11-6) and had thus not progressed to the main draw.
Horacio Cifuentes was well aware of the quality of his adversary. On their first meeting, at the 2018 ITTF Pan American Championships in Santiago, in the men’s team event, he had suffered a resounding straight games defeat. Last year he found answers, he beat Nikhil Kumar in the same competition at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games and later in the year in Asuncion in the men’s singles at the ITTF-Pan America Championships.
“Nikhil is very good in his short game, the first time we played he killed me, he easily beat me 3-0 but after that analysing the matches I knew I had to play long because his short game is better than mine. I tried always to return with the banana or play long and counter attack. Last year was very good for all of us not just for me, I think with so many competitions and now being in Europe I believe that it gives you an advantage, you start to know how to face situations in crucial matches.” Horacio Cifuentes
In Guaynabo Horacio Cifuentes was simply too fast with the first attack, he moved well, throughout he was well balanced and anticipated his adversary’s moves. Always Nikhil Kumar was under pressure, errors accrued, self-belief drained away; Horacio Cifuentes had excelled, a superb performance.
Now in the biggest test of all awaits; at the quarter-final stage Horacio Cifuentes faces Brazil’s Hugo Calderano, the top seed and defending champion.