Lily Zhang Creates Perfect Pan Am Finish in Paraguay

By Matt Hetherington | Sept. 08, 2019, 10:40 p.m. (ET)


As the 2019 Pan American Championships ended in Paraguay, Lily Zhang had more crowns than she could wear at one time. Four titles, a simply amazing result.

The day began with doubles, and Zhang paired with longtime partner and teammate Wu Yue to defeat Puerto Rico in the semifinal and setup an opportunity for the pair's second gold of the tournament - they had one already from an excellent team campaign.

Success there and they reached the final, but Zhang first had to contest an All-USA Mixed Doubles final. Paired with Kai Zhang on his Pan Am Championships debut, they would face the younger yet very tactical and talented pairing of Nikhil Kumar and Amy Wang. 

While Wang and Kumar held significant leads in games, it was the power forehand game of Kai Zhang which made a paramount difference in the match. Tight control play from Lily Zhang was the perfect complement. At the crucial moments of the game Kai Zhang produced some absolute winners as, on the opposite side of the table, Amy Wang struggled to keep her returns tight enough. 

On the back foot, Nikhil Kumar was seldom able to defend and the advantage fell with the two Zhangs. It would be a second gold medal for Lily Zhang as she and Kai succeeded in winning the Mixed Doubles. A well earned silver for Wang and Kumar, and a great result to have both US pairs contending the final.

Immediately following it was time for Zhang and Wu to pair up again for the Women's Doubles final. They played Daniela Ortega and Paulina Vega of Chile. The US pair had a shaky start in the first game, but came soaring back to steal away the first game. From that point there was no turning back as they stormed to the title with a 3-0 win. A third gold for Zhang.

The singles would be a harder challenge, but one that Zhang was gunning for. It seemed her form had peaked at exactly the right moment. Going into semifinals, she hadn't lost a single game. 

That trend would continue in a sensational display of Lily Zhang's A-Game.

The semifinal stages weren't for the feint hearted, tough matches which claimed both Wu Yue and Kanak Jha. Wu lost to Brazil's Bruna Takahashi, while Jha lost to an inspired Gaston Alto of Argentina, who couldn't seem to miss a ball.

While her teammates took home a bronze, Zhang summoned her very best. She faced Canada's Mo Zhang in the semifinal and resurrected memories of her 2017 Pan Am Cup win where she had defeated her in straight games. Alas this semifinal proved no different. 

There was no hesitation for Zhang, her attacking strokes were decisive and precise. Zhang's confidence was brimming, yet she remained composed.

A final point fell and she twisted back to coach Gao Jun on her bench with a smile. It was into the final for Lily Zhang. 

One final match stood between her and a fourth Pan Am Champs gold, the prestigious Women's Singles crown. 

Bruna Takahashi had won over Zhang in their last encounter, but today would be the day for USA, Zhang was seemingly unassailable. 

In her final match with Takahashi, Zhang was at her finest. Within the rallies she was consistent, yet each ball was enhanced with a high level of acceleration. Her placements were process, her backhand side impassable and her forehand devastating.

Successfully neutralizing the strong service game of Takahashi was a big first step, allowing Zhang to take the initiative in the majority of the points. Her backhand flip opened proceedings in many rallies, and from there she piled on the pressure.

In the counter topspin rallies, Zhang held her balance and executed with complete efficiency. Even among the high pace, she maintained control - firing backhands accurately across the table and making smooth transitions to the forehand. Zhang even played with very high quality from the body, where she was able to make quick adjustments to produce strong shots. 

As she knuckled down for the final point, it would only take one stroke. Zhang was Pan American Champion. 

Having lost out in the quarterfinal to Mo Zhang last year, it was a huge step up for Lily Zhang. Not only was she Women's Singles Champion, she had also won gold in the Women's Team, Women's Doubles and Mixed Doubles.

The perfect hat trick for Lily Zhang. Congratulations. 

Well done also to our team players and Coaches - Gao Jun and Joerg Bitzigeio.

US Team Medals: 
Gold - Women's Singles Event - Lily Zhang
Gold - Women's Team Event - Lily Zhang, Wu Yue, Crystal Wang, Amy Wang
Gold - Women's Doubles Event - Lily Zhang, Wu Yue
Gold - Mixed Doubles Event - Lily Zhang, Kai Zhang
Silver - Mixed Doubles Event - Nikhil Kumar, Amy Wang
Bronze - Men's Singles Event - Kanak Jha
Bronze - Men's Team Event - Kanak Jha, Nikhil Kumar, Kai Zhang, Nick Tio