Siblings Adam and Erika Manilla Strike Racquetball Gold in Santiago
by Brendan Rourke
SANTIAGO, Chile — Although the USA Racquetball mixed doubles pair of Adam and Erika Manilla had just a few hours of practice together before playing in their first mixed doubles racquetball match at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023, they have known each other their whole lives.
That helped shake off any rust they would have had going into Santiago, as they ultimately swept Diego Garcia and Maria Jose Vargas of Argentina, 3-0, in the gold medal match to take the top podium spot for Team USA.
“This is just an absolute dream,” Erika began. “This is the biggest stage we get with our sport, and I got to do it alongside my best friend and my mentor, my brother.”
“It’s amazing,” Adam added. “She’s my sister, I know how hard she works. We’ve been wanting this since we were about five to eight years old. So to be here now and live in this moment is pretty amazing. And to do it together is even more special.”
A racquetball match consists of five sets to 11 points apiece. The Manilla siblings won three consecutive sets by scores of 11-4, 11-4, and 11-6, respectively. Argentina never led by more than two points in a set.
The win is even sweeter for the Manilla siblings, as they have played Garcia and Vargas before in a previous racquetball tournament. Erika admitted that the first time they played, she had trouble seeing Garcia’s powerful, lightning-fast serve. For reference, some professional racquetball players have clocked serves ranging from 150-160 mph.
But this time, she was prepared.
“I think I knew it was coming this time,” she stated. “For one, we’re at lower altitude. So the ball is a little slower as well. And I told my brother I was nervous, and he said, ‘Erika. You’re fine. You know what to expect. You know what to do.’ And it really settled my nerves.
“Sure enough, he hit it to me and I said, ‘Heck yeah! I see it!”
After Erika got over the obstacle of returning Garcia’s serve, the duo appeared to have control throughout the entire match. In each set, the Manillas strung together runs of four to five consecutive points. The U.S. finished set two with a 4-2 run. In set three, they used a 4-0 run, including a perfect strike from Adam that sent the ball to the lower left corner of all three walls, to build a comfortable lead before sealing the deal. After the match, Erika stated that she told Adam they “felt unstoppable.”
Even so, Argentina tried to break up each set using timeouts and instant replay challenges. However, that did not phase the siblings one bit.
“(The coaches) don’t say much,” Adam said about how they stayed focused during the timeouts. “They just say ‘Get back in there and keep doing what you’re doing.”
“It’s easy when you’re playing well,” Erika added. “But I also think the coaches…they give you reassurance. And I think that’s the biggest job of a lot of coaches that are at our level.”
For Adam, it was the first time in these Pan American Games that he did not play a five-set match. 24 hours prior, he appeared in two five-set matches, competing in both the men’s singles quarterfinal and mixed doubles semifinal. In the first match, he fell 3-2 to the eventual bronze medalist, Rodrigo Montoya. In the mixed doubles semifinals with Erika, the duo needed the fifth set to finish off the Mexican pair of Eduardo Portillo Torres and Paola Michell Longoria despite building a 2-0 lead.
“It’s about time,” he laughed when asked how it felt to get a shorter match. “We came out of the semifinal game and I even joked with (coach Pablo Farje) and said 'Is this one going to go five? Or are we going three here?"
Erika playfully screamed "Hey!" and laughed toward her brother after he revealed this, fearing he had jinxed the duo before the gold medal match.
“I like to keep it pretty low-key and humorous out there,” Adam added. “It helps me relax out there.”
The win in Santiago was especially sweet for coach Farje, who grew up and Chile, played for the Chilean National Team and was a 16-time Chilean National Singles champion. Several members of the racquetball community greeted Farje with hugs and smiles after the Manilla siblings secured gold.
Although racquetball is a niche Pan-Am-only sport, the community felt mighty. And Oct. 24, 2023, belonged to the Manilla siblings, who proudly represent USA Racquetball in tournaments across the globe.
Adam & Erika Manilla In Santiago