|Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 25, 2004 - A season of "disappointment" ended on a high note here Saturday for Ana Paula Connelly and Sandra Pires as the Brazilian Olympians won their first event in more than a year with a victory over rivals Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede in the Beach Volleyball gold medal match of the US$360,000 Banco do Brasil Women's Open.
Winners of four SWATCH-FIVB World Tour titles in 2003, Ana Paula and Pires struggled throughout the season with injuries for both players along with the inability to play consistently, especially at the 2004 Olympic Games were they placed fifth after being eliminated by Athens silver medallists Adriana and Shelda.
However, it was the third-seeded Ana Paula and Pires' day Saturday as they scored a 21-14 and 28-26 win in 48 minutes over the top-seeded Adriana and Shelda, who had not won a SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event in 2003 before winning three times this season in Japan, Germany and earlier this month in Italy. Ana Paula also won the SWATCH "fastest serve" award at 74.7 km/h.
"We played very well this week," said Ana Paula after the match. "Yes, the season has been very disappointing. We just never had a chance to get anything going this season due to injuries. I was hurt early and Sandra was hurting in the middle of the season. Once we solved the injuries, we just never got any rhythm in our play."
As for the match, Shelda felt the winners "handled our attack very well today. The match was very difficult for us today as we could not score and they made more plays. They are a great team that just had a very tough season. Either team was capable of winning the Olympic match. We were the fortunate one that evening in Athens. Today, it was their day."
Saturday's match was the seventh meeting between the two teams on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour. Adriana and Shelda had won the last three matches (all this season), including a 15-21, 21-13 and 15-13 victory in Athens that denied Pires a chance for her third-straight Olympic medal after winning the gold in 1996 with Jackie Silva and the bronze in 2000 with Adriana Samuel.
With their sixth-straight win of the competition, Ana Paula and Pires shared the $27,000 first-place prize as they won their first international gold medal since defeating Athens Olympic champions Misty May and Kerri Walsh in the Japan Open final (August 10, 2003). In the nine events after the Japan title, Ana Paula and Pires had only three "final four" finishes.
Their consistent play in 2003 led Ana Paula and Pires to the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour season points title that was won this season by Adriana and Shelda (3,354) for the sixth-time in the last eight years. Ana Paula and Pires finished 18th on the points list this season (1,212) with only two "final four" placements in six 2003 events.
In the bronze medal match, second-seeded Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca continued to "prove why they are players with a bright future" as they combined for a 21-18 and 21-16 win over 29th-seeded Mônica Paludo and Angela Vieira in 41 minutes to capture the $14,000 third-place prize. Mônica Paludo and Vieira split $11,000 for placing fourth.