STAVANGER, NORWAY, June 27, 2006 - After failing to win a country quota match in two previous attempts, the third-time was the “charm” for Pedro Cunha and Franco Neto here Tuesday afternoon as the Brazilians advance to Qualification Tournament for the US$580,000 ConocoPhillips Grand Slam.
Cunha and Franco, who have posted a second, third and fourth in SWATCH-FIVB World Tour Main Draws this season in China, Portugal and Switzerland, respectively, failed to advance to the “money” rounds in Croatia and Italy where they were eliminated in country quota competition.
Tuesday was different as Nalbert Bitencourt and Luizao Correa dropped a 21-12, 15-21 and 19-17 decision in 60 minutes to Cunha and Franco. Nalbert and Correa, who defeated Roberto Lopes and Pedro Salgado 21-19 and 23-21 earlier in the day, were trying to advance from the Brazilian country quota playoffs for the third-time this season after being successful in Italy and Portugal.
With their win, Cunha and Franco will be the top-seeded team in the Qualification Tournament and will have to win two matches Wednesday to gain a ConocoPhillips Grand Slam Main Draw berth. If successful, the Brazilians will play in the same Main Draw pool that features Athens 2004 Olympic bronze medallists Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel of Switzerland. Also in Cunha and Franco’s potential pool will be Iver Horrem/Bard-Inge Pettersen of Norway and Simon Dahl/Stefan Gunnarsson of Sweden.
Horrem and Dahl also competed in the Athens Games. Horrem and Pettersen scored one of the biggest upsets last season on the international Beach Volleyball circuit when they eliminated Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos of Brazil from the 2005 SWATCH-FIVB World Championships in Berlin.
Emanuel and Ricardo, 2003 SWATCH-FIVB World champions and reigning Olympic champions, have won the ConocoPhillips Grand Slam gold medal the last three seasons. Emanuel also won the inaugural Vaden Harbour event in 1999 with Jose Loiola. Ricardo captured the Vagen Harbour crown with Ze Marco de Melo in 2000 before Emanuel started a string of five-straight Stavanger titles with back-to-back gold medals titles with Tande Ramos in 2001 and 2002.
Also winning a country quota match Tuesday was Switzerland’s David Wenger and Philip Gabathuler, who eliminated Marcel Gscheidle and Jan Schnider 18-21, 25-23 and 15-10. Gscheidle and Schneider posted their best SWATCH-FIVB World Tour finish last week in the Swiss Alps where they eliminated Heuscher and Kobel to place ninth. Wenger and Gabathuler will be trying for their first Main Draw berth in five SWATCH starts.
Norway will have four teams in Wednesday’s qualifier, including the Goranson brothers (Espen and Kjell), Trygve Leite/Vegard Lyng, Eskil Holtan/Magne Kobbevik and Keim Hellum/Jarle Huseby. Joining Horrem and Pettersen in the Main Draw for the host country are Jorre Kjemperud/Tarjei Skarlund and Vegard Hoidalen/Terje Oevergaard.
The second of seven-straight double gender events on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour, the ConocoPhillips Grand Slam “officially” started Tuesday morning with the women’s qualifier. The women’s “money” rounds begin Wednesday and conclude Saturday when the final two teams compete for the $42,300 first-place prize. The men’s Main Draw starts Thursday and ends Sunday.
Vagen Harbour hosts a SWATCH-FIVB World Tour grand slam event for the second-straight season. The ConocoPhillips Grand Slam is the second “major” event on the 2006 calendar as Switzerland hosted the first grand slam last week in Gstaad. After “open” stops in Marseille, Montreal and St. Petersburg the next three weeks, grand slam competition concludes in Paris and Klagenfurt, Austria.