STAVANGER, NORWAY, June 29, 2006 - Iver Horrem and Bard-Inge Pettersen spoiled Stefan Gunnarsson’s 24th birthday celebration as the Norwegians posted the host country’s only opening round win here Thursday afternoon in the US$580,000 ConocoPhillips Grand Slam by defeating their Beach Volleyball rivals from Sweden.
With their 21-16 and 21-16 win in 45 minutes over the 24th-seeded Gunnarsson and Simon Dahl, the ninth-seeded Horrem and Petterson now face 25th-seeded Pedro Cunha and Franco Neto of Brazil in their first match Friday before challenging Athens 2004 Olympic bronze medallists Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel in their final pool play contest.
“That’s a big win and takes some of the pressure off of us,” said Horrem after the match. “We are really hungry to play well before our family, friends and fans. We are in the toughest pool with two very big matches ahead of us. Since the Swedes were the least-experienced team in our pool, we needed to win that match.”
After finishing 17th in last week’s SWATCH-FIVB World Tour grand slam stop in Switzerland, Horrem knew his team “could play better. We haven’t been played all that bad this year, but we have not been consistent. To win at this level, you can’t make a lot of mistakes and expect to win.”
Horrem and Pettersen have dropped their previous two matches to Cunha and Franco. Both matches have been three-setters decided by two points, including two weeks ago in Portugal when the Brazilians placed third and the Norwegians ninth. “Both of our matches with them have been close,” Horrem added. “It won’t be easy, but we are capable of beating both teams.”
The Norwegians have split a pair of matches with the Swiss with Heuscher and Kobel scoring a 21-15 and 21-16 elimination win over Horrem and Pettersen on the Vagen Harbour centre court last year. “We can’t look past the Brazilians,” Horrem noted, “but we would like to avenge that setback to the Swiss. Our win today helped our confidence, but we have to play at a higher level tomorrow. The opportunity for success is there.”
With a capacity crowd of 4,300 in the Vagen Harbour centre court with thousands more watching the action on the three dockside and two barge sand courts, Thursday’s opening men’s pool play action saw nine of the top 16-seeded teams win.
After the eighth-seeded Heuscher and Kobel dropped a 21-19 and 21-19 decision to Cunha and Franco in Pool H, 28th-seeded Pablo Herrera and Raul Mesa of Spain scored an 18-21, 27-25 and 15-13 win in 69 minutes over fifth-seeded Andrew Schacht and Joshua Slack in Pool E action. Both the Brazilians and Spaniards had to win qualifying matches Wednesday to gain a spot in the Main Draw. Thursday was also Herrera’s 24th birthday.
Other seed-break-throughs Thursday were posted by 23rd-seeded Eugenio Amore/Riccardo Fenili of Italy, 21st-seeded Ahren Cadieux/Conrad Leinemann of Canada, 19th-seeded Roman Arkaev/Dmitri Barsouk of Russia, 18th-seeded Penggen Wu/Linyin Xu of China and 17th-seeded Juan Garcia Thompson/Alejandro Ortiz of Spain.
The second of seven-straight double gender events on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour, the ConocoPhillips Grand Slam “concludes Saturday for the women and Sunday for the men. The final two teams in both genders will be competing for the $42,300 first-place prize.