Modena, Italy, May 12, 2006 - Despite being forced to play three sets, the top two women’s Beach Volleyball teams on the planet gained “final four” berths here Friday evening at the $200,000 Play Station Portable Italian Open in the season opening event on the 2006 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour.
Brazilians Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca, who captured the SWATCH points championship last season, joined reigning Olympic and World champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh of the United States as the first two teams to gain spots in Saturday evening’s semi-finals.
The second-seeded Juliana and Larissa advanced to the semi-finals with a 17-21, 21-15 and 15-13 win over 22nd-seeded Wang Jie and Tian Jia of China, who are playing in their first international event together. Tian Jia played last season with her 2004 Olympic partner Wang Fei as the pair captured the bronze medal at the 2005 SWATCH-FIVB World Champilonshipos last June in Berlin.
“I think we have an edge over the rest of the field since we have played six tournaments so far this season on our domestic tour,” said the 22-year old Juliana of her team’s 29-1 domestic mark in 2006 with five titles before this week’s event. “We had great success last season, and with good health, we feel that we have an excellent chance to repeat as the SWATCH tour’s points champions.”
With the win, the Brazilians await the winner from two elimination matches Saturday afternoon that feature teams from Austria, Brazil and the United States. Brazil’s Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede face the Schwaiger (Doris and Stefanie) sisters of Austria in the first elimination match with Wacholder and Youngs playing the winner of that match for the right to meet Juliana and Larissa in the semi-finals.
The top-seeded May-Treanor and Walsh advanced to their 18th-straight SWATCH-FIVB World Tour “final four” by scoring a 19-21, 21-16 and 15-12 win over Wacholder and Youngs. It was the 23rd meeting between the two American teams with May-Treanor and Walsh now holding a 19-4 edge with seven-straight wins. On the SWATCH tour, May-Treanor and Walsh have won six of seven matches.
“It is always tough to play a team from your country for a spot in the semis,” said Walsh, “especially when it is Rachel and Elaine. We have played them more than any team in the world. It seems like we meet them in every tournament“
May-Treanor and Walsh await the winner of elimination matches between teams from Brazil, Greece and China. The Brazilian Salgados (Carolina and Maria Clara) challenge Vassiliki Arvaniti and Vasso Karadassiou of Greece with the winner facing Wang Jie and Tian Jia for a spot in the “final four” against the Americans, who have lost only twice in their last 57 SWATCH matches.
The eighth annual Play Station Portable Italian Open concludes Sunday when the final two teams compete for the $32,000 first-place prize. Round two on the women’s SWATCH-FIVB World Tour will be staged May 24-28 in Shanghai where the men open their international season a day earlier. The SWATCH circuit returns to Europe May 31-June 4 in Athens (women) and Zagreb (men).