Berlin, Germany, June 12, 2008 - With the US$600,000 smart Grand Slam featuring pool play for the first time this season, the opening men's matches here Thursday saw five of the groups finishing the first day as expected while upsets highlighted the remaining three divisions at the SWATCH FIVB World Tour event.
With a "new life" in the first of six Grand Slam events on the 2008 SWATCH FIVB World Tour calendar, 13th-seeded Pedro Cunha and Franco Neto of Brazil took advantage of a "Lucky Loser" berth for the Main Draw at the 12th annual smart Grand Slam to earn a guaranteed berth in Friday's single-elimination bracket.
After losing to Pedro Rosas and Jose Pedrosa of Portugal in the final SWATCH FIVB World Tour qualifying round Wednesday on the sand courts in front of the German capital's main train station at the Washingtonplatz, Cunha and Franco won the "Lucky Loser" draw over a team from Japan after Australian Joshua Slack withdrew from the smart Grand Slam "money" rounds due to a calf injury.
Cunha, who celebrated his 25th birthday Tuesday, and Franco took advantage of the draw to post a pair of wins Thursday to assume the lead in Pool M after fourth-seeded Penggen Wu and Linyin Wu of China were upset by 20th-seeded Jorre Kjemperud and Tarjei Skarlund of Norway 25-23 and 21-19 in 43 minutes. Earlier Thursday, Cunha and Franco scored a 19-21, 21-13 and 15-12 victory in 62 minutes over the Norwegians.
To win their pool outright, Cunha and Franco must defeat Wu and Xu Friday morning. The Chinese, who lead the SWATCH series with the Brazilians 4-2, can capture the top spot in the pool by defeating Cunha and Franco and 29th-seeded Martins Plavins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs of Latvia upset Kjemperud and Skarlund.
"I received by birthday present a day late from the Australian," joked Cunha, who placed fifth with Franco at the 2007 smart Grand Slam event. "I feel our coordination as a team is off since we have not played the past three events together in Croatia, Spain and Poland. I did not play because of a left ankle injury, so I might not be in the best shape. We'll have to play well tomorrow to beat the Chinese, who are having a great season."
Wu and Xu, who are coming off a two-week break after not playing in Spain and Poland, have posted three silver medal finishes in five previous SWATCH FIVB World Tour starts this season. "We needed a break to rest up for the Grand Slams," said Xu. "We played okay today, but we need to step it up tomorrow to avoid the first round of the elimination bracket."
Seven of the top eight-seeded teams won as expected Thursday with five of the pairs competing in a pool where the second-ranked tandem is also 2-0. Like Cunha and Franco, sixth-seeded Jake Gibb/Sean Rosenthal of the United States (Pool O) and seventh-seeded David Klemperer/Eric Koreng (Pool P) control their path to an elimination "bye."
Other top seeds with perfect pool play marks are top-seeded Phil Dalhausser/Todd Rogers of the United States (Pool J), second-seeded Julius Brink/Christoph Dieckmann of Germany (Pool K), third-seeded Emanuel Rego/Ricardo Santos of Brazil (Pool L), fifth-seeded Reinder Nummerdor/Richard Schuil of the Netherlands (Pool N) and eighth-seeded Harley Marques/Pedro Salgado of Brazil (Pool Q).
The men's finale will be Sunday as Marcio Araujo and Fabio Magalhaes of Brazil are the defending smart Grand Slam champions after defeating Klemperer and Koreng in the 2007 finals. The 12th-seeded Marcio Araujo and Fabio challenge Nummerdor and Schuil for the top spot in their pool as the Brazilians defeated teams from Switzerland and Denmark on Thursday.
The women's smart Grand Slam will feature two elimination rounds Friday to determine the participants for Saturday's semi-final and medal matches. The winning teams this week will share the $43,500 first-place prizes as the SWATCH FIVB World Tour next Grand Slam stop is in Paris next week.