Stare Jablonki, Poland, June 3, 2008 - The third of June has always been a "special day" for Lucilla Perrotta as the two-time Italian Olympian celebrated her 33rd birthday here Tuesday with a pair of Qualification Tournament wins with partner Daniela Gattelli to advance to the Main Draw of the US$350,000 GE Money Bank Mazury Open.
Fifth-place finishers at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, this week's event at the Hotel Anders is Perrotta and Gattelli's 99th SWATCH FIVB World Tour event together as the eighth-seeded Italians eliminated teams from Norway and Canada to join seven other Beach Volleyball pairs in earning Main Draw berths for Wednesday's opening "money" rounds.
With only the legendary Brazilian team of Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar playing in more FIVB events than Gattelli and Perrotta (120 to 101, including Challenger/Satellite stops), the Italians have struggled since the Athens Olympics due to injuries. Gattelli and Perrotta have placed as high as ninth in three of the 30 SWATCH FIVB World Tour events they have entered since the start of the 2005 international Beach Volleyball campaign.
"We have really been hampered with injuries and have not been able to maintain any kind of consistent play since Athens," said Perrotta. "It has been very frustrating, especially since we are trying to earn a third trip to the Olympics. Hopefully, we can get on a run the next six weeks to challenge for a spot in Beijing. It will be tough, but we will keep trying and playing as hard as we can."
With 980 Beijing qualifying points for their best eight finishes on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour since the start of the process in May 2007, Gattelli and Perrotta are currently 420 points behind the current 24th-place on the Olympic lists as only two dozen women's teams will be competing in the Chinese capital in August.
"With every win this week, we can improve our standing by at least 60 points," said the 32-year old Gattelli. "We still have that desire to compete for the Olympics. Every win will count that much more the next four weeks with Grand Slam events. Our biggest challenge each week is to advance from the qualifier, and we did that today. We look forward to tomorrow, but will celebrate with Lucilla tonight."
With a 13th or better this week, Gattelli and Perrotta will become one of 14 women's team in SWATCH FIVB World Tour history to win over $400,000 in earnings together. With a career match mark of 215-194 since their first event together in July 1996, Gattelli and Perrotta have combined to win $397,207. With a SWATCH career best finish of third at a 2001 event in Hong Kong, the Italians have also won three European gold medals with a continental championship in 2002.
Led by top-seeded Kathrine Maaseide and Susanne Glesnes of Norway, five of the top eight-seeded teams advanced to GE Money Bank Mazury Open Main Draw. Other top seeds advancing were fourth-seeded Mika Teru Saiki/Chiaki Kusuhara of Japan, sixth-seeded Annie Martin/Dana Cooke of Canada and seventh-seeded Shinako Tanaka/Eiko Koizumi of Japan.
Galyna Osheyko and Svitlana Baburina of the Ukraine, who were seeded 21st in the GE Money Bank Mazury Open qualifier, gained a Main Draw berth with three victories Tuesday. After defeating a team from Italy, Osheyko and Baburina eliminated 12th-seeded Ester Alcon/Olga Matveeva of Spain (21-19 and 21-12) and fifth-seeded Merel Mooren/Rebekka Kadijk of the Netherlands (21-19 and 21-19). The Dutch team won the European tour stop last week in The Hague after losing their first match of the tournament.
After winning two country quota matches Monday, 19th-seeded Maria Antonelli and Leão Vanilda of Brazil advanced to the Main Draw with a pair of upset wins Tuesday over teams from France and Georgia. After ousting 14th-seeded Eva Hamzaoui and Deborah Giaoui of France 21-11 and 21-16, the Brazilians posted a 21-15 and 21-16 win over third-seeded Cristine "Saka" Santanna and Andrezza "Rtvelo" Martins of Georgia.
With the sun setting on the Hotel Anders center court, second-seeded Antje Roder and Helke Claasen of Germany dropped a 15-21, 21-18 and 16-14 decision to 15th-seeded Daniela Gioria and Giulia Momoli as the Italians advanced to their first SWATCH Main Draw this season after failing to qualify in Australia, China, Korea, Japan and Spain.
The fourth double-gender event on the 2008 SWATCH FIVB World Tour calendar, the Stare Jablonki women's competition concludes Saturday, with the men's medal matches Sunday. The winning teams will share the $28,000 first-place prizes as the Hotel Anders hosts the sixth women's and seventh men's FIVB events this season.