|BERLIN, GERMANY, June 24, 2004 - Following its tradition of never having a team as repeat champions, the men's Main Draw for the US$600,000 Smart Grand Slam opened here Thursday with 32-team vying for the gold medal and a share of the $43,000 first-place prize.
With the 2003 Smart Grand Slam champions playing with different partners this season, Argentina's Mariano Baracetti and Martin Conde could follow in the footsteps of teams from Brazil and Switzerland that captured back-to-back silver medals.
Baracetti and Conde, who are seeded 14th in the Main Draw, open play Thursday against 19th-seeded Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard of the United States. The Argentineans were defeated in the finals of the 2003 Smart Grand Slam by Franco Neto and Harley Marques of Brazil.
The only player to win back-to-back gold medals in Berlin, Harley was eliminated Wednesday with his new partner Luizão Correa in the country quota round by Fabio Magalhães and Paulo Emilio Silva. Harley won the 2002 title with Pará Ferreira, who won three-straight Berlin silver medals (1996-98) with Guilherme Marques. Playing with Pedro Cunha, Pará was also ousted in the country quota round Wednesday by Magalhães and Paulo Emilio.
Franco is competing on the Schlossplatz with Tande Ramos this week. The Brazilian tandem captured the South Africa Open in March by upsetting rivals Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos in the finals.
Brazilian's Emanuel and Ricardo have been on top of the Berlin podium, but with a different partner - Zé Marco de Melo. Emanuel won his title in 1997. Ricardo captured the Berlin gold with Zé Marco in 1999. With a third-place better this week, Emanuel could become the winningest player every in terms of earnings for Berlin events. He has current made $41,250 with this been his sixth Berlin appearance.
Ricardo's 1999 gold was secured after defeating the Laciga brothers (Martin and Paul) of Switzerland in the finals. The Lacigas were also the silver medallists in 2001 after losing the final to Julien Prosser and Lee Zahner in the finals. No men's event was held in 2000 at Berlin, which was staging a women's only event.
The Smart Grand Slam, the second of five-straight mixed gender events on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour, is weighted heavier in terms of Olympic qualifying points as compared to other tournaments on the 2004 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour.
Part of the Olympic Beach Volleyball process, the Smart Grand Slam is the second of four-straight events in Europe before the July 11 deadline to determine the 24 men's teams for the 2004 Athens Games in August. The process concludes with events in Norway and Spain the next two weekends.