Men's South Africa Open 2004
Cape Town, March 23-28

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Japanese Tandem Post Upset Wins to Guarantee Best-Ever Finish
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA, March 25, 2004 - Highlighted by two wins by the 29th-seeded team from Japan, the opening Main Draw rounds of the US$180,000 South Africa Open featured ideal conditions on the beach volleyball courts at Camp Bays here Tuesday.

Playing higher-seeded teams from the United States and Cuba, the Japanese tandem of Satoshi Watanabe and Katsuhiro Shiratori are now guaranteed their best-ever finish on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour after posting a 13th in 2001 at Mallorca, Spain.

After scoring a 16-21, 21-18 and 15-13 comeback win over fourth-seeded Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard of the United States, Watanabe and Shiratori scored a 21-18 and 21-18 win over 13th-seeded Francisco Alvarez and Juan Rosell of Cuba.

With the win, the Japanese advance to the third-round of the winnerĘs bracket where they play 12th-seeded Tande Ramos and Franco Neto of Brazil. Even if Watanabe and Shiratori, who are playing in their 31st FIVB event, dropped their next two matches in the 32-team double-elimination tournament, they will place ninth in the South Africa Open.

"We did not get discouraged after losing the first set against the Americans," said Watanabe after his first match Thursday. "We have been playing together long enough that we know that we have the experience to compete on this tour. We played with a lot of confidence today."

Shiratori noted that "it is very important that we do not become satisfied with winning today. We are not a physical team like the others on the beach. We must remain patience and play well defensively and limited our mistakes in passing and setting."

After two months of conditioning and strength training in Japan, Watanabe and Shiratori spent three weeks practicing on the beaches of Brazil prior to SWATCH-FIVB World Tour season opener in Salvador last week where he placed 25th after qualifying for the Main Draw. The Japanese also won two qualifying matches this week to advance to the Main Draw.

Entering the South African event, Watanabe and Shiratori had only won six of 32 Main Draw matches since 2002, including only two wins in 12 matches last season when they advanced out of the Qualification Tournament only four times in 10 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour events.

Led by top-seeded Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos, three teams from Brazil joined the Japanese in winning their opening two Main Draw matches Thursday. Switzerland had two teams with 2-0 records Thursday while Austria and the United States had tandems winning their opening two matches. Emanuel and Ricardo won the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event last week in Salvador.

Play continues Friday with 22 matches followed by six matches Saturday to determine the pairings for SundayĘs medal matches at Camps Bay. The gold medal match is set for Sunday after on the Camp Bays centre court where the winning team will split the $27,000 first-place prize.