|FORTALEZA, BRAZIL, March 12, 2004 - In a pair of three-setters, the first two semi-final berths in the 2004 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour season opener were determined here early Friday afternoon with tandems from host Brazil and the United States advancing.
Two more semi-final berths will be determined later Friday after the completion of the elimination rounds in the US$180,000 Brazilian Open on the Praia de Iracema where hot and humid conditions confront both the spectators and players.
Top-seeded Misty May and Kerri Walsh of the United States survived the first three-setter by out-lasting 28th-seeded Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta Silva of Brazil, who had upset teams from the United States, Canada and China earlier in the 32-team Main Draw. After losing the first set 21-18 in the 60-minute match, the Americans rallied to win the next two sets 24-22 and 15-8.
In a 65-minute match featuring Brazil's top two teams, second-seeded Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar defeated their rivals Ana Paula Connolly and Sandra Pires for the first-time in four matches on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour with a 22-20, 18-21 and 15-11 victory.
Both loser's in the fourth-round of the winner's bracket still have a chance for Saturday morning's semi-finals where two teams from the United States remain in contention along with fourth-seeded Jia Tian and Fei Wang of China and sixth-seeded Nicole Benoit and Simone Kuhn of Switzerland.
Fifth-seeded Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan challenge Jia Tian and Fei Wang with the winner playing Ana Paula and Pires in a semi-final qualifying match later Friday. Seventh-seeded Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs face Benoit and Kuhn in the next elimination match with the winner challenging Felisberta Silva and Larissa for a berth in the semi-finals.
"We were not ready to play in the first set since we did not warm up properly, said May after the match. "Give the Brazilians a lot of credit; they were tough for 2¢ sets before running out of gas. Last year at this time, I would have been the one running on fumes in the third set."
After seeing her team extend their SWATCH-FIVB World Tour winning streak to 32-straight matches, Walsh felt that "she and Misty became more aggressive at the match progressed. We started to figure out their game and were able to make some adjustments. Again, our conditioning helped us at the end. For the first event of the year, we are pleased with our effort."
Bede is sure she and Behar will play "plenty more tight matches with Ana Paula and Sandra this year. Our goal is the Olympics in Athens. We must keep improving with each match and tournament. The key to our win now was Adriana's serving along with forcing Ana Paula and Sandra into mistakes."
Ana Paula and Pires, the top team on the 2003 women's SWATCH-FIVB World Tour points' standings, were the last team to defeat May and Walsh internationally with a 21-19 and 21-15 victory in the Gold Medal match at the Norway Open July 5. May and Walsh have won the last four SWATCH-FIVB World Tour events they have entered, including the 2003 World Championships at Rio de Janeiro where they defeated Bede and Behar in the finals.