Women's competition, Osaka
From 2 June To 6 June 2004

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Different Week, Different Result
OSAKA, JAPAN, June 5, 2004 - After returning to the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour with a "disappointing" 17th-place finish in China last week, the top-ranked Australian team of Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson returned to their winning ways by winning two matches here Saturday to advance to the "final four" of the $US180,000 Japan Open.

The fourth international stop of the 2004 Olympic season saw the second-seeded Cook and Sanderson defeat teams from Japan and Switzerland to earn a berth in Sunday's second semi-final match. Brazil's Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar were the first team to advance to Sunday's final matches with wins over tandems from China and Greece.

"Obviously, we are playing a lot better this week," said Sanderson, who missed representing Australia in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games due to knee surgery. "Our appearance in China was our first event since playing on the domestic tour in January. It is like night-and-day with our play this week as compared to China."

By defeating third-seeded Nicole Schnyder-Benoit and Simone Kuhn 21-17 and 23-21, Cook and Sanderson advanced to the "final four" for the sixth-time in 13 international events together. The Aussies have teamed for four bronze medals together, including a third-place in last October's FIVB World Championships in Rio de Janeiro.

"The time off was good for Natalie," said Sanderson about her partner, who captured the gold medal with Kerri Pottharst at the Sydney Olympics. "Her right shoulder is still a problem for her, but she is learning to play with it. I am very lucky to be playing with one of the great players in our sport."

Sanderson's Olympic "dreams" for Sydney ended with a knee injury at a June 2000 event in Canada. She and Angela Clarke were competing against Tania Gooley/Pauline Manser and Annette Huygens Tholen/Sarah Straton for the last Australia berths in the Olympics on Bondi Beach .

"I was really down after injuring my knee in Toronto," Sanderson continued, "but the hurt eventually went away. I was able to work with the presentation team at Bondi, but the disappointment of not representing Australia was tremendous. It is not often that you get two chances, so I am really working hard to finally fulfill my Olympic dreams by playing in Athens."

After taking the 2001 season off to continue her rehab, Sanderson returned to international competition in 2002 to play in 11 events with Huygens Tholen. Sanderson began playing with Cook in 2003 as the team placed third in four of the last five events of the season.

Cook and Sanderson played two United States teams in the FIVB World Championship "final four" in Rio. After losing a "hard-fought" 19-21, 21-19 and 18-16 decision to eventual champions Misty May and Kerri Walsh, Cook and Sanderson defeated 2000 Olympians Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan 21-16 and 21-17 for the bronze medal.