|OSAKA, JAPAN, June 6, 2004 - Tannowa Beach brings out the best in Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar as the Brazilian captured their sixth Japan Open title here Sunday by defeating Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson in the finals of the US$180,000 women's SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event on Tannowa Beach.
The all-time winningest team on either the men's or women's SWATCH-FIVB World Tour with 30 gold medal finishes, Sunday's win over the second-seeded Australians snapped a 15-event title drought for the top-seeded Shelda and Adriana. After winning the first set 21-12 in 17 minutes, Cook could not continue the match due to a right shoulder injury.
"We are disappointed that Natalie's injury ended the match," said Adriana after the match. "We hope she is okay because she is such a great competitor. Overall, we played very well this weekend with few mistakes. And, Shelda's serving was also very good." In addition to sharing the $27,000 first-place prize with Adriana, Shelda won the SWATCH fastest service award (81.5 kph).
After winning at least two events every year from 1996 through 2002, the Brazilians were winless in 2003. During the drought, the Shelda and Adriana had played in five title matches, including a silver medal finish here last year when Brazilian rivals Ana Paula Connolly and Sandra Pires won the Tannowa finale.
Playing in every international event on Tannowa Beach since 1997, Shelda and Adriana have now compiled $190,000 in winnings from the Japan Open. The silver medallists at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games where they were upset by Cook and Kerri Pottharst, Shelda and Adriana won their first FIVB title since 2002 when they won the next-to-last event of the season in Mallorca.
For Cook and Sanderson, who split $18,000 for finishing second, the silver medal helped erase a 17th-place finish last week in China. "I just had to shut it down," said Cook after the match. "There is a lot of volleyball left before the Athens Olympic Games and I did not what to risk any more damage. I am glad we have a week off from the tour so that I can get some rest while rehabbing."
The SWATCH-FIVB World Tour departs Osaka for a weekend off before the final three Olympic qualifying events in Switzerland, Germany and Norway. The beach volleyball competition at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games will be played August 14-25.