GSTAAD, SWITZERLAND, July 26, 2008 - Shelda Bede, the all-time money leader on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour, just put more distance between herself and the rest of the competition by winning the 1to1 energy Grand Slam with partner Ana Paula Connelly. The two Brazilians, who first teamed up in the final tournament of the 2007 season, won all seven matches in Gstaad to capture the Gold Medal and US$43,500, defeating Jia Tian and Jie Wang of China 21-15, 21-15.
Shelda has now won 33 titles, the third most in history, and has collected over US$1.2 million in her career. In Gstaad she has won a total of seven medals in the nine years the Swiss Alps village has hosted a tournament, and today she extended Brazil's streak of winning at least one medal each year of the event. Ana Paula, who was selected as the SWATCH Most Outstanding Player, garnered her 10th career victory, tying her for 11th place on the all-time charts. The victory was the second of the year for the duo, who currently have the most points on the SWATCH FIVB rankings.
Shelda and Ana Paula, the second-highest team in the Olympic qualification rankings to not qualify for the Beijing Games (due to country quotas), won their fourth medal of the year. In order to win the gold, they had to defeat China's top two teams in the same day. The Gold Medal match was, appropriately enough, a meeting between the top two seeds in the tournament, as Tian and Jie Wang were seeded first.
"We're excited to win this," Ana Paula said. "It's been a very tough year for us, as we wanted to go to Beijing. It's too bad we decided a little too late to team up. Talita (Antunes) and Renata (Ribeiro) played 26 tournaments during the qualification period and we only had 10. But we have a new goal, to win the tour title."
Ana Paula, 36 years old, and Shelda, 35, teamed up to become the oldest women’s team to win a SWATCH FIVB World Tour title (72 years, six days).
"I'm trying to convince her to stay with it through one more Olympic cycle," Ana Paula said with a laugh as Shelda shook her head and buried her face. "I will be 40 and she will be 39."
Tian and Jie Wang defeated sixth-seeded Tamsin Barnett and Natalie Cook of Australia in their semifinal match, 24-22, 21-17. With the win, the Chinese had advanced to their 15th title match on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour since their partnership began in 2006. After the duo won three of their first five title matches, they have since lost nine in a row.
In the morning the Brazilians had a semifinal match against the fourth-seeded Chinese team of Chen Xue and Xi Zhang, who turned around their game after the Grand Slam event in Stavanger at the end of June, when they lost three consecutive matches. The Chinese claimed the Gold Medal in Moscow's Grand Slam then won the first five matches in Gstaad before the semifinal Saturday against Shelda and Ana Paula. In the semifinal, the Chinese won the first set 21-18, and it looked as if they would win their fourth straight meeting against the Brazilians. However in the second set, Shelda and Ana Paula scored five straight points to take a 13-8 to win that set 21-16 to force a tiebreaker. In the third set, Brazil led by as many as four points at 10-6, but China closed the gap to 11-10 before falling 15-13.
Zhang had less than 90 minutes to recuperate before the Bronze Medal match against Barnett and Cook. Australia led early by a couple points, but Xue and Zhang took the lead for good at 11-10 in the first set. A late three-point run gave China a 21-18 win in the first set. In the second set, China took a 10-5 lead and never looked back, winning 21-13 to claim the Bronze Medal.
"It was very hot out there, and all four players were tired," Xue said afterwards. "Coming in to the tournament I thought if I make it to the semifinal I'm happy. Winning the Bronze gives us more confidence."
As the Beijing Games approach, Xue and Zhang are picking up momentum. They have won medals in their last two SWATCH FIVB World Tour events, both of which were grand slams, marking the only grand slam medals they have won in their partnership. Xue and Zhang are now 7-0 all-time against Barnett and Cook, and teams from China have now claimed two podium spots in each of the last two grand slam events.