Phuket, Thailand, November 4, 2011 — Savoring the flavour and ambience of the sun-drenched, peaceful Friday with lingering high humidity on ever-tropical Karon Beach, China’s Chen Xue/Xi Zhang and USA’s Jennifer Kessy/April Ross scorched the sparkling sand to remain undefeated and become the first two teams to advance to Saturday’s semifinals as the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour gathered for the sixth time in Thailand for the women’s season-ending $190,000 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour Phuket Thailand Open powered by PTT.
The FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour is visiting Phuket for the sixth consecutive year at the purpose-built venue on Karon Beach for this extremely popular event being held through Sunday at the dynamic tourist destination on the southwest side of exotic Phuket province. Many of the world’s current top and rising stars of women’s beach volleyball tandems are in Thailand as the 15-event 2011 women’s FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour season ends.
The semifinals will conclude play on Saturday afternoon and the medal matches will be played Sunday afternoon as the winning pair shares the $30,000 first-place prize. The silver medal team will split $21,000, the bronze $15,000 and the fourth place team will divide $11,200.
The internationally-televised women’s season-finale of the 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour schedule, the Phuket Thailand Open powered by PTT, featuring 53 teams from 26 countries, began officially on Wednesday with a single elimination qualification tournament that determined the final eight spots in the 32-team main draw double-elimination phase of the tournament which will be held through Sunday.
Both with 4-0 records in Phuket, China’s top-seeded Xue/Zhang have earned their 34th final four appearance out of 67 career FIVB Swatch World Tour tournaments together while second-seeded Kessy/Ross will be in the 30th final four in 61 career FIVB Swatch World Tour events as both teams won two matches on Friday on the Karon Beach center court.
Saturday’s matches will include the remaining four matches from the contender’s bracket to determine the final two teams who will meet the Chinese and the American’s in Saturday afternoon’s nationally-televised semifinals.
China’s Xue/Zhang, gold medalists in the inaugural 2006 event in Phuket earned another pair of two-set victories Friday over teams from Australia and Belgium. First they defeated Australia’s eighth-seeded Natalie Cook/Tamsin Hinchley, 21-19, 21-14 in 44 minutes and capped their day with a quarterfinal victory over Belgium’s 12th-seeded Katrien Gielen/Liesbeth Mouha, 22-20, 21-16 in a 40-minute match.
USA’s Kessy/Ross, the champions in Phuket in both 2008 and 2009, earned a pair hard-fought three-set victories Friday over teams from the Czech Republic and Australia. Starting uncharacteristically slow in both matches, USA’s Kessy/Ross started their morning by defeating Czech Republic’s seventh-seeded Kristyna Kolocova/Marketa Slukova, 11-21, 21-11 and 15-9 in 52 minutes.
USA’s Kessy/Ross ended their day by beating Australia’s surprising 19th-seeded Louise Bawden/Becchara Palmer in the quarterfinals, 21-19, 18-21 and 15-11 in 76 minutes, the longest match of the tournament so far. In the tiebreaker set of the match with the Australians, USA’s Kessy/Ross were down 4-7 and scored five consecutive points to take a 9-7 lead and Australia never got closer than two points after that point.
Appearing to be heading on a collision course in the gold medal match, China’s Xue/Zhang has earned eight career FIVB Swatch World Tour gold medals as a team while USA’s Kessy Ross have nine total FIVB gold medals including the 2009 FIVB Swatch World Championship..
“Both the Czech Republic and Australian teams came out blazing against us, but we kept our cool and turned each match around into our favor,” said USA’s Ross after their final win Friday. “We want to play better and we weren’t that far off but both of these teams came out strong and we had to change our game plans in both to pull out the wins. Defense is what put us over the top today and against Australia in the tiebreak, we didn’t make many mistakes and that helped us well. We’re getting better but the competition is tougher than ever as well. We need to pass better and fix a few minor things to keep moving forward.
Besides China’s Xue/Zhang, USA’s Kessy/Ross, Australia’s Bawden/Palmer and Belgium’s Gielen/Mouha, the other four teams still alive in the tournament are Brazil’s sixth-seeded Vivian Cunha/Taiana Lima, Canada’s 18th-seeded Heather Bansley/Elizabeth Maloney, Italy’s fifth seeded Greta Cicolari/Marta Menegatti and USA’s 11th-seeded Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Hanson.
After their impressive twin wins Friday, China’s Zhang said, “We’re really not too exciting because we don’t think we are playing that well even though we are thankful have won all four matches in two sets. We are learning more and more from each match but we aren’t satisfied that we are playing to our full potential. We are doing everything okay, but we want to do everything much better. And we will have to in order to keep winning here in Phuket.”
Thailand had three teams entered in this year’s tournament and all were pre-seeded into the main draw as the host nation. The three teams who competed in the main draw were Kamoltip Kulna/Varapatsorn Radarong, Jarunee Sannok/Usa Tenpaksee and Tanarattha Udomchavee/Rumpaipruet. Udomchavee/Rumpaipruet was eliminated Thursday, and their compatriots last through Friday.
Thailand’s teams combined for a 3-6 record in the tournament with the two remaining Thai teams Friday meeting as Kulna/Radarong came from behind to eliminate Udomchavee/Rumpaipruet Friday, 15-21, 21-15 and 15-13 in 53 minutes to finish 17th in the tournament. Kulna/Radarong lost their next elimination match Friday in two seats to a team from Canada but their 13th-place finish is the highest ever by a team from Thailand in an FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour event.
The 16 teams that were eliminated on Friday place 17th, 13th or ninth officially, depending on what round they were eliminated in. The eight 17th-place finishers will each split $2,800 while the four 13th-place finishers will each earn $4,250 and the four ninth-place teams will split a purse of $6,000.
Also on-site this week in Phuket is a special production crew from IMG, the company that not only produces the live international telecasts of select matches, but also the weekly FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour highlight show that is syndicated throughout the world.
The Phuket Thailand Open is being produced by Pentangle Promotions Co., Ltd. of Bangkok in association with the FIVB and the Thailand Volleyball Association.
The 2011 calendar features 15 women's and 14 men's events within all five FIVB confederations plus one special 24-team single-gender women’s test event held August 9-14 at London’s Horse Guards Parade, the venue for beach volleyball at the 2012 London Olympic Games. The 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour is offering $7.64-million in prize money. Twelve of the tournaments were combined men's and women's events, including the World Championships and the six Grand Slam stops. The men’s tour concluded in October in Agadir Morocco.
The Phuket Thailand Open is the 232nd women’s event on the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour (open, grand slam, Olympic and Goodwill). The first men’s FIVB Swatch World Tour event was played February 17-22, 1987 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the first women’s event was played August 14-16, 1992 at Almeria, Spain. There have been 271 men’s events in FIVB Swatch World Tour history.
For more information on the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour, please visit www.fivb.org.