Phuket, Thailand, November 5, 2011—Basking in the sun, fun and friendly atmosphere of this gorgeous and exotic tropical destination, teams from China and the United States grinded out semifinal match victories Saturday to advance to Sunday’s internationally-televised gold medal match 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.
Meeting in Sunday’s gold medal match, scheduled to start at 4 p.m. local time on the tropical Karon Beach center court, will be China’s top-seeded Chen Xue/Xi Zhang and USA’s second-seeded Jennifer Kessy/April Ross.
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 bronze medal match will precede the gold medal match, starting at 3 p.m. local time Sunday. The winning pair shares the $30,000 first-place prize while the silver medal team will split $21,000, the bronze $15,000 and the fourth place team will divide $11,200.
Saturday’s semifinals Saturday featured four teams from four countries and four continents.
In the final semifinal match on Saturday, USA’s Kessy/Ross held off the formidable challenge by the Italy’s rapidly developing Marta Menegatti/Greta Cicolari, the fifth-seeded team in Phuket, winning in two sets, 21-18, 21-19 in 44 minutes. After finessing their way through a tight first set, USA’s Kessy/Ross mustered all of the experience and ability to come back from a deficit of 12-16 deficit in the second set to defeat the Italy’s tenacious Cicolari/Menegatti. USA’s Kessy/Ross now have a 7-1 series edge in matches against Italy’s Cicolari/Menegatti, avenging their first loss to the Italians suffered in Klagenfurt, Austria in August.
USA’s Kessy/Ross are playing in their 30th final four in 61 FIVB Swatch World Tour events as a team and Sunday will be their 19th appearance in a gold medal match where they have a 9-9 career record. USA’s Kessy/Ross have won 26 medals in the five seasons they have played together. In the gold medal matchup which will be a battle of two former Phuket champions, China’s Xue/Zhang hold a 6-2 series edge over the Americans, although Kessy/Ross won their last meeting in two sets in June at the Beijing Grand Slam.
In the first semifinal, China’s Xue/Zhang overcame a knee injury to Zhang early in the second set to win fifth straight match in two sets here in Phuket, defeating Australia’s 19th-seeded Louise Bawden/Becchara Palmer, 21-18 and 2-13 in 43 minutes. After controlling the first set, the score was tied 1-1 in the second set when Zhang went down hard on the Karon Beach sand, injuring her left knee. After on-site medical personnel treated her, Zhang, playing in obvious pain with a taped left knee, pulled away to earn their 20th FIVB Swatch World Tour gold medal match appearance. China’s Xue/Zhang increased their career record against Australia’s Bawden/Palmer to 3-0 with their semifinal victory Saturday.
While the status of Zhang’s knee injury will be uncertain at this time, the Chinese team is in their 35 final four appearances and 29 medals, including eight gold medals in the 67 tournaments they have played together in since 2006. This season, the Chinese duo won the gold medal at the tour stop in Aland, Finland for their sole win of the season.
Australia’s Bawden/Palmer and Italy’s Cicolari/Menegatti will meet in the bronze medal match on the Karon Beach center court prior to the gold medal match. This is the Australian team’s second final four appearance and first time in a bronze medal match while the Italians are playing in their sixth final four in the 25 tournaments they have played together in three years as a team.
Australia’s surprising Bawden/Palmer advanced to the semifinals Saturday by defeating USA’s 11th-seeded Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Hanson in three sets, 23-21, 18-21 and 15-12 in 65 minutes. In their first tournament back together since the team had to withdraw because of Palmers severe abdominal muscle inflammation in Quebec, Canada in July. The Australians also overcame a medical time-out they called prior to the start of the tiebreaker set in order for Bawden to shower to cool down her body from the intense humidity on the Karon Beach center court
Italy’s Cicolari/Menegatti marched back into the semifinals by eliminating both Brazil’s sixth-seeded Vivian Cunha/Taiana Lima and Belgium’s Katrien Gielen/Liesbeth Mouha in straight sets on Saturday
USA’s Fendrick/Hanson, 5-2 in Phuket and Belgium’s Gielen/Mouha, 3-2 here, both end the tournament with fifth place finishes and both teams will split $9,100 in purse. Brazil’s Cunha/Lima finished their season with a 3-3 record in Phuket with a seventh place finish and will divide a purse of $7,600.
“The Italians played well, we just came up with key plays at the right time that sends us to the gold medal match again here in Phuket,” said USA’s Kessy after her team’s semifinal victory Saturday. “They played better in the second set and after we got done by four points late in the set, we didn’t panic and both of us were able to make the kind of plays we are capable of, especially with our transition setting. We knew it would be a battle and it was and they are a team getting better and better but we used our strengths today to defeat them.”
Subdued in light of her teammate’s knee injury, China’s Xue commented after their semifinal victory, “Zhang is a strong person and I know she was playing in a lot of pain in her knee in the second set but we were able to stay focused, make plays and pull away for the victory. It was a close first set and we won and then in the second I didn’t know what would happen after Zhang went down on the sand. She came back and made some great plays and I served very well that helped us win the match. She has had problems with her knee before and hopefully she will be fine tomorrow because we would really like another gold medal.”
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 lasted through Friday. Thailand’s teams combined for a 3-6 record in the tournament with the two remaining Thai teams meeting Friday as Kulna/Radarong came from behind to eliminate Udomchavee/Rumpaipruet 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 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 started on Thursday.
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.