Brasília, Brazil, April 19, 2012—Basking in the sun, fun and exotic atmosphere of a South American festival, tandems from China and Brazil grinded out semifinal match victories Thursday to advance to Friday morning’s internationally-televised women’s gold medal match in the US$380,000 Brasília Open, the season-opening event of the 2012 FIVB Beach Volleyball SWATCH World Tour which is being held in the capital city of Brazil. Meeting for the first time this season, China’s third-seeded Chen Xue/Xi Zhang and Brazil’s fourth-seeded Maria Antonelli/Talita Antunes, both 5-0 will meet Friday morning for the gold medal at the Brasília Open, being played for the fourth consecutive year here as the men will conclude their competition on Sunday.
Always in the medal hunt on the FIVB SWATCH World Tour, China’s Xue/Zhang and Brazil’s Antonelli/Antunes are no strangers to each other. Xue/Zhang have been a team for eight seasons and Antonelli/Antunes for three, but the two teams will be meeting for the 19th time overall and second time in a gold medal match. Xue/Zhang hold an 11-7 edge in the series, but Antonelli/Antunes have won three of the last four meetings, including the last two in the Netherlands and the Netherlands last August. The Chinese are playing in their 36th final four out of 68 FIVB SWATCH World Tour events together with nine gold medals. The Brazilians are in their 29th final four out of 42 world tour events with seven gold medals.
To earn their spot in the gold medal match, China’s Xue/Zhang survived a thrilling three-set match, outlasting Brazil’s second-seeded reigning FIVB Swatch World Champions Juliana Felisberta Silva/Larissa Franca, 21-17, 16-21 and 17-15 in 52 minutes. Brazil’s Antonelli/Antunes had a similiar titanic struggle with Italy’s seventh-seeded Greta Cicolari/Marta Menegatti, finally winning in three sets, 20-22, 21-18 and 15-11 in 55 minutes.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first FIVB-sanctioned event (Rio de Janeiro in 1987), the international beach volleyball circuit begins for the fourth consecutive season with the US$380,000 Brasília Open will be held through Sunday on The Esplanada dos Ministérios in Quadrante 1 as the Brazilian capital is celebrating its 52nd anniversary on Saturday. The tournament is the first of nine double-gender events on the 2012 schedule.
"We are very excited to play our first FIVB SWATCH World Tour final at home in Brazil,” said Antunes following her team’s semifinal win. “The fans are wonderful and they will help us a lot to win the gold medal. It is extremely good for the self-esteem to begin an Olympic year with this achievement. In the tie-break against the Italians, we were able to show our chemistry as a team. It is a great pleasure to be here displaying great efforts with great results for all Brazilians. The excellent result here in Brasilia is a consequence of a career planned step by step, especially in the last three years with Maria."
China’s Zhang was just as happy in a different way than Antunes, saying "Today is my birthday and this final is the best gift ever, even more in an Olympic year. Our goal is to achieve better performance than last Olympics (where they were bronze medal winners). Today was a huge step to get it done. For tomorrow, we expect a very tough match. Talita/Maria Elisa are excellent blockers and they will put a lot of pressure on us.”
Juliana/Larissa advanced to the semifinals by surviving three-sets against USA’s top-seeded Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh, 21-13, 24-26 and 15-13 in 50 minutes and Cicolari/Menegatti earned their semifinal spot with their elimination round come-from-behind win over Germany’s ninth-seeded Sara Goller/Laura Ludwig, 15-21, 29-27 and 16-14 in 66 minutes, the longest match of the tournament so far. May-Treanor/Walsh and Goller/Ludwig will both split $9,100 for their fifth-place finishes. Juliana and Larissa improved their all-time FIVB SWATCH World Tour record against the Americans to 9-12 and have now beat their rivals six out of the last seven times. Cicolari/Menegatti now lead the series with Goller/Ludwig 7-1. USA’s May-Treanor/Walsh and Germany’s Goller/Ludwig both will split $9,100 in prize money.
Because of the stature of the two teams, the Juliana/Larissa match against May-Treanor/Walsh, who played for the gold medal here last year, their match was televised nationally in Brazil. After May-Treanor/Walsh battled back after the first-set loss, the deciding third set was tied seven times with the last at 12-12 before Juliana/Larissa pulled out the victory.
Walsh summed up her team’s feelings after only their fifth fifth-place finish in 71 world tour events, saying, “I don’t mind at all losing this tournament. Everything we need to work on we saw in this tournament and now we will go and work on it.”
The men’s main draw tournament continues Friday. The gold medal teams in each gender in the Brasília Open will each split $30,000, the silver $21,000, the bronze $15,000 and fourth place $11,200. The internationally-televised medal matches for men on Sunday.
Brazil has staged a FIVB SWATCH World Tour event every year since the start of the international series for men in 1989 and women in 1992. This is the 34th men’s event and 29th women’s tournament held in Brazil. It is also the 14th time that the world tour is having its season-opening event in Brazil and the fourth consecutive year the tour has come to Brasília. This event is the 272nd men’s and 233rd women’s competition in the history of the FIVB SWATCH World Tour. With the season-opening event on the 2012 FIVB Beach Volleyball SWATCH World Tour calendar in Brazil, the road to the 2012 London Olympic Games has resumed as 16 of the 24 teams in each gender will be determined through year-long Olympic rankings through the FIVB SWATCH World Tour. This is one the first of nine double-gender events on the 2012 world tour schedule. Beach Volleyball at the London Olympic Games will run from July 28 to August 9.