Brasília, Brazil, April 20, 2012 - Glistening brighter than the blazing sun reflecting off the South American sand Friday, China’s Chen Xue/Xi Zhang defeated Brazil’s Maria Antonelli/Talita Antunes in the internationally-televised women’s gold medal match at the $380,000 Brasília Open, the season-opening event of the 2012 FIVB Beach Volleyball SWATCH World Tour. The double-gender event is being held in the capital city of Brazil for the fourth consecutive year and the men’s competition will end on Sunday.
Meeting for the first time this season, China’s third-seeded Xue/Zhang, the bronze medalists at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, won their third gold medal in the last four FIVB SWATCH World Tour events, overpowering Brazil’s fourth-seeded Antonelli/Antunes in front of a packed Brasília Open center court, 21-17, 21-15 in the 38-minute match.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first FIVB-sanctioned event (Rio de Janeiro in 1987), the international beach volleyball circuit has begun for the fourth consecutive season with the US$380,000 Brasília Open will be held through Sunday when the men’s internationally-televised medal matches will be held 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.
Chinese delight in final
Increasing their FIVB career gold medal total to 10 along with 31 medals overall in their 36th final four in 68 FIVB tournaments playing as a team, Xue/Zhang shared the $30,000 first-place prize while Antonellli/Antunes took home the $21,000 second-place prize and their fifth career FIVB silver medal together, 22nd total medal and 29th final four finish out of 42 FIVB events they have played together.
This was the 19th meeting between the two teams and second time in a gold medal match as China’s Xue/Zhang increased their all-time match record over Antonelli/Antunes to 12-7, although the Brazilians had won the last two meetings last August. Xue/Zhang were undefeated at 6-0 in winning their gold medal while Antonelli/Antunes finished with a 5-1 record in earning their silver.
In the championship match, play started close with six ties up to 6-1 when Xue/Zhang built a three point margin for the remainder of the first set. Antonelli/Antunes started the second set with a furry, taking early leads of 3-0 and 4-1 before the Xue/Zhang kept their composure, eventually tieing the score at 9-9 and then taking the lead for good at 10-9 before pulling away for the final victory margin.
“We played very well in Brazil and I think training with other world tour teams in Los Angeles before coming here helped us tremendously be ready for the season-opener,” said Zhang, who turned 27 on Saturday, after the post-match award ceremony. “This gold medal is a great birthday present for me and for Chen and I it gives us a lot of added confidence knowing the next three FIVB SWATCH World Tour events will be in China. We finished seventh both of the last two years we played here so this is a huge improvement. We kept our concentration the entire gold medal match.”
Italian duo shock home favourites for bronze
In the bronze medal match, Italy’s seventh-seeded Greta Cicolari/Marta Menegatti did something few other teams have ever accomplished, beating Brazil’s second-seeded reigning FIVB Swatch World Champions Juliana Felisberta Silva/Larissa Franca for the second time in the same tournament. In the intense three-set bronze medal match, Cicolari/Menegatti finally overcame Juliana/Larissa, winning the first set 21-14, dropping the second 17-21 and coming back from 6-10 and 10-13 to win the deciding third set 15-13 in the grueling 52-minute match.
Cicolari/Menegatti, who defeated Juliana/Larissa for the first time ever on Thursday in two set, earned their fourth FIVB career podium placement and third bronze medal in a FIVB SWATCH World Tour event while improving their all-time record against Juliana/Larissa to 2-3, will split $15,000 while Juliana/Larissa, who earned their 79th FIVB final four in 97 all-time FIVB SWATCH World Tour events together, picked up $11,200 as the fourth place team. It was the first time as a team that Juliana/Larissa have earned a medal in nine FIVB events together in Brazil.
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 on the FIVB SWATCH World Tour. This event is 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.
After the Brasília stop, the 2012 FIVB SWATCH World Tour continues with events on four consecutive weeks. The genders split venues next week for open events with the women in Sanya, China and the men in Myslowice, Poland. Following those events will be consecutive double-gender grand slam events in Shanghai, China (April 30-May 6) and Beijing, China (May 7-13) and a men’s event in Prague, Czech Republic (May 22-27).