Moscow, Russia, June 10, 2012 – For the third time this year Brazil will have two teams in the final four. Both Larissa França/Juliana Felisberta and Talita Antunes/Maria Antonelli on Sunday reached the semifinals of the FIVB SWATCH World Tour Moscow Grand Slam, like they did in Brasilia and Shanghai.
Brazil's Larissa França (left) and Juliana Felisberta celebrate advancing to the semifinals
In a rematch of last year’s final in Moscow, Larissa and Juliana will play USA’s Olympic champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh on Monday. Third seeded Talita and Antonelli encounter the 2008 and 2010 Moscow champions Chen Xue and Xi Zhang from China.
Second seeded Larissa and Juliana had a rough start on Sunday, needing three sets against the Finnish Nystrom sisters. After a lot of miscommunication in the first set the Brazilians came from behind to win 18-21 21-10 18-16. "I did not play very well this morning," Juliana said. "But in our second match everything matched and we played an excellent game."
The world champions then went on to overpower European champions Sanne Keizer and Marleen van Iersel in straight sets: 21-16 21-12. The Dutch girls tried hard to break the excellent defence of the Brazilians, which led to some great rallies, but they were just not good enough.
Ready for the Olympic Games
Juliana, who has won about everything – 43 titles and the 2011 world championships - says she is close to a 100 percent ready for her first Olympic Games. The 28-year-old missed out of the 2008 Games in Beijing because of a knee injury. "We have played almost 10 years together now. I think this is the right moment for an Olympic gold medal. I think we are at our best right now."
The 28-year-old admits she really loves to play May-Treanor and Walsh again, the last time dating back to the Brasilia Open in April. The Americans are still leading the series 13-10, but the Brazilians have won their last three encounters. "I missed them a lot," Juliana said. "It is always a great game against Misty and Kerri."
May-Treanor and Walsh had two straight sets victories over Russia’s Anastasia Vasina and Anna Vozakova (21-14 21-15) and compatriots Jennifer Kessy and April Ross (21-19 21-19). In the match against the 2009 world champions they trailed a long time due to a strong serving Ross, at some point they were even five points behind, until fighting back to level at 17-17. In the second set the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champions took a lead right away with May-Treanor finishing the game at their first set point with a beautiful topspin shot down the line.
May-Treanor knew Kessy and Ross were going to target her. "I had all my attention on receiving and getting the ball to Kerri, so my focus on spiking was less. I made some hitting errors in the beginning, but later on I tried to be more aggressive in the spiking."
The USA teams have played each other 30 times before, May-Treanor and Walsh winning 25. Despite knowing each other so well, they do not change tactics. "Actually all matches against them is a game of consistency, not making any errors. Play crisp and clear," said May-Treanor who will stop playing after the London Olympics. Walsh will finish the season, but also says goodbye after that. "We played almost 12 years on the World Tour. It is the beginning of a new chapter, having children and things like that. But I hope we can do well these last tournaments and leave some footprints behind in beach volleyball."
Talita and Antonelli, who will play their fourth final four in five events this year – winning one gold and two silver – had two easy wins against Russia’s Maria Bratkova and Svetlana Popova (21-15 21-15) and the Netherlands' Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel (21-13 21-15).
The number two Brazilian team trail the series 13-7 against semifinal opponents Xue and Zhang Xi. The Chinese call Moscow their lucky place, finishing first in 2008 and 2010 and third last year. This year Xue and Zhang Xi already claimed two titles, in Brasilia and Shanghai. The top seeded Chinese showed excellent form in Moscow, winning all matches in straight sets. On Sunday they eliminated Germany’s Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig (21-19 21-16) and Australia’s Louise Bawden and Becchara Palmer (21-16 21-19).
The women’s semifinals are scheduled for 13.00 (local time) and 14.00, the bronze medal match is at 17.00 followed by the final at 18.00. The winners of the $800.000 Moscow Grand Slam share $43,500, second place is worth $29,500 and bronze $23,000.
After Moscow four more Grand Slams will be played before the Olympic Games in London (July 28-August 9) start. The upcoming event in Rome (June 12-17) is the last one counting for the Olympic qualification ranking.