Mariehamn, Finland, September 1, 2012 – Liliana Fernandez Steiner and Elsa Baquerizo McMillan reached their first ever World Tour final on Saturday at the FIVB SWATCH World Tour Paf Open. The Spanish team will play German champions Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler on Sunday at the Finnish Aland Islands.
Germany's Ilka Semmler (right) blocking Nadine Zumkehr from Switzerland in a rainy semifinal at the Paf Open
In the first semifinal on the center court next to the Mariehamn harbour Liliana and Baquerizo beat Russia’s Evgenia Ukolova/Ekaterina Khomyakova in just two sets (21-19 21-18) after an impressive week, not losing any matches so far.
Holtwick and Semmler overpowered third seeded Simone Kuhn and Nadine Zumkehr in the other semifinal with 21-17 21-11 in just 31 minutes. It was a bit unexpected because the Germans had to play two games in the loser’s bracket earlier that day against Czechs Klapalova/Hajeckova (13-21 21-15 15-8) and Brazil’s Maria Clara/Lili (21-17 23-21) to reach the final, while Switzerland had had a 24-hour rest.
Can we play the final this evening?
’’It was a really tough day for us’’, Semmler admitted after beating the Swiss. ’’After the second match we went to the hotel and thought: one more match, how are we going to do that? Also, we had not beaten them for a long time. The last time was in 2009. But we just said let’s do it and we did. And I even felt better than in the game before.’’ At that point Holtwick added jokingly: ’’Yes, maybe we can ask to play the final this evening.’’
Over all the second seeded German team were more in control and looked sharper in the rallies. The Swiss could keep up until the end of the first set, but in the second Holtwick and Semmler took a big lead from the start. At 20-10 they had their first match point and they closed the game at their second: 21-17 21-11.
’’We could not find our rhythm and they played really well after so many games’’, Kuhn said. ’’Unfortunately they were not tired. But we are looking forward to play tomorrow and hopefully we will end up on the podium.’’ The Swiss lead the series against Ukolova and Khomyakova 3-0. ’’We know we can beat them, but they were on a podium three times in a row’’, Zumkehr said.
Beating Juliana and Larissa
For Spain and Germany it will be the second time they meet in competition. Liliana and Baquerizo won their first encounter in Moscow in 2011. The Spanish team had an amazing week in Aland and stormed into the semifinals without losing a match. They were also responsible for sending off top seeded Juliana and Larissa to the loser’s bracket on Friday.
Their opponents in the semifinal, Russia’s Ukolova/Khomyakova, also beat World Tour leaders Juliana and Larissa. They eliminated the Brazilians on Saturday in the loser’s bracket, winning 21-19 21-18.
The Spain-Russia semifinal was a tight game. Both teams levelled until 19-19 in the first set, but after that a powerful spike by Baquerizo and another great attack by Liliana the first set was decided at 21-19.
In the second the Russians started making mistakes. Their serve, usually a powerful weapon, did not work as well as it did against Juliana and Larissa. Spain took a two-point-lead at 16-14 and did not let go anymore until the end. Ukolova saved a match point at 20-17, but at the second Liliana spiked her way to the final.
’’There was a lot of tension from the beginning’’, Baquerizo said afterwards. ’’But at the end of the sets we got the points.’’ Both girls look forward to their first final and their first medal. They had played a semifinal once before, in 2011 in Quebec, but finished fourth. ’’We don’t even care who we will play in the final. We are just going to enjoy the game, since this is our first final.’’
Spanish Facebook fans
The Spanish team was cheered on by a lot of fans, who will return again on Sunday. ’’Somebody wrote us on Facebook that they were coming to watch us with 40 people’’, Liliana explained. ’’We thought: sure! But they really came and it made us enjoy this match even more.’’
The bronze medal match is scheduled for 14.30, followed by the final at 16.00 (local time). It will be the first all-European final and podium in Aland. So far the podium places at the four previous editions of the Paf Open were taken by teams from Brazil (6 medals), China (4) and USA (2).
After the event on the Finnish Aland Islands the women enjoy a break before they finish the 2012 season in Thailand at the end of October (23-28). The men already had their final 2012 event in Stare Jablonki in Poland two weeks ago.