Mariehamn, Finland, September 2, 2012 – Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler claimed their first FIVB SWATCH World Tour gold on the Finnish Aland Islands on Sunday. The German champions beat Liliana Fernandez Steiner and Elsa Baquerizo McMillan from Spain in three sets (21-18 19-21 15-9) in the final the fifth edition of the Paf Open.
Germany's Katrin Holtwick (left) and Ilka Semmler won their first gold medal on the World Tour by beating Spain's Liliana/Baquerizo in the final of the Paf Open
In the bronze medal match Russia’s Evgenia Ukolova and Ekaterina Khomyakova booked their first victory (21-19 25-23) over Swiss players Simone Kuhn and Nadine Zumkehr, having lost three previous encounters. It was their second medal after winning gold this year in Klagenfurt.
First final for Spain
On the final day of the single gender Paf Open the sun finally lit the centre court at the Mariehamn harbour. Close to 3,000 spectators watched Liliana and Baquerizo play their first World Tour final.
Holtwick and Semmler, having played finals before, showed no mercy and put the pressure on right from the start, serving strongly. The Germans got their first set point at 20-17, but needed one more before Semmler could claim the set with a high dink over the block.
Half way through the second set the Spanish shook off some of the nerves and got fired up like they usually do. They stormed off to a 18-11-lead and were ready to take it to a tiebreak at 20-15. But Germany came back due to a strong serving serie again by Semmler and nerves took over again. Finally, at 20-19, Baquerizo scored an angle shot to level the game.
First gold for Germany
In the tiebreak Germany took control again. Semmler, who hit quite a few aces during the match, was ready to serve for the match at 14-8 after a super block, but she served out. She corrected herself at the next match point and with a powerfull spike she claimed their first gold, having already won two bronze and two silver medals in 64 events together.
’’Ilka had lots of good serves today’’, Holtwick complimented her partner after the final. ’’She made a lot of important points. I think also we had the advantage of having played two or three finals before, in which we did not make it by the way. So we knew how it is to play a final.’’
For the Spanish team this was all new, although they played bronze medal matches before in 2011 in Quebec (4th) and this year at the European championships (3rd). Baquerizo: ’’We were both very tense, we got it going a bit in the second set and after winning the second we thought we could do it, but had a bad start and got very tense again. And it does not always depend on yourself. If the other team plays well, what can you do. They served very well. And we will be really happy with the silver tomorrow.’’
Bronze medal match
Nadine Zumkehr was not able to give her partner a proper birthday gift, Kuhn turned 32, in the bronze medal match earlier on Sunday. The Swiss team beat the Russians easily (21-13 21-16) in round 4 earlier in Aland, but were not in charge this time.
Ukolova and Khomyakova immediately took a 10-2 lead in the first set with some powerful serving and high spikes. Switzerland did come back to 18-17 but lost 21-19 in the end. The second set was more of a battle, one or the other team leading one or two points. At 18-20 the Swiss had their first set point followed by four more, but it was Ukolova who finished the game at Russia’s first matchpoint: 25-23.
’’We lost to them twice these last weeks and both matches without any chances’’, Ukolova said. ’’So we decided to change tactics. I can’t tell you what it was because we might need it again.’’
Successful season for Russia
The Russians girls look back on a successful season, winning gold in Klagenfurt and bronze in Aland after winning nothing in 2011. ’’We started with a new coach in January and did not have a lot of time to prepare, but we really improved in a short time. I am happy with that because we really showed we can play and Russia is not just a country for winter sports. I hope we can continue and stay in the top ten.’’
It was the first time the Paf Open had an all-European podium. The medals at the four previous editions of the Paf Open were taken by teams from Brazil (6 medals), China (4) and USA (2).
The Paf Open was a single gender event for the first time and one of three women’s only events on the 2012 World Tour calendar. While the men already closed the 2012 season two weeks ago, the women have one more event left in Thailand. The Bangsaen Thailand Open is held from October 23 till 28.