Osaka, Japan, May 24, 2009 â€” There was only one thing that could have prevented Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca from winning gold at the Keihan/SMFG Japan Open this weekend. And it wasn't their competition.
The Brazilian duo cruised to their second SWATCH FIVB World Tour title this season by defeating compatriots Talita Antunes and Maria Antonelli in the final of the US$190,000 event.
The three-time SWATCH FIVB World Tour champions were playing in only their second international event this season after missing the last stop in Shanghai after Juliana withdrew with a back injury.
With no sign of a recurrence in Osaka, it was smooth sailing for the top seeds, who downed fifth-seeded Talita and Antonelli 26-24, 19-21, 18-16 in 65 minutes to win the $30,000 first-place prize.
"It is better to be playing than watching," said the 25-year old Juliana. "(My back in Shanghai) just did not feel right and I did not want to put any stress on my body as I am only nine months removed from major knee surgery. It is better to play on the safe side than try to play at anything less than 100 percent."
Juliana and Larissa won the season-opening event on the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Tour calendar in April in Brasilia before withdrawing from Shanghai. Talita and Antonelli topped the podium in China after placing 13th in the Brazilian capital.
Despite finishing runners-up to share the $21,000 second-place prize, Talita and Antonelli assumed the top spot on the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Tour rankings list with 1,320 points in three events, with Juliana and Larissa now tied for second with Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig of Germany. Both teams have 1,200 points.
After placing third and fourth in the first two SWATCH events this season, the Germans finished seventh this week.
Sunday's win was the second in the Keihan/SMFG Japan Open for Juliana and Larissa over Talita and Antonelli, after beating the pair 21-16, 15-21, 15-10 Friday afternoon in the winner's bracket quarterfinals. Early last month in a Brazilian domestic event, Juliana and Larissa also won a meeting with Talita and Maria in three sets.
"Talita and Maria are a very strong team," said 27-year old Larissa, who has now won 23 SWATCH FIVB World Tour gold medals with Juliana in 61 international events together since the start of the 2004 season. "We are two young teams that will probably play many more matches against each other on the international and domestic tour. I figure that all our matches will be very competitive with the best of Brazilian Beach Volleyball on display."
Sunday's finale marked the 38th time in the 18-year history of the women's SWATCH FIVB World Tour that two Brazilian teams have met for a gold medal. Juliana and Larissa are now 23-14 in gold-medal matches, which includes a 10-4 record in FIVB finals against Brazilian teams. One of their Brazilian setbacks was in the 2005 Osaka stop where Juliana and Larissa were upset in three sets by compatriots Shaylyn Bede and Ana Paula Connelly.
In the first two SWATCH FIVB World Tour events this season, the Brazilian gold medal wins were over teams from the United States and China. Juliana and Larissa defeated Americans Jen Kessy and April Ross in the Brazilia final, while Talita and Antonelli downed Jie Wang and Man Zuo for the Shanghai gold medal.
In the bronze-medal match, 13th-seeded Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands defeated 26th-seeded Angie Akers and Tyra Turner of the United States 21-19, 21-18 in 36 minutes. It was the first-ever SWATCH FIVB World Tour medals for the Dutch players, who shared the $15,000 third-place prize. Akers and Turner split $11,200 in their first international event together.
Keizer and Van Iersel's medal was the second ever for a Dutch women's team, with the first being a gold medal finish at a 2003 FIVB event in China by Rebekka Kadijk and Marrit Leenstra in Lianyungang. Van Ierset also became the 11th former FIVB under 21 world champion (six men and five women) to net a SWATCH medal. Keizer is also now the third former under 18/19 world champion (one man, two women) to claim a SWATCH podium placement.
With the men's SWATCH FIVB World Tour idle this past week, both genders will be competing on two different fronts this coming week, with the women in South Korea (Seoul, May 26-31) and their male counterparts in Poland (Myslowice, May 26-31). After a three-week break the $1-million SWATCH FIVB World Championships will be held June 25-July 5 in Stavanger, Norway.