USA meets Russia in Thailand Open final
Both finalists took the long way through the loser’s bracket. In the semifinal, a rematch of Friday’s third round game, Kessy and Ross did beat compatriots Lauren Fendrick and Nicole Branagh this: 15-21 21-11 15-8.
Ukolova and Khomyakova also needed three sets, 21-13 20-22 15-13, to overcome Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas de Freitas who played their first semifinal.
Second seeded Kessy and Ross have been in every edition of the Thailand Open since the beginning in 2006 and on the same team since 2007. The olympic silver medallists had a tough day as they had to go through two rounds in the loser’s bracket to reach the semifinals.
First Greece and Kazakhstan
They started out with a three-setter against Greece’s Maria Tsiartsiani and Vasiliki Arvaniti (19-21 21-18 15-13), which took them over an hour. After that the Americans beat Kazakhstan’s Irina Tsimbalova and Tatyana Mashkova in two sets (21-18 21-15) in the middle of the day on a hot and humid centre court.
In the more shaded semifinal they lost the first set against Fendrick and Branagh, who won the event with Kerri Walsh in 2010, with a big difference (21-15), their opponents serving and attacking just as hard as they did in Friday’s match.
Kessy and Ross turned things around in the second set, while Fendrick and Branagh started making more and more mistakes. They took a big leap from 3-3 to 10-5 and again on Ross’ serve from 17-11 to 21-11. ’’I think our legs were starting to get warm in the second set’’, Kessy said. ’’And our side-out was getting a lot better.’’
In the tiebreak they put in some more effort to finish with an easy 15-8. ’’We just knew we would not have to save energy for anything now. In the first two matches today, we knew we had to play at least another game’’, Ross said. Kessy: ’’But is was tough in this heat. During warm-up we were so delirious, we were laughing and giggling. But we said, just go and do it.’’
Third seeded Ukolova and Khomyakova, who lost to Fendrick and Branagh in the fourth round on Friday, had a slightly easier day. They played just one match in the contender’s round, against fellow Russians Anna Vozakova and Anastasia Vasina. The latter forfeited after losing the first set.
In only their fourth semifinal they had a flying start against Brazil’s Agatha and Seixas, winning the first set 21-13, Ukolova excelling with high hit spikes and good defence. They even had a match point at 20-19 in the second set, but Brazil, with some huge blocks by Agatha, fought back to 20-22. The tiebreak was close till 13-13, but at 14-13 Brazil gave away the game with a netball.
’’We served really well in the first set’’, Ukolova said. ’’In the second we started to make more mistakes. And Agatha had some good blocks, we could not see what she was doing until the last moment.’’
’’Our side-out was just not consistent enough and their service was very good’’, Seixas said. ’’We tried to confuse them with our block, but sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. But we have one more shot at the podium tomorrow.’’
Former youth and junior world champion Seixas and Agatha teamed up only this year and have never played the more experienced Fendrick and Branagh before.
Russia eager to play Kessy and Ross
The Russian team is eager to play against Kessy and Ross, although they would have liked revenge against Fendrick and Branagh. ’’But we really want to play Kessy and Ross, because we never played them before’’, Ukolova said. It will be the first USA-Russia final in the history of the FIVB women's World Tour.
For the Russians this is their second final in two years as a team, winning the title in Klagenfurt this year. Kessy and Ross play their 20th final in six years, winning 9 gold and 11 silver medals. Their last World Tour medal, silver, dates back to Phuket in 2011.
The final at the Laem Than Pier starts at 16.30, after the bronze medal match at 15.30. The FIVB SWATCH World Tour is visiting Thailand for the seventh year straight, but it is the first stop in Bangsaen. All previous editions were staged at Phuket. The USA won the event four times.
The women’s only Bangsaen Thailand Open, powered by PTT, is the final event of the 2012 season.