Xue & Zhang Xi aim for successful season start in Fuzhou
Xue and Zhang Xi will be aiming to begin this World Championship year as they mean to go on against the new English pairing, who enter the Main Draw seeded 32nd after win their two qualification matches on Wednesday. With the absence of world champions Larissa França and Juliana Felisberta da Silva and London 2012 Olympic gold medallists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, it may be the year of the Chinese pair.
An impressive run for Xue and Zhang Xi in 2012 included gold in Brasilia, Shanghai, Moscow as well as silver in Berlin and bronze in Sanya before ending the year by retaining their Asian Championship title and finishing second behind Larissa and Juliana in the race to be World Tour champions.
USA’s Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, seeded fourth, will hope to get back on the podium after a relatively quiet 2012 with bronze in Rome and gold in Bangsaen, compared to five podium finishes in 2010 and seven in 2011. When in form, the pair is capable of great things, claiming the World Championship title in 2009 and silver at London 2012.
After many years of success, Brazil’s Maria Antonelli and Talita Da Rocha Antunes each enter Fuzhou with new partners. Antonelli joins 29-year-old Agatha Bednarczuk as the best ranked Brazilians, seeded fifth, while Talita is seeded seventh with Taiana Lima.
European challengers come from the Netherlands in the form of second seeds Sanne Keizer and Marleen van Iersel, who beat Xue and Zhang Xi on the way to silver in Gstaad Grand Slam last year and are the current European champions.
The Dutch pair took the European title last year from the 2011 champions, Italians Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti who are seeded third and collected bronze at last year's season opening event in Brasilia. The start of 2012 was particularly fruitful for Cicolari and Menegatti having won Beijing Grand Slam silver before going on to claim bronze at the Berlin and Gstaad Grand Slams and another silver at the Stare Jablonki Grand Slam. However, an FIVB gold still proves elusive.
The final of the women’s event takes place on April 28.
Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province lies on the southeast coast of mainland China and hosts the Open event for the first time. The city held the AVC Beach Volleyball Continental Cup in 2012 where Taliqua Clancy was part of the winning Australian team.
The Fuzhou Open is the first of eight Open events during a bumper ninth-month season, which also includes the FIVB World Tour – 10 Grand Slams and the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stare Jablonki, Poland.
The Shanghai Grand Slam is the next tournament on the calendar running from April 30 to May 5.
Please click here for the Women’s Main Draw full schedule and live comments throughout the tournament can be found on Twitter at #FuzhouOpen.