Two Russian teams in Anapa Open women’s semifinals
First seeded Evgenia Ukolova and Ekaterina Khomyakova will play USA’s Heather Hughes and Kaitlin Sather Nielsen while Maria Prokopeva and Svetlana Popova take on Germany’s Teresa Mersmann and Isabel Schneider on Saturday.
For Ukolova and Khomyakova this is their first final four this year in a FIVB event and their fifth overall. After a bye in the first round as pool winners they had and easy win over Czech team Karolina Rehackova and Michala Kvapilova who had to forfeit in the second set because of an injury.
In the second set of the quarterfinal against Thailand’s Varapatsorn Radarong and Tanarattha Udomchavee they had a tough time. The Russians were trailing till 15-15 and only got their first lead at 17-16.
At their second match point - Ukolova served out on the first - Khomyakova secured the second set and the match after all (21-13, 21-18).
“The end of the first set was so easy for us, I think we started a bit too slow in the second”, Ukolova said. “But we kept believing we could also win the second, so we pushed with the serve and it worked.”
Ukolova and Khomyakova have had a lot of tournaments in a row lately, winning gold at the Universiade Games two weeks ago, and it’s beginning to take its toll.
“We played without rest for more than a month now. And after this we have the European Championships, which are very important to us. It’s our life. But it’s tough.”
Both the German and the US semifinalists are ‘first timers’. Neither of them has played in a FIVB semifinal before. USA’s Nielsen did not even have any FIVB or overseas experience before she travelled to Anapa.
“It feels really good, but it’s very overwhelming”, she said after their third win of the day, a tough 2-1 (16-21, 21-17, 15-12) against Russia’s Irina Chaika and Ekaterina Syrtseva.
Out of the four non-Russian players only Germany’s Isabel Schneider has had some final four experience, when she won the gold medal this year at the U23 World Championships with Victoria Bieneck.
Still it was a big surprise they reached the semifinals of a FIVB Open event. “Incredible, it’s our first FIVB tournament together and we came here to give our best and go through the pool and now we are in semifinals”, she said.
“We never thought about it before, we would have been happy with 9th place. But today was our day, I guess”, Mersmann said. The German girls played three matches on Friday to reach the final four.
“Our second game today (against Russia’s Motrich/Shiryaeva) was, I think, our best”, Mersmann said. “We wanted to give power and feel happy and give everything and it worked.”
In the quarterfinal they beat Brazil’s Fernanda Alves and Elize Secomandi Maia 2-1 (17-21, 21-17, 15-12). “This last match was very difficult for my mind, because the second game was nearly perfect, everything went well, so to have the same feeling in the third round was difficult”, Mersmann said.
After losing the first set the Germans changed tactics in the end of the second set and the tiebreak, serving very short on the tall Brazilian girls.
“When we don’t have a solution, our strategy is to do something different, to test something new and it worked”, Mersmann said.
To get to the final they will have to beat 5th seeded Prokopeva and Popova. “We already played Russia three times here and won, so I hope it will work tomorrow again”, Mersmann concluded.