Australian qualifiers Artacho/Laird shine at Shanghai Grand Slam
Shanghai, China, May 1, 2014 – Australian qualifiers Mariafe Artacho and Nicole Laird set off to a brilliant start in their first Grand Slam appearance together as they claimed two upset wins in a row here on Thursday to join big names including Kerri Walsh/April Ross, Juliana Silva/Maria Antonelli, Xue Chen/Xia Xinyi in the unbeaten teams after two rounds of women’s Main Draw pool play in the US$800,000 2014 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Shanghai Grand Slam.
Having reaped two qualification victories on Wednesday to make the 32-team Main Draw, the 31st-seeded Artacho/Laird continued their winning momentum by defeating Germany’s second seeds Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst 2-0 (21-17, 21-19) in the morning and Czech Republic’s 15th seeds Kristyna Kolocova/Marketa Slukova 2-0 (21-16, 24-22) in the afternoon.
“Cool! It feels pretty unbelievable! Our first season, our first Grand Slam, come as qualifiers, it feels pretty unreal,” said Artacho.
The second set of the second round match between Artacho/Laird and Kolocova/Slukova was hotly contested and the Australians withstood two set points to level it at 20-all thanks to a Artacho block against Kolocova. After Artacho beat off the fourth set point of the Czech Republic with another block, an error of Slukova during a long rally awarded Artacho/Laird their first match point and Artacho converted on it with an accurate drop shot.
“It feels pretty unreal, but we came back in the second set. We just stuck together for every point and believed in each other and we can do it,” Artacho added. “I think that the most important thing is to believe in ourselves and say: we can do it, it's possible.”
Laird attributed the surprising wins to their concentration. “It’s our first Grand Slam and it's all a bit overwhelming. So breaking everything down, making it a lit bit smaller, a little bit simpler,” she said. “In the game just play our ball. Last point doesn't matter, the next point doesn't matter, and it’s all about what's happening in that one moment.”
Having secured their berth in the 24-team knock-out stage, Artacho/Laird now put their eyes on the last match and the top place of the pool.
“We always go one step at a time, even breaking the game down, thinking nothing, just one game at a time has helped us come this far,” Artacho said. “We still haven’t finish pool match, so our next goal is to finish atop of our pool. Being that our last game today, we can now switch off, relax and get ready for tomorrow's games.”
Home favorites Xue/Xia also had a fine start on Thursday as they swept Kazakhstan’s Tatyana Mashkova/Irina Tsimbalova 2-0 (21-17, 21-11) before beating Ana Gallay and Georgina Klug of Argentina 2-0 (21-19, 21-19).
“We were satisfied with our play today,“ said Xue, who paired with Xia to take the bronze medal at last week’s season-opening Fuzhou Open. “My partner is very young and we have a lot to improve together, so every match is a good test and challenge for us.“
It’s also the first Grand Slam event for the newly formed Chinese combination and they vowed to do as best as they. “It’s important for us to get more points and this Grand Slam is a great opportunity, we’ll do the best we can,“ Xue added.
Other top teams winning two matches in a row include Walsh/Ross of the United States, Juliana/Antonelli, Talita Antunes/Taiana Lima, Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas De Freitas from Brazil and Germany’s Karla Borger/Britta Buthe, Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler.
Thirty-two teams are playing a single round robin in eight groups with top three finishers from each group to advance to the 24-team knockout stage.
The 2014 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour calendar features a record purse of US$10.2 million with a season that extends from late April to mid-December competing at 21 venues in 18 countries. This year’s FIVB World Tour includes a record 10 FIVB Grand Slam events, the inaugural Grand Slam Finale and 11 FIVB Open Tournaments throughout the world, helping expand the door for development of the sport even further.