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Palmer/Bartoli and O'Dea/Watson stand out at Australian Beach Volleyball Grand Slam

Becchara Palmer paired up with Katie Bartoli to win the women's title
Gold Coast, Australia, January 26, 2015 - Becchara Palmer paired up with Katie Bartoli this weekend to claim her first Australian title since retiring from and returning to the game after the London Olympics in 2012.

Adelaide's Palmer and Manly's Bartoli came together as a pair just three days before the Gold Coast event. Their opening game of the weekend was the first time they'd ever hit together.

The pairing of Palmer and Bartoli in the women's was the result of injuries to their regular playing partners.

"If we're honest, our first few games were not lovely," Palmer said after their straight-sets victory over World Under 23 champions, Nikki Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar. Maybe as a new pairing we were a bit tentative, a bit nervous and hadn't quite found our mojo. But we got better every match, and our final was definitely our best game."

It was Bartoli's first ever tour title, although she finished with two silver medals with regular partner Pip Soulsby last summer.

"I was 15 when I first started, I'm 23 now, so I'm pretty pumped," she said.

It was also the first Australian title for Palmer since her return to the beach volleyball tour after the London Olympics. Palmer retired after London, but then came out of retirement 12 months later and teamed with another Adelaide player, Zina Stone, with a goal of qualifying for Rio.

But those plans have been thrown into turmoil, with Stone forced to take a break from the sport through injury. 26-year-old Palmer is now desperately trying to find a new partner who will help her qualify for Rio.

In the men's event, it might have been Australia Day, but New Zealanders Sam O'Dea and Mike Watson were in no mood for sentiment as they swept to victory in the Australian Beach Volleyball Grand Slam event.

O'Dea and Watson's victory underlines the growing strength of Oceania beach volleyball, and follows on from their victory at the Oceania Championships at Sydney's Manly Beach in November.

The Gold Coast event attracted a strong International contingent, with several teams from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Italy playing.

The men's final was a volatile affair, with Australia's Damien Schumann and Josh Court receiving three red cards during the match, costing them a point each time. Two of those red cards came in the third set, which they lost 15-12.

"I think we handled that situation really well," Watson said. "Typically I'm a person who lets the ref get on top of me, so I just tried to keep out of it and focus on my own game. We're kind of in the mix to qualify for the World Championships, and if we can do that it's a big step towards qualifying for the Olympics, so that's a big focus for us."

The final event of the Grand Slam series will be contested at Perth's Scarborough Beach in March.


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