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Beach Volleyball - 08. July 2011.

Brazil with two tandems, China, Italy all reach women’s final four on Saturday at FIVB Swatch 1to1 energy Grand Slam Gstaad 2011

Getting down to serious business as the days dwindle down to a precious few, four productive women’s teams emerged from fury of two elimination rounds on the Swiss sand and the encouragement of thousands of local fans that filled the Gstaad center court Friday to advance to Saturday’s semifinals and medal matches at the $600,000 FIVB Swatch 1to1 energy Grand Slam Gstaad 2011.

The world’s top beach volleyball tandems have been in Switzerland since Monday as the double-gender event marks the 12th consecutive visit by the world tour with Gstaad hosting 10 men’s and 11 previous women’s events. Gstaad is a quaint village nestled in a magnificent valley in Southwestern Switzerland at 3,440-feet (1,050 meters) above sea-level, the highest altitude a FIVB Swatch World Tour stop is held at every year.

Winning the exciting quarterfinal matches Friday afternoon and early evening were Italy’s fifth-seeded Greta Cicolari/Marta Menegatti, China’s seventh-seeded Chen Xue/Xi Zhang, Brazil’s sixth-seeded Maria Antonelli/Talita Antunes and Brazil’s second-seeded Juliana Felisberta Silva/Larissa Franca.

The fourth of seven “major” tournaments on the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour schedule, the FIVB Swatch 1to1 energy Grand Slam Gstaad 2011, the winning pairs in Gstaad will each gender share the $43,500 first-place prizes. Silver medalists will split $29,500 while bronze medal winners will divide $23,000 and the fourth place finishers will receive $18,400.

On Saturday, with the women’s semifinals starting late morning and continuing through to the medal matches in the late afternoon, the matchups for the women’s semifinals will have Brazil’s Antonelli/Antunes vs. China’s Xue/Zhang and the other semifinal will pit Italy’s Cicolari/Menegatti vs. Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa.

In Friday’s quarterfinal matches, Italy’s Cicolari/Menegatti upset USA’s third-seeded Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh, 19-21, 21-19 and 15-11 in 49 minutes; China’s Xue/Zhang defeated Netherland’s fourth-seeded Sanne Keizer/Marleen Van Iersel, 28-26, 23-21 in 46 minutes, Brazil’s Antonelli/Antunes beat Brazilian 16th-seeded compatriots Vivian Cunha/Taiana Lima, 21-19, 21-19 in 32 minutes and Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa overcame Switzerland’s ninth-seeded Simone Kuhn/Nadine Zumkehr and the very partisan, flag-waving home-country near capacity Swiss crowd, 21-18, 21-12  in 39 minutes.

In the head-to head series between the teams on the FIVB Swatch World Tour, Italy’s Cicolari/Menegatti defeated USA’s May-Treanor/Walsh in their first meeting, China’s Xue/Zhang extended their record to 3-1 against Netherland’s Keizer/Van Iersel, Brazil’s Antonelli/Antunes increased their record against their compatriots Cunha/Lima to 3-0, and Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa extended their total to 7-1 against Switzerland’s Kuhn/Zumkehr.

The losers of the quarterfinals all finish in fifth place and leave Switzerland with $13,200 in prize money per team.

Previewing the semifinals, Brazil’s Antonelli/Antunes, who won the Gstaad gold medal in 2009 and finished fourth last year, trail the series with China’s Xue/Zhang, 4-8 and Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa, who are the defending champions here and won in 2005 and have finished on the podium for five straight years in Gstaad, are 2-0 against Italy’s young Cecolari/Menegatti.

In the first meeting between the two teams, Italy’s Cicolari, 23, and Menegatti, 20, earned their third trip to the final four this season by keeping their composure and coming up with great play after great play including seven ace serves in eliminating the legendary American duo May-Treanor/Walsh. The Italian had several runs and took a 20-16 lead in the first set and the Americans saved off three match points before losing 21-19.  In the second set, Walsh made her presence felt even more and after slipping behind 14-19 and with May-Treanor serving, the Americans scored the last seven points of the set to move to the tie-breaker.

In the tie-breaker set, May-Treanor/Walsh jumped out to 5-1 lead over Cicolari/Menegatti, but the Italians wouldn’t quit.  After closing to 4-6, the Italians tied the match at 8-8, 9-9 before taking the lead for good at 10-9.

With tremendous all-around play, including serving, setting, digging and blocking, Cicolari/Menegatti eliminated May-Treanor/Walsh, causing the Americans to slip to a fifth place finish for the second straight tour stop. Prior to last week’s event in Stavanger, Norway, May-Treanor/Walsh had played four other events together this year, winning the Beijing Grand Slam, silver medals at the FIVB Swatch World Championships and Brasilia Open and a fourth place in Sanya, China.

Between well-earned bursts of emotion in the media mixed zone following her team’s victory over May-Treanor/Walsh, Menegatti said, “It is just unbelievable – that was a really great match we played, maybe the best we have ever played. Everything just fitted in our way to play. I don’t realize it year that we have just beaten our idols. I think it is the most important victory of our career. It is just great for young players like us to celebrate such a victory. Now everything is possible, of course we want to play in the gold medal match now and win the Gstaad Grand Slam.”

In defeat, May-Treanor reflected on the match, saying, “We didn’t play on a consistent level throughout the match. There are too many ups and downs and that’s what made us fail.  We have played well at times this year, but we aren’t at the level yet that we were in 2008 when we won the Beijing Olympics and all five of those years we won the gold medal here in Gstaad. We’ll improve, but that young Italian team is good now and has great potential to become a very strong team.”

In Friday’s round of 16, the losing teams received ninth place finishes and each split $8,000 in prize money.

In one of the highlight matches of the round of 16, Switzerland’s home-country favorites Kuhn Zumker added another victory to the three they earned in pool play, eliminating Czech Republic’s 14th-seeded Hana Klapalova/Lenka Hajeckova by defeating them 21-18, 21-15 in 37 minutes to stay unbeaten against the Czech opponents at 3-0. The popular win also guarantees a higher finish in front of their home country fans than the ninth place finishes of the last two years in Gstaad.

“We knew before the match we could win against this Czech team,” commented Zumkehr afterwards. “I think our performance was okay. As a child I always dreamed of being in the quarterfinals in Gstaad and I hope tomorrow we’ll still be in the tournament. Our quarterfinal match against Juliana/Larissa will be a tough one, but we beat them for the first time this past month in the Beijing Grand Slam, so this gives us additional encouragement against the top team in the world.  But, to be in the quarterfinals in Gstaad is still unbelievable.”

In another key match in the round of 16, Netherland’s Keizer/Van Iersel eliminated last week’s Stavanger gold medal winners Jennifer Kessy/April Ross of the United States, the top-seeded team in the tournament, in straight sets, 24-22, 21-16 in 40 minutes. Last week in Stavanger, Kessy/Ross defeated the Dutch duo in the semifinals on their way to winning the gold.

The talented field includes the entire final four finishers from both genders from last year as well as the eight of the last nine women’s gold medalists in Gstaad and the last eight men’s gold medal winners although five are playing with new teammates at the extremely popular event and venue.

In last year’s women’s competition, Brazil’s Juliana Felisberta Silva/Larissa Franca won gold, with silver going to Germany’s Sara Goller/Laura Ludwig, the bronze to china’s Chen Xue/Xi Zhang and fourth place to Brazil’s Maria Antonelli/Talita Antunes.

Representing eight years, the three returning women’s gold medal winners in Gstaad are Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa (2005 and 2010), Brazil’s Maria Antonelli/Talita Antunes (2009) and Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007). May-Treanor/Walsh’s victory in 2007 was for their third FIVB Swatch World Championship. Juliana/Larissa and Antonelli/Antunes are both back in the final four and May-Treanor/Walsh finished fifth this year.

The 2011 calendar features 15 women's and 14 men's events, including 12 double-gender tournaments, within all five FIVB confederations plus one special 24-team single-gender women’s test event held August 9-14 at London’s Horse Guards Parade, the venue for beach volleyball at the 2012 London Olympic Games. The 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour is offering $7.64-million in prize money. Twelve of the tournaments are combined men's and women's events, including the World Championships and all six Grand Slam stops.

After the FIVB Swatch 1to1 energy Grand Slam Gstaad 2011, the 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour continues with another Grand Slam double-gender event July 11-16 in Moscow (Moscow Grand Slam). The total prize money for each Grand Slam event is $600,000.

The FIVB Swatch 1to1 energy Grand Slam Gstaad 2011, is the 225th women’s event and 264th men’s event on the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour (open, grand slam, Olympic and Goodwill).  The first men’s FIVB Swatch World Tour event was played February 17-22, 1987 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the first women’s event was played August 14-16, 1992 at Almeria, Spain.

For more information on the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour or the event, please visit www.fivb.org. For information on the FIVB Swatch 1to1 energy Grand Slam Gstaad 2011, please visit the event website at www.beachworldtour.ch.
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