Stare Jablonki, Poland, – In another in a history of stirring performances, Brazil’s magnificent Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franc won the women’s gold medal Saturday to complete an amazing run of seven consecutive victories through a world-class field at the at the $600,000 Mazury Orlen Grand Slam in Stare Jablonki.
The world’s top beach volleyball tandems are in Poland as the double-gender event marks the eighth consecutive visit by the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch world tour with Stare Jablonki hosting seven previous men’s events and three previous women’s events. This is also the second year it has been a grand slam instead of an open event. Overall, this is the 10th men’s event held in Poland (Myslowice hosted in 2009, 2010), and eighth women’s event held in Poland (Myslowice hosted in 2008 and this year and Warsaw in 2006, 2007).
In the gold medal match, Brazil’s top-seeded Juliana/Larissa fed off the appreciative energy of the boisterous crowd of over 5,000 that packed the Hotel Anders center court and rallied in three sets to finally overcome USA’s fifth-seeded Jennifer Kessy/April Ross, 14-21, 21-19 and 18-16 in the 53-minute championship match.
After going a perfect 7-0 in Stare Jablonki, Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa increased their 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour season record to 53-7 while earning their fifth gold medal of the season as well as their third consecutive gold medal victory at the Mazury Orlen Grand Slam. In 93 world tour events together, the newly crowned FIVB Swatch World Champions earned their 77th final four placement, 73rd medal and 41st FIVB gold medal as a team. Juliana/Larissa increased their FIVB career record against USA’s Kessy/Ross to 16-4.
USA’s Kessy/Ross duo are now 53-15 on this year’s FIVB Swatch World Tour. In 57 world tour events together, the 2009 FIVB Swatch World Champions gained their 41st final four placement, earned their 26th medal overall and their ninth silver medal as a team.
The Hotel Anders resort and spa in the Mazury region of northeast Poland has hosted this event since in began in 2004. Stare Jablonki is a village of just 750 permanent residents that swells to over 30,000 for the week of this event and the Mazury region is known throughout Europe for having more than 1,000 lakes. The smallest population area the FIVB Swatch World Tour visits every year, the Hotel Anders event has a history of drawing among the largest of all crowds annually on the tour.
The sixth of seven “major” tournaments on the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour schedule, the Mazury Orlen Grand Slam, the winning pairs in 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 finishing teams will each receive $18,400.
In a match started with a rather surprising 21-14 first set where USA’s Kessy/Ross broke up a 16-14 lead by scoring five straight points and closed it with an ace by Ross that caught the top of the Swatch net and fell onto Brazil’s side. The second set was much closer although Juliana/Larissa got an early jump, but as the set evolved it was tied a total of 10 times, the last at 19-19 before a Larissa kill down the middle and then a Larissa ace serve off a diving Kessy won it for the Brazilians.
In the deciding third set, it seemed like both teams had opportunities to win and both were playing at a serious championship level. The two teams went point for point nearly the entire set, with both teams having the lead at least once and the set was tied 12 times. With the last tie at 16-16, Larissa had a kill down the line and then ended the set and won the match with another ace, this one no returnable as well.
Following their gold medal victory, Juliana said, “We have very tough matches today, both three sets and both that could have gone either way. Against the Americans I wasn’t blocking very well, but a couple of times in the last set when we needed it most my blocks worked. Both the Chinese and the American teams tried many different things and they had some success, but in the end we got another gold medal which is our goal at every tournament. We have won three gold medals in a row in Stare Jablonki and the fans really support the Brazilian teams. We can’t wait to come back again and try four number four.”
In Saturday’s women’s bronze medal match, Brazil’s fourth-seeded Maria Antonelli/Talita Antunes came back from a disastrous first set to defeat China’s third-seeded Chen Xue/Xi Zhang, 12-21, 21-17 and 15-12 in 48 minutes. The win gave Antonelli/Antunes their ninth FIVB career bronze medal as they earned a final four placement for the 25th time in 38 FIVB Swatch World Tour events as a team. It was also the second podium in a row for Antonelli/Antunes who won the gold medal last week in Quebec City, Canada.
The win broke a three-match winning streak the Chinese had over the Brazilian duo and Antonelli/Antunes now have a 5-10 FIVB career won-loss record against Xue/Zhang. Brazil’s Antonelli/Antunes leave Brazil with a 45-19 match record for the 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour.
With their finish China’s Xue/Zhang earned their 31st career final four placement in the 63 world tour events as a team. They have a season record of 45-15 following their loss to Antonelli/Antunes.
“We had no concentration at all during the first set,” said Antonelli after her and Antunes’ bronze medal win. “I think we were still upset and frustrated with our semifinal loss but we concentrated much, much better in the second and third sets and changed our strategy. The Chinese have been a tough team for us to beat, but we were happy to do it today.”
In Sunday’s women’s semifinals on the Hotel Anders center court, USA’s Kessy/Ross came from behind to defeat Brazil’s Antonelli/Antunes, 18-21, 21-19 and 15-13 in 57 minutes and Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa were also extended to three sets and came from behind to overcome China’s Xue/Zhang, 19-21, 21-10, 15-13 in XX minutes.
With strong defensive play the last two sets, Kessy/Ross were down 11-6 in the second set before finally pulling event at 16-16 and taking the lead at 17-16 on a Ross block on Antonelli. After an Antonelli kill off of Kessy tied the score at 17-17, USA scored two points and held off the Brazilians to win the set.
In the tiebreaker set Kessy/Ross jumped out 2-0 with blocks by both Ross and Kessy, but then the two talented rivals battled back and forth with the scored tied nine times until Kessy scored two consecutive points on kills to help her team take the lead for good at 12-10. After building the lead to 14-11, Antonelli/Antunes fought back to close to 14-13 after an Antonelli kill and an ace by Antonelli. After a time out by the USA, Kessy ended the set and match with a cross-court kill off the outstretched Antonelli.
Kessy/Ross have now won three straight over Antonelli/Antunes to increase their FIVB Swatch World Tour career record to 8-5. Ironically, for the two evenly matched teams, 11 of their 13 international matches have gone three sets before the winner was decided, including the last three wins by Kessy/Ross.
In the second semifinal, Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa seemed to struggle connecting during the first set won by the aggressive play of China’s Xue/Zhang, but the Brazilians regroup to dominate the second set to send the match to the tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, China’s Xue/Zhang came out strong like the first set and took an early 6-4 lead before Juliana/Larissa rallied with three straight points to take the lead for good.
The third set stayed close at 10-10 and 11-11 but after an emphatic Juliana kill and a Zhang kill attempt that went long, China called time out, down 13-11. The Chinese scored the next point but Larissa answered with her own dramatic cross court kill and after another point by Zhang, Juliana ended the set and match with a strategically-placed kill just over the head of the diving Zhang.
Juliana/Larissa defeated Xue/Zhang fifth straight time this season to move their FIVB career record to 19-6 against Xue/Zhang.
The talented field this year includes the entire final four finishers from both genders from last year as well as at least one member of the men’s gold medal teams in Stare Jablonki and the last two women’s gold medal winners. Six of the men’s gold medal teams are playing with new teammates at the extremely popular event and venue.
In the 2010 women’s competition in Stare Jablonki, Brazil’s Juliana Felisberta Silva/Larissa Franca won gold, with silver going to China’s Chen Xue/Xi Zhang bronze to Brazil’s Maria Antonelli/Talita Antunes and fourth place to Austria’s Barbara Hansel/Sara Montagnolli. Brazil’s Juliana/Larissa also won the Stare Jablonki gold medal in 2009. All but Austria’s Hansel/Mantagnolli were part of this year’s final four once again.
The 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour 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 $600,000 FIVB Swatch Mazury Orlen Grand Slam Stare Jablonki 2011, the 2011 FIVB Swatch World Tour has its last of six 2011 Grand Slam double-gender events in Klagenfurt, Austria (A1 Grand Slam presented by Volksbank Klagenfurt 2011). Each grand slam had $600,000 purses and the other major event this year, the 2011 FIVB Swatch World Championships in Rome had a $1 million total purse.
The $600,000 FIVB Swatch Mazury Orlen Grand Slam Stare Jablonki 2011 was the 228th women’s event and 267th 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. While this is the 25th year that the FIVB has sanctioned international pro beach volley events, it is the 23rd year of the men’s and 20th year of the women’s FIVB Swatch World Tour.
Also on-site this week at the Hotel Anders venue this week has been a special production crew from IMG, the company that not only produces the live international telecasts of select matches, but also the weekly FIVB Swatch World Tour highlight show that is syndicated throughout the world.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS