Seoul, Korea, May 16, 2008 – Fourth-seeded Chen Xue and Xi Zhang did not let a 10-point defeat in the first set of a quarter-final match with top-seeded Brazilians Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca affect their play as the young Chinese Beach Volleyball tandem rallied in the next two sets to advance to the "final four" of the US$175,000 Seoul Open here Friday afternoon.
Joining the 19-year old Xue and the 23-year old Zhang in this week's women's semi-finals are 35-year old Shelda Bede and 36-year old Ana Paula Connelly as the sixth-seeded Brazilians also posted an upset in the winner's bracket semi-finals over second-seeded Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs of the United States.
"We just never gave up," said Zhang after her team's 11-21, 18-21 and 15-11 win in 49 minutes over Juliana and Larissa, who entered the match with a 9-3 record against the Chinese with four-straight SWATCH FIVB World Tour victories. "We knew we were a better team than what we showed in the first set. Thankfully, it was only the first set as we had an opportunity to comeback against a great team."
Competing in their 31st SWATCH FIVB World Tour event since forming their partnership in 2006, Xue and Zhang advanced to their 15th "final four." The Chinese tandem has netted 11 SWATCH podium placements with two gold medal finishes in 2006 when Xue became the youngest player ever to win an international Beach Volleyball event.
Shelda and Ana Paula, who are playing together in only their fourth SWATCH FIVB World Tour event with three semi-final appearances, earned the second Seoul Open semi-final berth with a 21-18, 15-21 and 17-15 victory in 59 minutes over Branagh and Youngs. It was the second meeting between the two teams as Shelda and Ana Paula defeated the Americans for the bronze medal in the 2008 season-opening event at the end of March in Adelaide, Australia.
"We just keep playing as hard as we can and hope that our experience will help us win," said Ana Paula, who is seeking her second Olympic bid after placing fifth at the Athens 2004 Summer Games with Sandra Pires. "We need to start winning these SWATCH events to achieve our goal of reaching Beijing. We have a tough task ahead of us, but we are both very competitive and will give it our best."
With only four SWATCH stops to their credit with four more FIVB appearances needed before the July 20 cut-off for Olympic consideration, Shelda and Ana Paula have 1,560 points towards Beijing qualification. Juliana and Larissa are the second-ranked team on the Beijing list with 5,240 points for their best eight finishes on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour event since the start of the process in May 2007.
Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro, the second-ranked Brazilian team for Beijing with 4,260 points, dropped a pair of matches to teams from the United States to place ninth as the fourth-seeded team in the Seoul Open Main Draw. Seventh-seeded Jen Boss and April Ross of the United States ousted Talita and Renata late Friday with a 21-18 and 17-21 and 15-11 victory in 48 minutes.
The winner of the Boss/Ross vs. Tian/Wang match challenge Juliana and Larissa for a semi-final spot opposite of Shelda and Ana Paula. For a semi-final spot opposite of Xue and Zhang, Branagh and Youngs will play the winners from an opening match Saturday afternoon between eighth-seeded Tamsin Barnett/Natalie Cook of Australia and 13th-seeded Tyra Turner/Rachel Wacholder of the United States.
Barnett and Cook are the defending Seoul Open champions after defeating Tian and Wang 21-19 and 21-19 in the 2007 finals. Juliana and Larissa placed third last year with a bronze medal win over Leila Barros and Ana Paula. While the Americans did not compete in Korea last season, Xue and Zhang placed seventh after being eliminated by Talita and Renata.
The second annual Seoul Open concludes Sunday when the final two teams compete for the $28,000 first-place prize at Han River Jamsil Citizen Park. While the women compete in Asia, the men's SWATCH FIVB World Tour is in Europe (Roseto degli Abruzzi) for the $175,000 Italian Open presented by Abruzzo. Both the men and women compete at different sites next week (Japan for women) and Croatia for men) before the next double gender event in Barcelona, Spain (May 26-June 1).
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images