There was even an impressive showing from beach volleyball newcomers, Vanuatu and underdog team, Uganda who established themselves as crowd heroes with brave showings over Greece and USA respectively. The Vanuatu flag could be an essential accessory by the end of the week.
ZHANG Xi / XUE Chen (CHN) beat Margo WILTENS / Jolien SINNEMA (NED) 2-0 (21-15, 21-8)
The Chinese duo had been earmarked as a team to watch long before this impressive opening fixture and this result presented a serious warning to the rest of the field. The Dutch team were brushed aside in the first set 21-15 and despite a brief upsurge in fortunes during the early rallies of the second set, ZHANG (CHN) and XUE (CHN) cruised to victory by an impressive 13 point margin.
Miller ELWIN / Linline MATAUATU (VAN) beat Joanna PAPAGEORGIOU / Christina ROUBANIS (GRE) 2-0 (21-13, 23-21)
By the time most of Horse Guards Parade's buzzy crowd had worked out the location of Vanuatu (an island located in the South Pacific) the duo of ELWIN (VAN) and MATAUATU (VAN) had scored four points. Despite a self destructive streak of overhit serves and misplaced smashes, Vanuatu made a gutsy start in front of a crowd willing them to win. It wasn’t to be, however, although ELWIN and MATAUATU will undoubtedly be crowd favourites during the rest of the competition.
Brittany HOCHEVER / Lisa RUTLEDGE (USA) beat Changning ZHANG / Jingjing DING (CHN) 2-0 (21-18, 21-14)
The USA pairing of Brittany HOCHEVER (USA) and Lisa RUTLEDGE (USA) punished a Chinese team for their sluggish start. Having relinquished the first set in a flash, ZHANG Changning (CHN) and DING Jingjing (CHN) were given little time to recover.
HOCHEVER'S (USA) hot serve proved impossible to handle as the Chinese wilted in the sun.
Lucy BOULTON / Denise JOHNS (GBR) beat Jamie Lynn BRODER and Ashley VOTH (CAN) 2-0 (21-10, 21-11)
The Great Britain team gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about with a 2-0 victory over Canada, a result which, at times, looked very easy.
BOULTON, meanwhile, looks like becoming a crowd favourite this weekend. She pounded the Canadians into the sand, pinching points at the net and tipping delicately-placed shots into point-winning zones.
The Visa FIVB Beach Volleyball International features 12 matches per day on centre court with the pool play action continuing until Thursday with the Round of 16 elimination bracket phase beginning Friday before the quarterfinals on Saturday and semifinals and finals on Sunday on the Horse Guards Parade center court.
Many of the teams participating in this week’s London event are regulars on the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour calendar that features 15 women's and 14 men's events, including 12 double-gender tournaments, within all five FIVB confederations plus this one special 24-team single-gender women’s test event being held through Sunday 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 last week‘s A1 Grand Slam presented by Volksbank, the FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour is off this week while many of its teams are in London for the 24-team women’s only Olympic test event. Following this week’s event in London, Europe hosts the final two double-gender open events of 2011 in Aland, Finland from August 15-21 and The Hague, Netherlands from August 23-28. The FIVB will then present the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch Junior World Championships for players under 21 years old, August 31-September 4 in Halifax, Canada.
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 volleyball events, it is the 23rd year of the men’s and 20th year of the women’s FIVB Swatch World Tour.
photo Getty Images