Espinho, Portugal, June 15, 2007 - Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig will seek their country’s first-ever women’s SWATCH-FIVB World Tour gold medal here Saturday afternoon on the Praia da Baia as the young Germans face a team from Brazil in the finals of the US$400,000 Open of Portugal.
With their 21-19 and 23-21 win in 46 minutes Friday afternoon over 18th-seeded Vasso Karadassiou and Vassiliki Arvaniti of Greece, the 13th-seeded Goller and Ludwig will challenge second-seeded Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca for the $32,000 first-place prize. It will be the first SWATCH meeting between the two teams.
“It’s unbelievable that we have advanced this far,” said the 23-year old Goller. “We had to win two qualifying matches Tuesday just to make the Main Draw this week. And now we have won five-straight matches against the best Beach Volleyball teams in the world. This is the highlight of our careers, but it can get even better tomorrow.”
Tomorrow means Germany’s sixth SWATCH gold medal match over and fifth against a team from Brazil. The last appearance by a German women’s team in a FIVB finale was July 2004 in Mallorca when Juliana and Larissa won their first of 15 SWATCH gold medals by defeating Athens 2004 Olympians Susanne Lahme and Danja Musch 21-17 and 21-12.
“We really got nervous at the end of each set,” the 21-year old Ludwig offered as the Germans had comfortable leads in both sets before Karadassiou and Arvaniti tied the first set at 19s and the second at 20s. “I think we were thinking more about celebrating our success instead of playing hard to the end of the match.”
Goller and Ludwig now become the top-ranked team from Europe on the 2007 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour behind teams from Brazil (three), China (two) and Australia. “Is that right,” Goller said when asked about her feelings about being the best on the continent. “That’s great, but we must not let our success overcome the reality that we face our biggest challeng as a Beach Volleyball team against Juliana and Larissa. We must not let our emotions get the best of us. It will take a perfect match for us just to be competitive against a great team like the Brazilians.”
Juliana and Larissa, who won their latest SWATCH gold medal last week in Poland, advanced to their 26th FIVB title match with a 21-15 and 21-16 win in 37 minutes over third-seeded Brazilian rivals Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro. It was the 20th intenational Beach Volleyball meeting between the two teams with Juliana and Larissa holding a 17-3 edge in the series. The two tandems faced each other last Saturday with Juliana and Larissa winn 21-11 and 24-22 in the Warsaw semi-final.
Both Karadassiou/Arvaniti and Talita/Renata were playing their third match Friday as both teams had to play their way through the elimination bracket to reach the semi-finals. The Greeks ousted top-seeded Jie Wang and Jia Tian of China 25-23, 19-21 and 15-11 before gaining their fifth SWATCH “final four” with a 21-19 and 22-20 win over 11th-seeded Rieke Brink-Abeler and Hella Jurich of Germany.
Talita and Renata, who advanced to their 13th SWATCH semi-final, opened play Friday with a 21-15 and 21-19 victory over 22nd-seeded Milagros Crespo and Imara Esteves Ribalta of Cuba before eliminating 24th-seeded Efthalia Koutroumanidou and Maria Tsiartsiani of Greece 21-17 and 21-15.
The first of 11-straight double gender events on the 2007 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour calendar, the 13th annual Open of Portugal is also part of the qualifying process for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Qualifying for the Summer Games continues through July 20, 2008 as the Beijing Olympic Beach Volleyball competition will feature 24 teams per gender.
The 2007 international Beach Volleyball calendar also features the $1-million SWATCH-FIVB World Championships July 24-29 in Switzerland along with grand slam stops in Paris, Norway, Berlin and Austria. With nearly $9-million in prize money to be distributed this year, the 2007 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour season also marks the 21st-year of international Beach Volleyball events sanctioned by the FIVB.
Michael Bradley Photography