Osaka, Japan, May 24, 2009 - The only thing keeping Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca from being the top team on the women’s SWATCH FIVB World Tour was a sore back as the Brazilians successfully defended their Keihan/SMFG Japan Open title here Sunday by defeating compatriots Talita Antunes and Maria Antonelli for the international Beach Volleyball gold medal at the US$190,000 event.
With the three-time SWATCH FIVB World Tour champions playing in only their second international event this season after missing the last stop in Shanghai, the top-seeded Juliana and Larissa scored a 26-24, 19-21 and 18-16 win in 65 minutes over the fifth-seeded Talita and Antonelli to win their second gold medal this season along with sharing the $30,000 first-place prize.
“It is better to be playing than watching,” said the 25-year old Juliana, who had to withdraw late from the Shanghai SWATCH stop with a back injury after arriving in the Asian city. “I just did not feel right and did not want to put any stress on my body as I am only nine months removed from major knee surgery. It is better to play on the safe side than try to play at anything less than 100 percent.”
Juliana and Larissa won the season opening event on the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Tour calendar near the end of April in Brasilia before their withdrawal in Shanghai changed the complexion of the next tournament where Talita and Antonelli topped the podium after placing 13th in the Brazilian capital.
Despite finishing second to share the $21,000 second-place prize, Talita and Antonelli assumed the top spot on the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Tour rankings list with 1,320 points for three events with Juliana and Larissa now tied for second with Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig of Germany as both teams have 1,200 points. After placing third and fourth in the first two SWATCH events this season, the Germans finished seventh this week.
Sunday’s win was the second in the Keihan/SMFG Japan Open for Juliana and Larissa over their gold medal opponents as Talita and Antonelli dropped a 21-16, 15-21 and 15-10 decision to their rivals Friday afternoon in the winner’s bracket quarter-finals. Early last month in a Brazilian domestic event, Juliana and Larissa also won a meeting with Talita and Maria in three sets.
“Talita and Maria are a very strong team,” said the 27-year old Larissa, who has now won 23 SWATCH FIVB World Tour gold medals with Juliana in 61 international events together since the start of the 2004 season. “We are two young teams that will probably play many more matches against each other on the international and domestic tour. I figure that all our matches will be very competitive with the best of Brazilian Beach Volleyball on display.”
Sunday’s finale marked the 38th-time in the 18-year history of the women’s SWATCH FIVB World Tour that two Brazilian teams have met for a gold medal. Juliana and Larissa now have a 23-14 gold medal match mark, including a 10-4 record in FIVB finales against Brazilian teams. One of their Brazilian setbacks was in the 2005 Osaka stop where Juliana and Larissa were upset in three sets by compatriots Shaylyn Bede and Ana Paula Connelly.
In the first two SWATCH FIVB World Tour events this season, the Brazilian gold medal wins were over teams from the United States and China. Juliana and Larissa defeated Americans Jen Kessy and April Ross in the Brazilia finale while Talita and Antonelli downed Jie Wang and Man Zuo for the Shanghai gold medal.
In the bronze medal match, 13th-seeded Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands defeated 26th-seeded Angie Akers and Tyra Turner of the United States 21-19 and 21-18 in 36 minutes. It was the first-ever SWATCH FIVB World Tour medals for the Dutch players, who shared the $15,000 third-place prize. Akers and Turner split $11,200 in their first international event together.
Keizer and Van Iersel’s medal was the second-ever for a Dutch women’s team with the first being a gold medal finish at a 2003 FIVB event in China by Rebekka Kadijk and Marrit Leenstra in Lianyungang. Van Ierset also became the 11th former FIVB under 21 world champion (six men and five women) to net a SWATCH medal. Keizer is also now the third former under 18/19 world champion (one man, two women) to claim a SWATCH podium placement
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS