Sanya, China, Simone Kuhn and Nadine Zumkehr entered the SWATCH FIVB World Tour record book here Sunday afternoon as the first women’s team from Switzerland to win an international “open” Beach Volleyball gold medal by upsetting reigning world champions Jen Kessy and April Ross of the United States in the finals of the US$380,000 Sanya Open presented by Olympic Bay.
Seeded 11th in the second annual Sanya Open and now the 15th-ranked team on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour, Kuhn and Zumkehr scored a 17-21, 22-20 and 15-13 win over the top-seeded and No. 3-ranked Kessy and Ross in the 60-minute finale before an overflowing crowd on the Sanya Bay centre court. The Swiss shared the $30,000 first-place prize.
“This is unbelievable,” said the 29-year Kuhn, who was named the SWATCH most outstanding player for the Sanya Open. “No one expected us to win today and we had no expectations to win since we were the underdogs. We played very relaxed as all the pressures were on the American world champions.”
In becoming the first women’s team from Switzerland to compete in a SWATCH FIVB World Tour gold medal match in the 18-year history of the international circuit, Kuhn was competing in her fifth SWATCH “final four” and her first since 2005. Zumkehr’s previous best SWATCH placement was a seventh in 2008 in Marseille, France.
Sunday’s win was the second this season by Kuhn and Zumkehr over Kessy and Ross as the Swiss scored a two-set elimination win over the Americans in The Netherlands at the end of August. Kessy and Ross, who are now 5-6 in SWATCH FIVB World Tour title matches since 2007, split $21,000 first second-place. The Americans won the 2008 Sanya Open finale with a 21-17 and 23-21 victory over China’s Ying Huang and Xi Zhang.
After losing Friday morning to Angie Akers and Tyra Turner of the United States, Kuhn and Zumkehr had to win three Sanya Open elimination matches to reach the semi-finals where the Swiss posted a 21-18, 16-21 and 20-18 Sunday morning win in 60 minutes over 15th-seeded qualifiers Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti of Italy. Cicolari and Menegatti, who defeated Akers and Turner Friday afternoon, were the first Italian women’s team to compete in a SWATCH FIVB World Tour semi-final since 2001.
Kessy and Ross advanced to the finals by defeating the third-seeded Akers and Turner 22-20, 19-21 and 15-11 in 60 minutes. Since October 2008, Kessy and Ross have now competed in nine gold medal matches in their last 14 SWATCH FIVB World Tour starts. After ending the 2008 season with back-to-back titles in Thailand and China, Kessy and Ross won the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Championships in Norway at the start of July on the Stavanger dock side court with another gold medal finish three weeks later in Marseille.
In the women’s bronze medal match Akers and Turner scored a 21-15 and 21-15 win in 36 minutes to avenge their earlier setback to Cicolari and Menegatti. The win earned Akers her first-ever SWATCH FIVB World Tour medal and a share of the $15,000 third-place prize. Turner won the bronze medal at the 2008 Sanya Open win Nicole Branagh. The Italians split $11,200 for placing fourth in only their second “open” SWATCH event together.
With the Sanya Open being the last of 14 men’s events on the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Tour calendar, the women’s season final tournament begins Tuesday in Thailand where Phuket hosts the international Beach Volleyball community for the fifth-straight season on Karon Beach. The 2005 event was a FIVB Challenger stop before staging the first of three SWATCH “open” events in 2005. Kessy and Ross won the 2008 Phuket event by defeating Turner and Branagh in three sets.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS