Larissa Franca (left) and Juliana Felisberta Silva of Brazil return to defendtheir Keihan/SMFG Japan Open gold medal
Lausanne, Switzerland, With the men's SWATCH FIVB World Tour taking a week off after playing its first-ever event in Rome, the international circuit for women resumes competition this week with back-to-back events in Asia starting with the US$190,000 Keihan/SMFG Japan Open in Osaka, Japan.
After a two-year absence, Osaka returned to the SWATCH FIVB World Tour calendar in 2008 and this year's Keihan/SMFG Japan Open marks the 14th women's stop in Japan's so-called second city. Osaka has hosted the most international Beach Volleyball stops since the start of the women's FIVB circuit in 1992. The top men's site is Rio de Janeiro, where the last of 14 events was held in 2004.
The Keihan/SMFG Japan Open begins Tuesday with Country Quota playoff matches followed by a Qualification Tournament Wednesday to determine the final eight berths in the 32-team Main Draw where the final two teams will compete Sunday for the $30,000 first-place prize.
The third of 17 women's events on the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Tour calendar, the double-elimination Main Draw starts Thursday with 32 matches, followed by 22 matches Friday where the first two semifinal teams will be determined. Two elimination rounds will be played Saturday to determine the last two final four berths along with setting Sunday's schedule.
A total of 58 women's teams from 27 countries have entered the Keihan/SMFG Japan Open (as of May 18, 2009), including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States.
Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca return as the Keihan/SMFG Japan Open defending champions after the Brazilians defeated Beijing Olympic silver medal winners Jia Tian and Jie Wang of China in the 2008 finale. Wang returns this season with Man Zuo. The Chinese pair placed second two weeks ago in the SWATCH FIVB World Tour stop in Shanghai.
Due to a back problem, Juliana was a late withdrawal from the Shanghai event after she and Larissa won the 2009 SWATCH FIVB World Tour season opener for women four weeks earlier in Brasília. The Brazilians defeated Americans Jen Kessy and April Ross in the finals.
Talilta Antunes and Maria Antonelli won the Shanghai event and were joined on the China podium by Brazilian rivals Carolina and Maria Clara Salgado, who defeated Germany’s Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig for the bronze medal. Goller and Ludwig claimed the bronze in Brasília after defeating American Olympians Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs.
Brazilian women's teams have won the last 10 Osaka events after the first two events in 1994 and 1995 were captured by American pairs, with Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst claiming the 1996 stop in their first post-Olympic appearance after winning the bronze medal at the Atlanta Summer Games. Only two European teams have netted Osaka medals, with a second-place finish by Germans Maike Friedrichsen/Danja Musch in 1997 followed by a bronze medal for Simone Kuhn/Nicole Schnyder of Switzerland in 2004.
Host Japan has already placed three teams in the Keihan/SMFG Japan Open Main Draw. They are led by Chiaki Kusuhara, a two-time Olympian. After qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with Mika Teru Saiki, Kusuhara has entered this year's Osaka event with former 2004-2006 partner Satoko Urata.
Other Japanese entries in the money rounds are Miwa Asao/Takemi Nishibori and Sayaka Mizoe/Kaoru Sugayamal, who received a wild card for the event. Competing for Japan in the Country Quota and/or qualifying rounds are the teams of Hiromi Suzuki/Shinako Tanaka, Eiko Koizumi/Remi Sudo, Ayumi Kusano/Mutsumi Ozaki, Junko Komada/Ayako Nakatsuka, Keiko Urata/Yuki Yanagawa, Kei Fujiwara/Miyuki Matsumura and Chie Iwana/Yoko Miki.