Phuket, Thailand, November 7, 2010 – American Kerri Walsh won her 39th career SWATCH FIVB World Tour gold medal, part of the history-filled medal day in the US$190,000 Phuket Thailand Open powered by PTT. Along with partner Nicole Branagh, the U.S. team defeated surprise opponent Marta Menegatti and Valeria Rosso of Italy, 21-23, 21-14, 15-11. Carolina and Maria Clara Salgado of Brazil won the bronze medal match by defeating The Netherlands’ Sanne Keizer and Marlene Van Iersel, 21-17, 21-14.
The title gives Walsh sole possession of the all-time lead in wins, having been tied with long-time partner Misty May-Treanor with 38 since the end of the 2008 season, the last time Walsh competed internationally before last week. This week Walsh partnered with Branagh for the third time ever, and two of their events have produced wins, having also won in Dubai in 2008. She missed the entire 2009 season and all but two events this year due to giving birth to boys in May 2009 and 2010.
"It feels like a new world to me because all that I have accomplished is so far behind me," Walsh said. "This win is so special to me; it’s my first win as a mother of two. I would feel better about it if I had played better in the last match. I’m bummed I let the nerves get to me. I’ve played some big matches in big settings, but today I was nervous."
The fourth-seeded Americans became just the fourth women’s team win a SWATCH FIVB World Tour gold medal after winning five elimination matches. They had lost in the second round to Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez Steiner of Spain, but then swept six straight opponents before the title match. In the gold medal tiebreaker set, the USA led just 5-4 when they went on a 6-2 run to gain control at 11-6.
Menegatti and Rosso were the first Italian team to ever compete in a gold medal match, as only five other times has an Italian duo advanced to the semifinals and just once before had Italy won a medal (a bronze in 2001). The 16th-seeded duo became partners during the week preceding last week’s tournament in Sanya, China, due to an injury to Menegatti’s regular partner, Greta Cicolari. Menegatti plans on competing next year with Cicolari, while Rosso will reunite with her usual partner Elisa Cella. Menegatti, who is 20 years old, and Rosso lost their first round match of the tournament and were nearly eliminated in their next match, the first of six contender’s bracket matches they had to win in order to reach the semifinals. No team in the 19-year history of SWATCH FIVB World Tour volleyball has any team rebounded from a first-round loss to win the event.
"We really came here to win gold, it was not enough to just be here," Rosso said. "We made it this far due to our service game, but today we weren’t serving very well. I feel like we both grew up a lot here."
The Brazilian Salgado sisters defeated the top-seeded team in Phuket and suffered just one loss in the tournament, but the semifinal defeat at the hands of the Italians prevented them from playing for the gold medal. Instead, the eighth-seeded team finished the season just as they had begun it – with a bronze medal. The Salgados defeated Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands 21-17, 21-14 to win their third bronze of the year and ninth career medal.
"I would have liked it to end a little better, but it’s nice to get a bronze," said Maria Clara. "It’s a big step for us to finish the way we did the last two events (placed fourth in Sanya). We were tired, we have domestic events every other week in Brazil and we have to go right back for the next one. The high finish means we shouldn’t have to play in the country quota next season."
Keizer and Van Iersel, seeded 11th in Phuket, had defeated the second and third seeded teams in the competition before losing to Branagh and Walsh in the semifinals. Entering the bronze medal match the Dutch team had won three of the four meetings with the Salgados. The match-up featured two of the tour’s top servers, as the Van Iersel and Maria Clara are 1-2 on the year in terms of fastest serves recorded.
The four teams in the medal matches were from four different countries, which is a rarity on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour. Since 1992 that has only happened 20 times, yet one of those occurrences was just last week in Sanya, China. This season only three different countries have won a gold medal on the tour, as Brazil was responsible for nine titles, while both China and the United States won three. In the five-year history of events in Phuket, the Americans have now won the last four titles, with Walsh also winning with May-Treanor in 2007 and Jen Kessy and April Ross claiming the titles in 2008 and 2009.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS