Espinho, Portugal, June 14, 2007 - Germans Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig gained their first-ever SWATCH-FIVB World Tour “final four” appearance here Thursday to join Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca of Brazil as the first two semi-final qualifiers for the women’s US$400,000 Open of Portugal.
After qualifying for this week’s SWATCH-FIVB World Tour Main Draw Tuesday, the 13th-seeded Goller and Ludwig advanced to Friday’s afternoon’s first semi-final with wins Thursday over teams from Brazil and Greece. Juliana and Larissa won their way to their 22nd-straight “final four” appearance with victories over Beach Volleyball tandems from Canada and Germany.
Goller and Ludwig advanced to the semi-finals with a 21-19 and 21-19 win in 39 minutes over Greece’s Efthalia Koutroumanidou and Maria Tsiartsiani. The 24th-seeded Greeks, who also had to qualify for this week’s Main Draw, placed second in the 2005 Open of Portugal event.
“We never thought we could reach the semi-finals this week because of the strength of the Brazilians and Chinese teams,” said the 23-year old Ludwig. “We were just trying to do better than our last two events in Asia where we were disappointed with our play.”
The 21-year old Ludwig, who captured the FIVB’s world championships for players under the age of 18 in 2003 in Thailand with Jana Kohler, credited Goller’s serving as a “big difference this week. With the windy conditions, Sara has really put the pressure on the opposition to return her serve. Also, we have a coach with this week and he has helped us to prepare for each match.”
Goller and Ludwig, who had placed seventh, 17th and 17th in their first three SWATCH events this season in China, Singapore and Korea, respectively, started Thursday’s action with a 22-20 and 21-19 upset over fifth-seeded Leila Barros and Ana Paula Connelly of Brazil.
The Open of Portugal is Goller and Ludwig’s 24th FIVB start together as the pair has now compiled a 40-34 match mark together, including 12-6 this season after six-straight wins to reach the semi-finals. Prior to this week, the Germans’ best SWATCH finish was a fifth in Acapulco last October. Goller and Ludwig also had a third in a 2005 FIVB Satellite event in Switzerland.
Juliana and Larissa, who won last week’s SWATCH stop in Poland, opened play Thursday with a 21-17 and 21-16 win over 26th-seeded Sarah Maxwell and Marie-Andree Lessard of Canada before gaining a semi-final spot for the 35th time in 42 SWATCH starts together with a 21-10 and 21-12 win in 30 minutes over 11th-seeded Rieke Brink-Abeler and Hella Jurich of Germany.
Goller and Ludwig could meet Brink Abeler and Jurich in the semi-finals, but the Germans must defeat the winners of Friday’s first elimination match between top-seeded Jia Tian and Jie Wang of China against 18th-seeded Vasso Karadassiou and Vassiliki Arvaniti of Greece.
Tian and Wang fell into elimination bracket after losing to Koutroumanidou and Tsiartsiani 18-21, 21-17 and 16-14 earlier Thursday. Karadassiou and Arvaniti have won three elimination matches after losing Wednesday afternoon to Juliana and Larissa.
Koutroumanidou and Tsiartsiani will play the winner of the match between third-seeded Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro of Brazil and 22nd-seeded Milagros Crespo and Imara Esteves Ribalta of Cuba for a semi-final spot opposite of Juliana and Larissa, who have won 15 SWATCH gold medals since forming their partnership in 2004.
The first of 11-straight double-gender events on the 2007 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour, the women’s Open of Portugal continues through Saturday when the final two teams compete for the $32,000 first-place prize. The Open of Portugal is also part of the qualifying process for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.