Beach action heating up in Moscow

Moscow, Russia, May 27, 2016 - Although it was only the first-round of elimination at the US$800,000 Moscow Grand Slam here Friday morning, the competition was intense with two pairs suffering setbacks in their bids to earn in their country’s second berth in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games while one tandem helped secure their spot for the Copacabana quadrennial.

Improving their Olympic ranking total at a FIVB World Tour Grand Slam event were Monika Brzostek and Kinga Kolosinska as the 11th-seeded Polish pair advanced to the second-round of elimination with a 2-0 (21-17, 21-17) win in 32 minutes over 28th-seeded qualifiers Lane Carico and Summer Ross of the United States.

Brzostek and Kolosinska, who posted their best-ever international finish at the mid-March Rio Grand Slam on Copacabana, will now play fourth-seeded Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany in a “Sweet 16” match with the winner advancing to Saturday’s quarter-finals.  It will be the third FIVB World Tour meeting between the two teams with the Germans winning both previous matches, including a win at the end of February in Maceio, Brazil.

While Ludwig and Walkenhorst (6,060 points for their best 12 finishes) are the top-team on the Rio 2016 Olympic qualifying list, excluding Brazilians, Brzostek and Kolosinska moved up three spots to No. 8 ahead of pairs from Spain, Canada and Switzerland with 4,680 points.

“Yesterday when we saw the draw, we knew we had a chance to win,” said the 25-year old Kolosinska.  “So we grabbed that chance and won.  And we are really, really happy.  We want to show our best here, at the Euro championships next week and also in Hamburg.  So we are not focusing on the Olympics, we just try to earn more points and gain self-confidence.”

For the 26-year old Brzostek, it was about the Olympics.  “We heard from our coaches that this win clinched a spot for us in the Olympics as the first Polish women’s team.  I cannot believe it.  We will wait till Hamburg to be really, really sure.”

Also celebrating a Friday morning win were teams from Vanuatu and Russia that eliminated Olympic hopeful teams from Germany and the United States from the Moscow Grand Slam.

Playing on an outside court at the Vodny Stadium Beach Sports Centre, 21st-seeded Linline Matauatu and Miller Pata of Vanuatu posted a 2-0 (21-14, 21-19) win in 33 minutes over 18th-seeded Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler of Germany.

The win added 180 points to Matauatu and Pata’s Rio qualifying total (3,840 points) to pull within 260 points of the 15th and final Olympic berth determined via the FIVB World Tour.

Vanuatu versus Germany Friday morning at Moscow Grand Slam

Holtwick and Semmler needed to win the match with Vanuatu as the Germans are competing with Karla Borger and Britta Buthe for the No. 2 spot in the Olympics for their country.  Entering play Friday, Holtwick and Semmler (4,770 points) were 210 points behind Borger and Buthe and a win Friday would have decreased the deficit to 150.  Borger and Buthe remain in the competition and play Matauatu and Pata Friday afternoon.

Yulia Abalakina and Ekaterina Syrtseva joined the Vanuatu pair as spoilers Friday morning as the 29th-seeded Russians posted a 2-1 (21-14, 18-21, 15-13) win in 51 minutes over 22nd-seeded Emily Day and Jennifer Kessy of the United States.  The Americans needed the win as Day and Kessy trail Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat for the potential second USA slot by 490 points (4,470 to 3,980) with one event left in Hamburg, Germany (June 7-12).

“We played very well and are very pleased with our victory, said the 25-year old Syrtseva.  “We lost control in the second set,” said the 24-year old Abalakina, “but we settled down in the final set and sided out consistently.  Now we play another tall and talented American team, so it will be another tough match.”

Yulia Abalakina (left) and Ekaterina Syrtseva of Russia after defeating Americans Friday

Third-seeded April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings is the next opponent for the Russia as the Americans are seeking to regain their Moscow Grand Slam title after winning the gold medal in 2014 before finishing 17th last year at the Vodny Stadium Beach Sports Centre.  The reason for the early departure from last May’s stop in the Russian capital was due to Walsh Jennings dislocating her right shoulder in the team’s second pool play match.

Other teams posting opening elimination wins Friday morning were ninth-seeded Louise Bawden/Taliqua Clancy of Australia, seventh-seeded Madelein Meppelink/Marleen Van Iersel of The Netherlands, 19th-seeded qualifiers Eduarda Lisboa/Elize Maia of Brazil, 26th-seeded qualifiers Barbora Hermannova/Marketa Slukova of the Czech Republic and 25th-seeded qualifiers Taru Lahti/Riikka Lehtonen of Finland.

The Hermannova/Slukova win was significant as the Czech pair eliminated top-seeded and reigning FIVB world champions Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas of Brazil 2-1 (21-14, 13-21, 17-15) in 47 minutes.  “We made some mistakes to allow Agatha and Barbara to tie the third set at 14s,” said Slukova, “but we remained confident and maintained our composure against world champs.  It is a great feeling to defeat such an established and experience team like Agatha and Barbara.”

Barbora Hermannova (left) hugs Czech partner Marketa Slukova after defeating the world champions from Brazil Friday morning

Friday’s schedule for both genders features the Rounds of 24 and 16 contests to set the lineup for Saturday’s morning quarter-final matches that will produce the lineup for the afternoon’s semi-finals.  The medal matches for the Moscow Grand Slam will be played Sunday afternoon with the gold medal teams sharing the $57,000 first-places prizes.


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