Toronto, Ontario, Canada, September 16, 2016 - The epic matchups are set for the SWATCH World Tour Finals women’s semifinals.
But eight teams had to wade through some epic moments in Friday’s quarterfinals to reach the final four of the final event of the FIVB World Tour’s 2015-2016 season, including a matchup of the Rio 2016 Olympic champions facing off against the bronze medalists.
When the final ball hit the sand, the last four teams standing were comprised of eight Olympians who are left chasing the US$100,000 first prize that will be awarded on Sunday.
Gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany rebounded from two surprising losses on Thursday and reached the semifinals with a 21-18, 19-21, 15-11 over bronze medal winners April Ross and Keri Walsh Jennings of the United States.
The fourth-place finishers in the Olympics, Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca of Brazil won their battle with Argentina’s Georgina Klug and Ana Gallay, 21-17, 21-17, and their reward is a matchup with Ludwig and Walkenhorst on the stadium court at Polson Pier.
And putting a cap on the best year in Switzerland women’s volleyball history, Nadine Zumkehr and Joana Heidrich will face off against Anouk Verge-Depre and Isabelle Forrer, assuring one Swiss team will earn the right to play for the $100,000.
“I think these are the best teams,” Talita said of facing off in consecutive matches against Olympic final four teams. “All the time we play against Germany, the U.S., the other Brazil (Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas), and all the time we play I remember the Olympics. I think it’s because the best teams got to the semifinals.”
In the marquee matchup of the day, Ludwig/Walkenhorst nearly lost all of a 20-13 lead in the first set, and Walsh Jennings/Ross used that momentum to take the second set. In the third, Ludwig/Walkenhorst jumped out to a 6-2 lead but the Americans closed the gap to 12-10 before the Germans could put it away.
“We felt really great,” Ludwig said. “We had the feeling we didn’t play our best until now, so we weren’t tired. We had in our mind we had nothing to lose so just go out there and play. And the sun was going down and it wasn’t hot so that helped.
“But it’s a tough battle with them always. The score is always going back and forth but in the end thank God we did the last point.’
The teams split their four meetings in 2016.
“They’re obviously one of the best defensive teams in the world, they serve really aggressively, which plays to their amazing timing, on the block and defense and they just made more plays than we did,” Walsh Jennings said. “What I’m proud of is we made them fight for every point, we didn’t give away too many points. Laura did her crazy thing and Kira blocked me way too many times but it was great teamwork.”
Larissa and Talita had one objective when they took the court against the emotional Argentines --- keep their mind off the constant chatter from the other side of the net.
“I think we played good and focused because Argentina, they are talking during the match and we have to focus, don’t lose our mind when they do this,” Talita said. “It’s not easy, it’s hard at the end of the season and it’s hard to do 100 percent. But we’re so happy we’re playing in the semifinals. It’s fun, it’s the best tournament so we’re just happy.”
Few could be happier than the Swiss federation after Zumkehr/Heidrich scored a 21-19, 21-11 win over Australian Olympians Louise Bawden and Taliquah Clancy, which came just an hour after Forrer/Verge-Depre scored a 21-16, 21-18 victory over Germany’s Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude.
It promises to be an emotional day for the 31-year-old Zumkehr, who will retire after this tournament. Clearly, she’s not ready to leave without a fight.
“I just want to keep playing. I don’t know, maybe I have to reconsider. No, just kidding,’ Zumkehr, laughing. “Being in a Major semifinal, I have two more games to play here and no matter what comes tomorrow, a very nice way to end my career.”
The two teams not only know each other off and on the court, they train together, they have the same coaches, and they made Swiss history by both reaching the Olympics. And none of the four could predict the outcome.
“Well, Nadine is going to finish her career and I always like to play our country girls,” Forrer said. “It’s always whoever plays better on that day.”
Second-seeded Ludwig/Walkenhorst began the day with a tense 21-17, 18-21, 15-10 win over Canadians Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson. Gallay/Klug advanced with a 22-20, 19-21, 15-11 win over Italians Laura Giombini and Marta Menegatti.
Forrer/Verge-Depre also eliminated a Canadian team with a 24-22, 21-19 victory over Kristina Valjas and Jamie Broder, and Bawden/Clancy rebounded from an 0-2 start to the tournament with a 21-19, 21-15 victory over Olympians Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez.
The women’s semifinals will be played in the morning followed by the bronze medal match in the afternoon.