Grinding for Gold starts Friday morning in Moscow

Moscow, Russia, May 27, 2016 - The opening elimination rounds here Friday for men and women in the US$800,000 Moscow Grand Slam has produced interesting match ups as the FIVB World Tour event grinds towards its conclusion Sunday at the Vodny Stadium Beach Sports Centre.

Friday’s schedule for both genders will feature 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.

Defending and former Moscow Grand Slam champions are still “alive” in the competition, including 2015 gold medalists Adrian Gavira/Pablo Herrera of Spain on the men’s side and Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca of Brazil in the women’s eliminator.  Also still competing in the second “big” event on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour calendar are 2014 winners Yaroslav Koshkarev/Konstantin Semenov of Russia and April Ross/Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States, and 2013 champions Aleksandrs Samoilovs/Janis Smedins of Latvia.

Americans Kerri Walsh (left) and April Ross make a wish and blow the dandylion

While the pairs of Talita/Larissa, Koshkarev/Semenov and Ross/Walsh Jennings earned a “bye” into the second-round of bracket play by winning their respective pools Thursday, Gavira/Herrera and Samoilovs/Smedins finished second in their groups and face first-round challenges Friday.

The 12th-seeded Gavira and Herrera confront 18th-seeded Markus Bockermann and Lars Fluggen of Germany in the first-round as the two teams will be meeting for the second-time on the FIVB World Tour.  The Spaniards won the first meeting last June at the Porec Major in Croatia.

While Gavira/Herrera have already secured a spot for their country in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Bockermann/Fluggen are on the “bubble” with compatriots Jonathan Erdmann/Kay Matysik for the final two berths awarded from the FIVB World Tour for the Copacabana quadrennial.  Both German teams have compiled 4,610 points for their best 12 finishes since the start of the qualifying process in April 2015.

Germany's Jonathan Erdmann (left) and Kay Matysik after a Moscow Grand Slam win

Excluding Brazilians, there are 15 Rio Olympic berths available for FIVB World Tour competitors for the Copacabana event with a maximum of two teams per country.  With the Germans tied for the No. 14 and 15 spots, Lombardo Ontiveros/Juan Virgen (4,430 points) and Josh Binstock/Sam Schachter of Canada (4,250) are listed No. 16 and No. 17, respectively.

Erdmann and Matysik have a “bye” for Friday’s first matches while 20th-seeded Ontiveros/Virgen meet 11th-seeded Tri Bourne/John Hyden of the United States, while Binstock Schachter challenge 14-seeded Alex Ranghieri/Adrian Carambula of Italy in the opening round.

Bronze medal winners at the 2015 Moscow Grand Slam, Erdmann and Matysik will play either second-seeded Jake Gibb/Casey Patterson of the United States or Michal Kadziola/Jakub Szalankiewicz of Poland in the second-round.  The Germans have losing FIVB World Tour records against their potential opponents, including 1-2 versus Gibb/Patterson and 1-3 against Kadziola/Szalankiewicz.

Bourne and Hyden lead the series 2-1 with the Mexicans after winning a second-round elimination match last week in the United States at Cincinnati.  The Canadians and Italians have split four matches with Ranghieri and Carambula winning the last meeting in mid-March at the Rio Grand Slam.

Samoilovs and Smedins’ first-round opponent is Isaac Kapa/Christopher McHugh of Australia, who are seeded 23rd in the Moscow Grand Slam after winning qualifying matches Tuesday to gain a berth in the Main Draw.  The two teams have met seven times on the FIVB World Tour with the Latvians hold a 6-1 advantage.  The lone Aussie win in the series was a bronze medal victory at the 2014 Klagenfurt Grand Slam in Austria.

If Gavira and Herrera are successful in their first match Friday, the Spaniards will meet eighth-seeded Koshkarev and Semenov in a Moscow “Sweet 16” confrontation.  The Russians have dropped their last three matches to Gavira and Herrera on the FIVB World Tour after winning the first two contests in the series, including a 2013 “Sweet 16” matches in 2013 at the Moscow Grand Slam.  If Bockermann/Fluggen defeat the Spaniards Friday, the Germans will be meeting Koshkarev and Semenov for the first-time on the international circuit.

The second-seeded Talita and Larissa will meet either 13th-seeded Elsa Baquerizo/Liliana Fernandez of Spain or ninth-seeded Louise Bawden/Taliqua Clancy of Australia in a second-round match Saturday while the third-seeded Ross and Walsh Jennings face either 22nd-seeded Emily Day/Jen Kessy of United States or 29th-seeded Yulia Abalakina/Ekaterina Syrtseva of Russia.

Defending Moscow Grand Slam Talita Antunes (left) and Larissa Franca of Brazil

Talita and Larissa, who will be seeking their 13th FIVB World Tour gold medal together, have never lost to the Spaniards (5-0) and Aussies (3-0).  Ross and Walsh Jennings have 1-0 in international meetings with Day and Kessy have never played Yulia Abalakina and Syrtseva.  In the set-up matches, Elia and Liliana have won six of seven FIVB matches with Bawden and Clancy while Day and Kessy will be meeting Abalakina and Syrtseva for the first-time.

SIDE NOTE - When Bourne and Hyden defeated the Mexicans n the elimination bracket of the Cincinnati Open when Ontiveros foot-faulted on match point, the buzz in the crowd was “Wow, I’ve never seen that before.”  One of the players on the court couldn’t say that, though. Asked later if he had ever won a match before on a foot fault, Bourne said: “No, but I’ve lost one. And I did it.”  It occurred on March 18 at the FIVB World Tour stop in Vitoria (Brazil) when Bourne and Mark Burik were playing in the first elimination round.  Bourne was called for the infraction on match point and their tournament was over.  Oh, the opponents? None other than Ontiveros and Virgen.  “Karma,” Bourne said with a smile.

Lombardo Ontiveros (left) of Mexico hits against American John Hyden at the Cincinnati Open


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