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Gstaad Major brings out the best for Italian women

 
Gstaad, Switzerland, July 7, 2016 - There is something about this Swiss Alps village that brings out the best for Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth as the Italian women captured the Pool F title here Thursday at the $800,000 Gstaad Major for their first FIVB World Tour group title at a "big" event in the past year.

With a guaranteed ninth this week along with securing a bye into the second-round of elimination, Menegatti and Orsi Toth finished atop their pool along with seven other women’s pairs from Brazil, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain and the United States. Three rounds of elimination matches will be played Friday to set the lineup for Saturday’s final four matches.

It has been eight events since the 11th-seeded Italians have won their group at a FIVB World Tour Grand Slam or SWATCH Major Series event with their last pool-topping performance at the 2015 Gstaad Major where Menegatti and Orsi Toth also won all three of their opening matches to advance to the second-round of elimination with a bye.

Headed to Rio next month for the 2016 Olympic Games, Menegatti and Orsi Toth entered this week’s event with a 5-7 pool play mark this season in big FIVB events with an 8-12 group record in their last seven Grand Slam/Major stops. During the Grand Slam/Major drought, the Italians performed better in FIVB Open events with a 21-3 pool record in eight events with six group titles.

After defeating pairs from Switzerland and Germany Wednesday, Menegatti and Orsi Toth clinched Pool F by defeating sixth-seeded Eduarda 'Duda' Lisboa and Elize Maia of Brazil 2-1 (7-21, 21-18, 15-9) in 42 minutes. It was the first win over the Brazilians in two matches as Menegatti and Orsi Toth lost an Open quarterfinal match to Duda and Elize Maia at the end of February in Maceio, Brazil.

On the strength of their performances in seven FIVB Open events on the 2015-2016 international calendar, Menegatti and Orsi Toth are ranked sixth on the world tour trailing four German pairs and April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States. The Italians have placed fifth, 17th, ninth and fifth in their four Grand Slam/Major appearances this year with stops in Brazil, Russia, Germany and Croatia, respectively.

German group winners Thursday were third-seeded Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst (Pool C, 3-0 match mark) and ninth-seeded Karla Borger/Britta Buthe (Pool H, 2-1 with a point-ratio advantage). One of Ludwig and Walkenhorst’s pool wins Wednesday was a three-set win over 14th-seeded compatriots Chantel Laboureur and Julia Sude, who topped the Porec Major podium in Croatia last Saturday.

Seeded second in the Gstaad Major, Ross and Walsh Jennings rebounded from an opening three-set defeat Wednesday to 15th-seeded American rivals Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat to win Pool B by having a the best point ratio among the three tying teams with 2-1 match marks. Ross and Walsh Jennings’ 2-0 (21-17, 21-15) win in 34 minutes Thursday over 18th-seeded Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler tied the Germans in the pool with Fendrick and Sweat matching the record with a victory over a team from Switzerland.

Other group winners were top-seeded Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca of Brazil (Pool A), 20th-seeded Taru Lahti/Riikka Lehtonen of Finland (Pool D), 11th-seeded Elsa Baquerizo/Liliana Fernandez of Spain (Pool E) and seventh-seeded Madelein Meppelink/Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands (Pool G). The Brazilians, Finns and Spaniards were 3-0 in their pools while Dutch were tied in their group with a 2-1 record, but topped the pool due to point ratio.

The pool title for Lahti and Lehtonen was surprising as the Finns posted wins over two Rio-bound pairs Wednesday followed by a three-set win Thursday over 29th-seeded Julie Gordon/Brandie Wilkerson of Canada 2-1 (16-21, 25-23, 15-13) in 53 minutes. On Wednesday, the Finns upset fourth-seeded Heather Bansley/Sarah Pavan of Canada and 12th-seeded Isabelle Forrer/Anouk Verge-Depre of Switzerland.

With 16 women's teams headed to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games competing in the Gstaad Major this week, the pairs combined for a 32-16 record during pool play with eight head-to-head matchups. Pool H featured three Rio-bound pairs with Borger and Buthe defeating both Copacabana qualifiers Fan Wang/Yuan Yue of China and Joana Heidrich/Nadine Zumkehr of Switzerland.

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