Hamburg, Germany, June 11, 2016 - In matches that provide a “perfect” preview of things to come at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, it was an “ace” that won the first semi-final confrontation between host Germany and the United States before a crowd of more than 6,000 here Saturday mid-day at Am Rothenbaum stadium.
Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst proved to be the better team in the first-semi-final blending defense and blocking to post a 2-1 (21-16, 19-21, 16-14) win in 59 minutes over third-seeded April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States to advance to their eighth FIVB World Tour finale where the Germans will be seeking their fifth gold medal.
The Germans will now play fourth-seeded and reigning FIVB world champions Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas, who won the All-Brazilian semi-final with a 2-1 (19-21, 21-18, 15-11) win in 57 minutes over second-seeded Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca. It was the third FIVB World Tour meeting between the two teams with Agatha and Barbara leading 2-1 by winning the first and third confrontations in the international series.
With the smart Major Hamburg being the 306th women’s event since the start of FIVB-sanctioned events in 1992, a German team will now play the Brazilian pair for the 17th time for a world gold medal with the South Americans leading 13-3. Ludwig and Walkenhorst lead the series with Agatha and Barbara, including a gold medal win last July at the Japanese Grand Slam in Yokohama.
The two countries have also combined for 160 FIVB World Tour gold medals with the Brazilians winning 151 times. Both countries have won gold medals this season on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour where Agatha and Barbara’s best previous finishes have been thirds. Ludwig and Walkenhorst have claimed two gold medals this season in Mexico (Puerto Vallarta) and Turkey (Antalya).
With the Americans holding the lead for most of third and deciding set, Ludwig and Walkenhorst tied the match at 10-10. Ross and Walsh Jennings regained control and led 14-13 and were serving for the match when an American net violation, Ludwig’s defense led to a 15-14 edge with her ace securing their first win in six meetings with their rivals.
“I was saving the ace in my pocket for the very last,” Ludwig added as she exited the post-match media session. “It’s amazing because it was really close and actually they had a match point in the third set and we came back and actually I don’t know how we did it on the last point,” said Walkenhorst “I’ll have to look a second time to the score to make sure we won. It’s amazing to win against them. They are an amazing team, they have played for a long time and to beat them in Hamburg in our home place, it’s the best day.”
Except for trailing 2-1 in the third and deciding set, Agatha and Barbara controlled throughout and scored the final four points to secure the win. “This is not unexpected,” said Barbara immediately after the match. “I told you that we would come back after placing 17th two weeks ago in Moscow.”
The Moscow placement was the worst finish for the Brazilian pair since September 2014 when Agatha and Barbara place 25th in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Saturday’s finale will be the Brazilians ninth gold medal affair with four podium topping finishes with the last coming 12 world tour events ago at the 2015 World Championships in The Hague.
As for playing a familiar opponent in the semi-finals, Agatha say with a laugh that “we prepare too much. We studied a lot and we had a lot of information.” Barbara added that “they also have a lot of information. It demands a lot of intelligence and concentration because they are always pushing us to do the best we can because they have a lot of information also but we play together all the time which is important. They served on Agatha, they served on me and we were always together and that makes a difference for us.”
After losing the first set, Agatha said that her team “changed a little bit the tactics.” Barbara added that “we started serving Larissa in the second set then we went to Talita and the serve was better in the second set. We were pushing too much and we were making too many mistakes on the service in the first set. In the second set we put a nice serve on Talita so I think that made it more difficult to sideout.”
As for playing a host country team in finals, Agatha said “we hope the stands will be full.” Barbara added that “the energy will great and the German people, they’re always supporting and really respectful of the sport. They want to see a great game, I hope. We love the German girls, of course we want to kill them.”
As for the full venue, Agatha said “we like the full venue. We want it to be full to prepare for the Olympic Games. We want there to be a lot of people cheering.” Barbara added “we don’t mind if they cheer for Germany or Brazil but we will enter the court to do our best. It doesn’t matter if the crowd is for us or against us.”