Moscow, Russia, May 25, 2016 - As the FIVB World Tour returns to the Russian capital for the ninth-straight year, this year’s US$800,000 Moscow Grand Slam is not just another international Beach Volleyball event featuring the best players on the planet, including host country participants Ekaterina Birlova and Evgeniya Ukolova.
The 2016 edition of the Moscow Grand Slam is the next to last qualifying event for players on the FIVB World Tour seeking one of the 15 spots from the international circuit for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for women’s pairs in hot pursuit of fulfilling their dreams of playing in the Copacabana quadrennial August 6-18.
“This event is not just a Grand Slam, it is the biggest tournament of the season for us,” said Evgeniya Ukolova, who turned 27 last week. “By placing 17th and ninth in the last two events in Sochi and Turkey (Antalya), we slowed our progress of reaching our goal to qualify for our second-straight Olympics together. We have to make up some ground this week to have a fighting chance entering the Hamburg finale.”
Birlova, who could celebrate her 29th birthday at the Rio Summer Games, and Ukolova helped their efforts to overtake Ana Gallay and Georgina Klug of Argentina for the No. 15 spot on the FIVB Olympic list by winning their first pool play matches here Wednesday over pairs from Finland and Australia.
After posting a 2-0 (21-14, 21-19) decision over 25th-seeded qualifiers Taru Lahti/Riikka Lehtonen of Finland 2-0 (21-14, 21-19) in 36 minutes in their first match Wednesday, Birlova and Ukolova scored a 2-0 (21-14, 21-11) win in 29 minutes over 25th-seeded qualifiers Mariafe Artacho and Nicole Laird of Australia.
“That was a good win for us as the Fins captured a silver medal two weeks ago in Antalya,” said Ukolova about her team’s third win in four FIVB meetings with Lahti and Lehtonen. “We played even better against the young Australians. Now, we have to play at a higher level defeat the more experienced Australians tomorrow. We have never played those Australians on the world tour, so this will be a tough match.”
Seeded eighth in the Moscow Grand Slam, Ukolova and Birlova play ninth-seeded Louise Bawden/Taliqua Clancy of Australia who defeated their “down under” rivals Artacho and Laird 2-0 (24-22, 21-18) in 38 minutes before losing 2-1 (12-21, 21-16, 15-10) to Lahti and Lehtonen in 44 minutes. It will be the first meeting between the two teams on the FIVB World Tour.
Taru Lahti of Finland started with a setback Wednesday, but gained a victory at the end of the day.
Joining Birlova/Ukolova as undefeated teams in the Moscow Grand Slam with 2-0 match marks in group play are:
• Top-seeded Agatha Bednarczuk/Barbara Seixas of Brazil and 16th-seeded Joana Heidrich/Nadine Zumkehr of Switzerland in Pool A
• Second-seeded and defending Moscow Grand Slam champions Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca of Brazil in Pool B
• Third-seeded April Ross/Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States in Pool C
• Fourth-seeded Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst of Germany and 13th-seeded Elsa Baquerizo/Liliana Fernandez of Spain in Pool D
• Fifth-seeded Heather Bansley/Sarah Pavan of Canada in Pool E
• Sixth-seeded Juliana Felisberta/Taiana Lima Brazil in Pool F
• Seventh-seeded Madelein Meppelink/Marleen Van Iersel of The Netherlands and 10th-seeded Karla Borger/Britta Buthe of Germany in Pool G.
The Moscow Grand Slam also features men’s competition where Main Draw pool play will conclude Thursday. The elimination matches will be played Friday and Saturday to set the lineup for Sunday’s medal matches. The winning teams will share the $57,000 first-place prizes.
Russia's Anastasia Barsuk (left) and Brazil's Larissa Franca duel at the net Wednesday