Hamburg, Germany, June 11, 2016 - As Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes kept the pressure on Keri Walsh Jennings and April Ross in the smart Major Hamburg bronze medal match, Talita had only one thought.
“It always is a big fight because we know Kerri never gives up,” Talita said. “All the time she’s trying, all the time she wants to win so that’s good. I like when I play against her. She’s Kerri Walsh, so all the time you have to play so well.”
All the time the Brazilian duo played well. The Brazilian duo, the top-ranked team in the world, scored a 21-15, 21-17 victory over Walsh Jennings and Ross at Am Rothenbaum stadium.
In a match that could be a predictor of the Rio 2016 Olympics gold-medal match, Larissa and Talita never trailed and handed Walsh Jennings and Ross their second loss of the day following their semifinal defeat to eventual gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany.
It was a complete victory for Talita and Larissa, who never trailed and had the match tied only three times. It’s the first time in their partnership that Walsh Jennings and Ross, who had won three consecutive tournaments, have lost consecutive matches on the court (they did have two forfeits that gave him them mini-losing streaks).
“It was just a beating,” Walsh Jennings said. “We were just talking about it --- where did our rhythm go? And it’s like we had an up-and-down tournament the whole time and you can get away with certain things against other teams and the deeper you go in the tournament, that’s exposed. Today it was literally execution and take care of the ball. Whenever we had a good pass on it, we executed and that’s how you create rhythm, and it was never consistent.”
Larissa and Talita, who fell to fellow Brazilians Barbara Seixas and Agatha Bednarczuk in the other semifinal, avenged their defeat to Ross and Walsh Jennings in the previous stop on the FIVB World in the Moscow Grand Slam.
“I think we played so well this weekend,” Talita said. “It happened we lost the semifinal, but it was a really good tournament for us. We did our best but when sometimes you lose you have to think about doing something different and we did it in this match and that’s important. Sometimes when you lose, it’s not the worst thing.
“We just cleared our minds, we were in focus. We have to play strong, serve good, we have to not think before, we have to do and then think. Sometimes we’re thinking and we’re not doing.”
Larissa and Talita jumped out to a 4-0 lead to open the match and pushed the advantage to seven points, the last time coming at 17-10. In the second game, the teams were deadlocked at 7-7 until two attacks by Larissa broke the tie, and an errant shot by Walsh Jennings pushed the Brazilians’ advantage to three. The Americans could get no closer than two points the rest of the way.
“When we win it’s in our hands, when we lose it’s in our hands and we respect everyone from 1 to the 32nd seeds,” Walsh Jennings said. “It’s all about us completely and totally. I don’t care how good they are, I don’t care any of it. It’s just take care of the ball, the ABCs of the game.”
The smart Major Hamburg was the final event in the qualification cycle for the Rio de Janeiro Games, and Talita and Larissa will be the top team by points in the provisional Olympic rankings. Walsh Jennings and Ross finished third, just ahead of Ludwig and Walkenhorst.
“We improved our points a lot and that’s a real positive for us,” Ross said. “We had some teams exploit our weaknesses, which --- thank you --- we’re going to go home and train on those real hard. We’re just going to take positives from this.”