Walsh Jennings and Ross reach unusual No. 101

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 12, 2016 - Match victory No. 101 in their FIVB World Tour partnership might have been one of the most unusual for Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross.

Judging the way the first game of the semifinals of the US$800,000 Rio Grand Slam against Germans Britta Buthe and Karla Borger on Saturday, it would be safe to assume that they would still be stuck on 100 wins.

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Walsh Jennings, playing her first event since shutting down for shoulder surgery last year, once again demonstrated that they have that little something to draw on in order to extricate themselves from a mess.

They recovered from a first-game trouncing and went on to score a 9-21, 21-17, 15-10 victory to reach the gold medal match on Copacabana Beach.

Their opponent in the final, though, is a far more improbable story. Poland’s Kinga Kolosinska and Monika Brzostek benefited from an injury withdrawal and then reached the gold medal match with a 21-13, 13-21, 15-13 victory over Anouk Verge-Depre and Isabelle Forrer of Switzerland.

But anytime Walsh Jennings and Ross are on the wrong end of a score like they endured in a first game of a match, eyebrows will be raised. But much like their earlier quarterfinal win over Germans Kira Walkenhorst and Laura Ludwig, they straightened out their act and won going away.

“We just stuck together,” Ross said. “It’s an amazing feeling being out there and having something like that happen and still feeling connected and together and ‘We can do this.’ I credit that to our coming back and winning.”

Great effort for Germany's Karla Borger

Buthe and Borger, seeking their second FIVB World Tour, were virtually flawless in the opening set, running out to a 10-4 lead. That actually made it look close, because the Germans ran their lead up to 20-7 at one point.

It happened so fast, Ross and Walsh Jennings didn’t even have any time to absorb what appeared to be happening to them.

“It wasn’t even embarrassing,” Walsh Jennings said. “They were making good plays and we weren’t executing. It wasn’t like we were making mistakes, it just wasn’t going our way.

“Offensively, we weren’t that bad out of rhythm. We were close. We just mixed up our shots a little more.”

And like they did against Walkenhorst and Ludwig, they changed up their serve attack and got the Germans off balance.

“We’re here to play Beach Volleyball and compete and to win and whatever that takes, we’re going to do it,” Ross said.

USA's Kerri Walsh and April Ross

Playing in their 21 st FIVB World Tour event together, Walsh Jennings and Ross will try to claim their seventh title.

That’s the kind of experience that the Polish duo just can’t match. This will be their first World Tour final and their first final of any kind since they captured the 2009 FIVB Junior Youth crown in England.

“They are really talented, they are experienced, so they are in favor but we will see,” Brzostek said, admitting that just reaching the final might take a while to sink in. “We will do our best and hope we play a good match. Yes, we need to get some time to get familiar with that.”

They were supposed to begin play Saturday morning against third-seeded Sarah Pavan and Heather Bansley, but the Canadian duo had to forfeit because of a toe injury sustained by Pavan.

That rest help them jump out to a quick start against Verge-Depre and Forrer, who had eliminated top-seeded Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas in the quarterfinals.

“We had a lot of luck today because we didn’t play our quarterfinal,” Kolosinska said. “So we had more power to play the game and to do our best.”

When Verge-Depre and Forrer responded in Game 2, the third game became one of careful calculations on both sides, with neither team willing to gamble and make a mistake.

“It was a little bit stressful for all of us because it was a first semifinal for both teams,” Brzostek said. “We didn’t get familiar with these lights. It’s hard to play in the center court this time. I hope we show what we learned (Sunday).”


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