Croatian resort setting, but no relaxing at Porec Major

Porec, Croatia - The FIVB World Tour resumes here Tuesday amidst the resort setting on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula with men’s and women’s qualifying for the US$800,000 Porec Major, the second of five SWATCH Major Series events on the 2015-2016 international calendar.

The Porec Major “unofficially” opened Monday with men’s country quota matches featuring pairs from Austria, Brazil and Norway on the two courts near the Zelana Laguna Hotel where the winning teams will advance to the first-round of qualification Tuesday where play will also be staged on the center court and three courts at the Valamar Zagreb Hotel.

Teams winning Monday to advance to Tuesday’s men’s qualifier were Peter Eglseer/Florian Schnetzer of Austria, Saymon Barbosa/Gustavo "Guto" Carvalhaes of Brazil and Mathias Berntsen/Anders Mol.  As usual, the Brazilian country quota matches are like gold medal finals as all four players have won FIVB World Tour events.

Saymon and Guto, who won the Cincinnati Open in May and finished third two weeks ago at the Olsztyn Grand Slam in Poland, defeated Andre Loyola and the legendary Ricardo Santos 2-1 (18-21, 24-22, 19-17) in 58 minutes.  Loyola won the Fortaleza Open at the start of May with Oscar Brandao while Ricardo has 55 FIVB World Tour gold medals to his credit with 

Tuesday’s schedule will also feature two rounds of qualification with eight teams advancing to Wednesday’s “money” rounds.  The men’s qualifier concludes Wednesday with eight pairs earning spots in Thursday’s Main Draw.  Women’s elimination bracket matches start Thursday afternoon with the men’s bracket play beginning Friday afternoon.

Two rounds of women’s action will be staged Friday highlighted by the afternoon semi-finals.  The women’s semi-finals and medal matches will be played Saturday.  The men will play two rounds of elimination Saturday followed by their “final four” matches Sunday.  The winning pairs will share the $57,000 first-place prizes.

Host Croatia will have seven teams in the competition with two men and three women pairs already placed in the Main Draws.  Competing for Croatia in the women’s “money” rounds will be Maja Rosko/Nikolina Jelic, Jurja Vlašic/Dina Becic and Sara Radanovic/Samanta Fabris.  Participating in the men’s Main Draw will be Ivan Zeljkovic/Filip Silic and Kresimir Karaula/Marin Jercic.  Stela Vukasovic/Nikolina Klaric will attempt to qualify for Croatia in the women’s preliminary rounds Tuesday.  In the men’s qualifier will be Marko Matic/Marko Vujnovic.

Ivan Zeljkovic (hitting) and Filip Silic played for Croatia at the 2-15 Porec Major

The top returning pairs are defending Porec Major champions Talita Antunes/Larissa Franca of Brazil and Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen of The Netherlands.  Both pairs will be competing in the Rio 2016 Olympics where Talita and Larissa are the No. 1-seeded women’s team on Copacabana and the Dutch will be the second-seeded entry in the men’s Summer Games.

Despite missing the last FIVB World Tour stop in Olsztyn two weeks ago, Brouwer and Meeuwsen rank fourth among the point’s leaders for the FIVB Grand Slam and SWATCH Major Series events played to date in Brazil, Russian, Germany and Poland with 1,840 points and $92,000 in earnings.

Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt of Brazil, the reigning FIVB world champions and No. 1 men’s seed in Rio, are the top-ranked team on the Grand Slam/Majors ranking sheet with 2,480 points and $127,000.  However, the Brazilians have not won a 2016 Grand Slam/Majors event with seconds in Moscow and Olsztyn, a fourth in Hamburg and a fifth in Rio.

Americans Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson are second with 1,960 points and $76,000 in earnings with Evandro Goncalves/Pedro Solberg of Brazil third (1,920 $82,000).  The Americans have two fourths, a fifth and a ninth to their credit this season in Grand Slam/Majors while Evandro and Pedro posted a second in the first Grand Slam stop in Rio followed by two ninths and a fifth.  Both teams will be competing in Rio as two of the top-six-seeded pairs.

None of the top four-ranked teams have captured a gold medal this season with those honors being shared by No. 5 Piotr Kantor/Bartosz Losiak of Poland (Rio gold, 1,800 points and $100,000 in earnings), No. 6 Aleksandrs Samoilovs/Janis Smedins of Latvia (Olsztyn gold, 1,640, $82,000), No. 8 Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena of the United States (Hamburg gold, 1,520, $81,000) and No. 13 Reinder Nummerdor/Christiaan Varenhorst of The Netherlands (Moscow gold, 
1,400, $75,000).

All three teams will be in Copacabana for the Olympics with Dalhausser/Lucena the third-seeds, Nummerdor/Varenhorst the fifth-seeds and Samoilovs and Smedins the eighth-seeds.  Smedins joins Alison as returning Olympic medal winners as the Latvian captured the bronze medal in London with the Brazilian the silver medal winner. 

While all the top men’s teams will be playing in the Porec Major, the women’s field will be missing American Olympic medalist April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings.  The USA pair is taking the weekend off after playing eight of the past 11 weeks on both the FIVB World and American domestic tour.  The other top-ranked women’s have played only five events during the same period.

Ross and Walsh Jennings captured the first two Grand Slam titles this season in Rio and Moscow before placing fourth in Hamburg.  The Americans, who missed the Polish stop in Olsztyn due to a commitment to play domestically in New York City, rank third on the Grand Slam/Majors list with 2,160 points and $138,000 in earnings.

Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany, who captured the Hamburg and Olsztyn gold medals, are tied atop the Grand Slam/Majors standings with Talita and Larissa.  Both teams have each compiled 2,440 points for the four events with the Germans accumulating $142,000 winnings as compared to $129,000 for the Brazil.

Laura Ludwig (left) and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany will be seeking their third-straight FIVB World Tour gold medal in Porec.

Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan of Canada, who lost the 2015 Porec Major gold medal match to Talita and Larissa, are ranked fourth on the Grand Slam/Majors list with 1,840 points and $71,000 in winnings.  Reigning FIVB world champions Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas of Brazil are fifth on the ranking list for “big” FIVB World Tour events with 1,800 points and $78,000 in earnings.

All five top-final ranked women’s teams will be in Rio for the Olympics where play starts August 6 and concludes August 18.  Agatha and Barbara are No. 2 on the seeding list for Copacabana followed by Ross/Walsh Jennings, Ludwig/Walkenhorst and Bansley/Pavan.  The No. 6 team in Rio will be Madelein Meppelink and Marleen Van Iersel of The Netherlands.  The pair is also No. 6 on the Grand Slam/Majors listing with 1,680 points and $56,000 in winnings.

Following the Porec Major, the SWATCH Series continues with stops in Switzerland (Gstaad, July 5-10) and Austria (Klagenfurt, July 26-31).  Following the Olympics and the ASISCS World Series of Beach Volleyball at the end of August in the United States at Long Beach, the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals will be held September 8-13.  The site for the event where the winning teams shared $100,000 first-place prizes, will be announced in the coming weeks.


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