Sochi, Russia, May 8, 2016 - Entering the women’s Sochi Open women’s gold medal match here Sunday, Spain’s Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez were rolling along with six-straight wins highlighted by an upset of the top team on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour ranking list.
But the Spanish streak ended when fourth-seeded Joana Heidrich and Nadine Zumkehr of Switzerland posted a 2-1 (21-11, 19-21, 15-7) win in 45 minutes Sunday evening in the women’s final of the US$150,000 Sochi Open over the sixth-seeded Elsa and Liliana to capture the $11,000 first-place prize money. The Spaniards split $8,000 for placing second.
YOUTUBE interview with Sochi Open women's gold medal winners Heidrich/Zumkehr - https://youtu.be/OMxjXvFUaDU
The win was the second in six matches against Elsa and Liliana, who won the first four matches between the two teams. Heidrich and Zumkehr snapped the Spaniards’ head-to-head streak posting a three-set win in mid-March at the Rio Grand Slam on Copacabana where the 2016 Olympic Games will be staged.
With the Sochi Open being the 302nd FIVB World Tour stop for women, Heidrich and Zumkehr were competing together for the 36th time on the international circuit with now four podium placements and four “final four” finishes to their credit along with $271,100 in earnings and 95 wins in 171 matches for a 55 percent winning percentage.
“The Spanish girls were on fire, especially with their semi-final win Saturday over the Italian girls (Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth),” said Zumkehr as her team won their second FIVB World Tour gold medal in 36 international circuit starts together. “We also had a streak of six wins entering the finale with big victories over teams from China, Argentina and Germany.”
With the second set in the match a “nip-and-tuck” affair, the Swiss used quick starts in the first and deciding set to secure the win. Heidrich and Zumkehr roared to a 7-1 lead in the first set and took a 6-1 lead in the deciding set. “The quick starts in both sets were crucial,” said Zumkehr. “With a big lead, the key is just siding out and we did that to win.”
Heidrich and Zumkehr, who are listed No. 13 (4,380 points) on the Olympic qualifying list for the Rio Summer Games with the Spaniards No. 11 (4,430), have now posted four-straight quality placements on the FIVB World Tour starting with fifths in Vitoria (Brazil, 3-3 match mark) and Xiamen (China, 4-1) before a third two weeks ago in Fuzhou (China, 6-1).
Combined with seven Sochi wins, the Swiss have won 20 of their last 25 matches for their best stretch of matches since winning 15 of 19 matches to end last season with stops in Poland (Olsztyn, 2-3 and placed ninth), Russia (Sochi, 6-1 for third) and Xiamen (7-0 for first).
In addition to defeating the Spaniards Sunday, Heidrich and Zumkehr posted two other elimination wins of note in Sochi were over pairs that are ranked just behind on the Rio Olympic provisional qualifying list. The Swiss topped No. 14 Fan Wang/Yuan Yue of China 2-1 (21-16, 16-21, 15-9) Friday afternoon in 48 minutes before ousting No. 15 Ana Gallay/Georgina Klug of Argentina 2-1 (16-21, 21-14, 22-20) Saturday in 56 minutes. The Chinese have 4,090 Rio qualifying points and the Argentineans 3,990.
To reach the finals, Heidrich and Zumkehr defeated Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler of Germany 2-0 (22-20, 25-23) in a 40-minute match Saturday evening. Despite having more Olympic qualifying points that the Swiss with 4,560, Holtwick and Semmler are currently on the “outside looking in” as the Rio Summer Games field allows a maximum of two teams per country.
With Brazil already guaranteed two Olympic spots due to winning the world championships last July in The Hague and being the host country, Germans Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst are currently the No. 1-ranked team on the Rio provisional list with 5,740 points for their best 12 finishes during the qualifying period that started in April 2015.
Karla Borger and Britta Buthe (No. 7, 4,860 points Olympic ranking points), who lost to Elsa and Liliana 2-1 (18-21, 21-19, 18-16) in a 54-minute quarter-final match Saturday morning, are the second German team on the Rio list with a 300-point lead on Holtwick and Semmler.
In the bronze medal match, ninth-seeded Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler of Germany defeated third-seeded Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth of Italy 2-1 (20-22, 21-15, 15-10) win in 49 minutes. With the victory, the Germans split $6,000 for their 15th podium placement in 107 FIVB World Tour starts together. Menegatti and Orsi Toth shared $4,500 for placing fourth.
If was Holtwick and Semmler’s fourth win in five matches against the Italians. The Germans how now won three-straight over the Italians this season in Brazil (Vitoria) and China (Xiamen). Menegatti and Orsi Toth, who won the inaugural Sochi Open last September, are the top-ranked team on the FIVB World Tour with Holtwick and Semmler tied for third with compatriots Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude.
YOUTUBE interview with Sochi Open women's bronze medal winners Holtwick/Semmler of Germany - https://youtu.be/hycgEjA5p-o
The final four FIVB World Tour qualifying events begin with a stop next week in Turkey (Antalya, 10-15) followed by events in the United States (Cincinnati, May 17-22), Moscow (May 24-29) and Germany (Hamburg, June 7-12). Also counting towards Olympic qualification will be the European championships June 1-5 in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland.