(PR from www.fivb.org) November 6, 2010 – Marta Menegatti and Valeria Rosso defeated Brazilians Carolina and Maria Clara Salgado in a semifinal match in the US$190,000 Phuket Thailand Open powered by PTT to become the first Italian team to ever compete for a gold medal. Their opponents will be Americans Nicole Branagh and Kerri Walsh, who swept Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel of The Netherlands in the other semifinal.
Menegatti and Rosso were probably the least likely team to reach the gold medal match given that that they hadn’t played together before last week and that no Italian team has ever played in a gold medal match. In fact, Menegatti was signed up with a different partner and Rosso had no plans on competing here. But Rosso set out her goals early in the tournament.
“I told Marta ‘We lost in the first match, now let’s go for a medal’,” Rosso recalled.
After losing the opening match on Thursday, the 16th-seeded Italians had to win six straight elimination matches to reach the semifinals. Twice the duo lost the first set and then had to come back to win the next two sets to stay alive. Including the semifinals, Menegatti and Rosso have played eight matches in three days, with wins over three teams seeded eighth or better. On Saturday morning the Italians defeated Roos Van der Hoeven and Jantine van der Vlist of The Netherlands, 21-15, 21-19 and then swept second-seeded Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig of Germany, 21-19, 21-19.
In the semifinal match against the eighth-seeded Salgado sisters, a tiebreaker set was needed after Italy won the first set 24-22 but Brazil replied with a 22-20 victory. Only one point separated the teams in the third set early on, but with the scored tied 5-5, Italy scored six of the next seven points to stretch the lead to 11-7. In that span Menegatti scored a point following one of her digs, and then got back-to-back aces. Italy clinched their semifinal win with a 15-12 decision.
“It’s fantastic to be the first Italian team playing for the gold medal,” said the 20-year old Menegatti. “We didn’t expect that but we did our best to get here. We always fight, and tomorrow we want to win.”
The Italians finished in seventh place last week in Sanya, China after having practiced together just two days before that event. Menegatti’s regular partner, Greta Cicolari, is injured and Rosso stepped in at the last minute to take her place. Cicolari and Menegatti had a fourth-place finish last year, one of just six semifinal appearances for Italy in the history of the SWATCH FIVB World Tour. Italy has only won one medal, a bronze in 2001, but is guaranteed it’s second on Sunday.
Branagh and Walsh are playing together for just the third time, having won an event in 2008 before placing fifth last week. Walsh is looking to over sole possession on the all-time victory list on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour, as she and long-time partner Misty May-Treanor each have 38 career titles. And like the Italians, their path to the title match was not easy. Elsa Baquerizo and Liliana Fernandez Steiner of Spain defeated the Americans in the second round, so Branagh and Walsh have now also played eight matches in three days. Branagh and Walsh, seeded fourth, defeated third-seeded Doris and Stefanie Schwaiger of Austria 21-16, 21-12 on Saturday morning. Then the U.S. was able to get redemption for their second-round loss, as a rematch with the Spaniards went in the Americans’ favor 21-12, 21-19.
In the semifinal match against Sanne Keizer and Marleen Van Iersel of the Netherlands, Branagh and Walsh recorded their sixth straight sweep since losing to Spain. The U.S won 21-16, 24-22 to secure a spot in the gold medal match. Keizer and Van Iersel had been undefeated in tournament play up to that point, as were the Salgado sisters, so the semifinal match was just their fifth match in the three days. On Friday the 11th-seeded team from The Netherlands was able to defeat both the second and third-seeded teams in the competition.
Both Branagh and Walsh have already won two medals in Phuket. In the first year of competition here in 2006, Walsh won a bronze and then followed that up with a gold in 2007 after beating Branagh. Branagh won her second silver in 2008, and neither player was here last year. The United States leads all countries having won seven of the 12 medals in Phuket, including placing 1-2 in the last three Karon Beach finales. Italy joins China and the U.S. as the only countries to play in any of the Phuket title matches.
The four teams in the medal matches are from four different countries, which is a rarity on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour. Since 1992 that has only happened 20 times, yet one of those occurrences was just last week in Sanya, China. This season only three different countries have won a gold medal on the tour, as Brazil was responsible for nine titles, China three and the United States two.
The 2010 SWATCH FIVB World Tour calendar concludes on Sunday in Thailand as the 17-site, 14-country international Beach Volleyball circuit with $6.83-million in prize money returned to Phuket for the fifth-straight season for a women’s-only event on Karon Beach.
3rd place Final at 3pm & 1st place final about 4pm, also live on NBT TV channel nationwide, this Sunday 7 November.