Brazil, China, Switzerland and USA go for Itapema gold
Watch the semifinals and the medal matches in Brazil live on VBTV
Published 07:34, 08 Apr 2023
The last day of competition in Brazil will have the first semifinal, between China’s Chen Xue/Xinyi Xia and USA’s Terese Cannon/Sarah Sponcil, beginning at 09:00 local time (14:00 UTC), followed by the second duel, involving the home team of Bárbara Seixas/Carol Salgado and Switzerland’s Zoé Vergé-Dépré/Esmée Böbner, one hour later.
The medal matches will be held in the afternoon in Itapema, with the semifinal losers going for bronze at 15:00 local time (20:00 UTC) and the winners playing for gold at 16:00 local time (21:00 UTC).
The tournament in Brazil has been especially remarkable for Chinese star Xue. A bronze medallist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 34-year-old blocker was away from international beach volleyball since the Tokyo Olympics, held in August 2021, when she finished ninth alongside Xinxin Wang.
“I had surgery on my right shoulder back in 2015 and it didn’t recover very well,” Xue told Volleyball World. “After Tokyo, I felt like I couldn’t keep playing like that and I decided to retire. Last year, the Chinese Federation hired a Brazilian coach (Ricardo de Freitas) and his staff did a very good job with my shoulder, so I felt that perhaps there was still a chance I could play for a little longer.”
In her return, the 2013 world champion reactivated her partnership with Xia, with whom she had played between the end of 2013 and 2016, and the two made it to the semifinals with three wins in four matches.
On Saturday, the Chinese scored two big wins in Itapema, knocking Germans Julia Sude and Isabel Schneider out in the Round of 16 with a two-set (21-16, 21-15) victory and overcoming second-seeded Americans Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles in another two-setter (21-10, 21-17) in the quarterfinals.
“It’s amazing to be back,” Xue added. “I’ve been playing beach volleyball for almost 20 years, but this time away gave me new energy and a lot of excitement. And being here in Brazil, having Brazilian coaches to help us around, has been great. The Paris 2024 Games are right around the corner and qualifying will be a big challenge, but we have the ambition of becoming a strong team.”
In the semifinals, the Chinese will face another American team in Cannon and Sponcil. The third-seeded duo remains undefeated after the first two rounds of elimination and also won a pair of matches in Itapema on Saturday, beating the home team of Andressa Cavalcanti and Vitoria Rodrigues 2-0 (21-16, 21-17) in the Round of 16 and topping Finland’s Niina Athiainen and Taru Lahti also with a sweep (21-17, 24-22) in the quarterfinals.
The dark horses of the Itapema Challenge, Swiss qualifiers Vergé-Dépré and Böbner will appear in the semifinals of a Beach Pro Tour event for the first time on Sunday in Brazil. The two have won five of the six matches they played at the Meia Praia and are one win away from their first international medal at this level.
On Saturday, the 25-year-old Vergé-Dépré and the 23-year-old Böbner were pushed to their limits, starting behind and winning tie-breakers in both the Round of 16, against Germans Sandra Ittlinger and Karla Borger (13-21, 21-17, 16-14), and the quarterfinals, against Dutch and fellow qualifiers Emi van Driel and Brecht Piersma (21-23, 21-15, 16-14), to advance.
Top-seeded Bárbara and Carol will try to give the home fans a medal to celebrate after the veterans survived an intense day on Saturday in Itapema. The 35-year-olds prevailed in a three-set (21-14, 17-21, 19-17) battle against compatriots Talita Antunes and Thamela Coradello in the Round of 16 and then overcame a difficult start to down Japanese Miki Ishii and Sayaka Mizoe in two sets (22-20, 21-8) in the quarterfinals.
“I think the key was powering through the difficult moments,” Carol commented. “We managed to remain grounded when things weren’t going well and were helping each other the entire time. We never lost our focus or stopped believing it would all work out well in the end, and it did.”