KLAGENFURT, AUSTRIA, August 2, 2008 - For the second consecutive week, Brazil's Shelda Bede and Ana Paula Connelly won a Grand Slam, and the duo extended their winning streak to 14 consecutive matches on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour. The tandem defeated Svitlana Baburina and Galyna Osheyko of Ukraine in the gold medal match of the US$600,000 A1 Grand Slam presented by Nokia. Germany's Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler collected the bronze medal.
The final of six Grand Slams this year, and the final tournament before the Beijing Olympics start, this prestigious tournament will be long-remembered by many players and countries. Baburina and Osheyko not only achieved a personal best with their silver medal, but earned Ukraine's first ever medal on the Tour. Georgia fielded a team in the semifinals for the first time ever as well. The "final four" was comprised of teams from four different countries, the first time that has happened since the 2006 event in Klagenfurt. The three European teams in the semifinals marked the first time since 2003 that three spots belonged to Europe, and the two medals won were a first by the continent since 2005.
Shelda, who is third all-time in victories and first in prize money earned on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour, was playing in her 103rd medal match. On the opposite side of the net in the gold medal match was a pair of players whose highest finish was 17th. Still, in the first set the match was tight early, as the Brazilians led just 8-7 before going on a 13-3 run to win 21-10. In the second set, the Ukrainians enjoyed a 2-1 lead, but it was all Brazil after that. Shelda and Ana Paula won the set 21-11.
"We sure have a lot of fun on the court," Ana Paula said. "This is one of the best crowds ever. The crowd is with you, cheering. It's not like just a party; they come here to see the sport."
Shelda, who was selected as the SWATCH Most Outstanding Player, won for the second time in Klagenfurt, as she also won here in 2001 with long-time partner Adriana Behar in what was the first of four wins on consecutive weekends. This tournament put her into a tie with Adriana for most tournaments played, with 136, while Ana Paula moved into 10th place all-time in earnings, with $604,728 in prize money. The win gave Brazil a women's gold medal in Klagenfurt for the first time since Shelda and Adriana won the inaugural tournament here.
In the bronze medal match, Holtwick and Semmler met up with Beijing-bound athletes Andrezza "Rtvelo" Martins and Cristine "Saka" Santanna of Georgia. All four of the players had entered Klagenfurt with a best of ninth place on the SWATCH FIVB World Tour. Rtvelo had a bittersweet birthday, as she turned 31 today. While she reached the semifinals for the first time, she and Saka also lost both matches, ruining any chance of gaining a medal. Throughout the match, the Germans maintained a small but steady lead, as the only two times they trailed were 3-2 and 4-3 in the first set. While they never led by more than three points, they were consistent in their first ever medal match, winning 21-18, 21-18.
"It's so amazing, I can't believe it yet. I'm speechless," Semmler said. "It's always been a dream to get a medal, and now we get a bronze at a Grand Slam. This is the biggest success in our career. The next step is gold, but we have a lot of time before that goal is reached."
Both Holtwick, 24, and Semmler, 22, are students together and have played together for three years. Holtwick brings back a small jar of sand from beaches all over the world. When asked if she would collect sand from Klagenfurt, she replied "of course, I'll take a lot!"
In one of the semifinals earlier in the day, the Brazilians continued their streak by defeating Holtwick and Semmler 21-16, 21-18 in a battle of experience versus youth. In the second semifinal, Baburina and Osheyko led the entire first set, winning 21-15. In the second set, the Ukrainians were ahead 11-10 at the technical timeout, but that was the last lead they would see, as Rtvelo and Saka knotted the match with a 21-19 win. The third set was tied 4-4 when Osheyko keyed a 4-0 run with a pair of blocks, leading to a 15-12 win for Ukraine.
The SWATCH FIVB World Tour will not have any additional tournaments during the Beijing Olympics, but then will return to action for the last five events of 2008 with a double-gender tournament in Kristiansand, Norway the last week of August