Schwaiger sisters survive five match balls to make it to semis
2013 CEV A1 Beach Volleyball European Championship Final presented by checkrobin.com
Klagenfurt, Austria, August 2, 2013. They call it Russian roulette but what Ekaterina Khomyakova and Evgenia Ukolova did on Friday afternoon on centre court was a kind of suicide. The winners of the FIVB Open in Anapa this past week did set the tempo of the game for two sets in their 1/4 final match with home heroines Doris and Stefanie Schwaiger before missing out on five opportunities to cash what would have been a straight victory. In the end 8,000 Austrian fans could celebrate the Schwaiger siblings who made it to the semis to play there Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst of Germany while in the second semi-final Holtwick/Semmler will take on last year’s bronze medal winners Liliana/Baquerizo of Spain.
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Russia’s Ekaterina Khomyakova and Evgenia Ukolova did not seem too bothered by the great crowd in attendance in Klagenfurt as they started out very strong (4:1) and dictated the tempo of the game all the way through the opening set. The Schwaiger sisters evened the score at 19 all but the Russian girls scored the next couple of points to cash the provisional 1:0 (21-19). The home favourites fought their way back in the second set going up 7:4 and 11:8 there before their opponents drew level at 13. A very close and dramatic race followed with Ukolova and Khomyakova missing out on five match balls as they were cheered by a small Russian crew composed of the ski-cross national team currently in Austria to prepare for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. As dramatic as it may sound, they simply could not finish it off and galvanized by their fans, the Schwaiger sisters showed no mercy as they cashed their first opportunity to make it 1:1 in sets (26-24). The tie-break turned into a collapse for the Russian girls coached by Italian-born Marco Solustri who trailed right from the start (1:4, 4:7) and even though they cut the deficit to only two points, the Schwaigers were too energized to miss their chance to make the semis of this home European Championship closing it out at 15-9. With temperatures up to 36° in Klagenfurt, the centre court was literally boiling on Friday afternoon and the supporters were “watered” a few times as it is common tradition here but it was well worth for Doris and Stefanie will now have the chance to turn into their country’s second European medallists in history after Barbara Hansel and Sara Montagnolli won silver two years ago in Kristiansand.
Spain’s Liliana Fernandez Steiner and Elsa Baquerizo simply step up the quality of their play as they join the European Championship. Last year in The Hague they won bronze thereby turning into their country’s first female duo to stand on the podium and in Klagenfurt they were the first team to make the semis as they easily edged Switzerland’s Isabelle Forrer and Anouk Vergé-Depré 21-13, 21-14. On Friday morning, after beating Kolocova/Slukova (CZE) in the 1/8 finals, Liliana had said: “Last year we won bronze but this time we want to get gold”. They played so superbly on Friday controlling the game from the start up to the end that this statement does not sound too pretentious or arrogant.
Germany’s Katrin Holtwick/Ilka Semmler also got the right to play on the final day of the women’s tournament and on Saturday will try to improve on the silver medal they won three years ago in Berlin. After breaking away in the score halfway through the opening set (16:12), the first-seeded players of the Championship had to stand the furious comeback by Vasiliki Arvaniti and Panagiota Karagkouni, one of the major surprises of the tournament who in the previous round had upset second-seeded Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel. The score was drawn at 18 all, but Holtwick and Semmler showed their class and experience to bring it home with a 3-1 run for the final 21-19. After another close start (7:7), things followed a similar plot in the second set where Holtwick/Semmler quickly moved the score from 12:10 to 18:13 as youngster Karagkouni started making mistakes. The final score line (21-19, 21-13) reflects that the bronze medallists from the FIVB Grand Slam in Long Beach comfortably controlled the game to make it among the top four of the tournament. “I think that the heat was our hardest opponent today” commented Semmler. “It is incredibly hot here in Klagenfurt; it was already hot these past days but you can clearly feel that the temperatures have risen up even more today. We also had to stand the pressure for being the pre-favourites of this match but in the end we are happy that we could play our game and achieve the result we wanted. The Greek pair was the real surprise of the tournament and we can be happy that we probably got the easiest opponent for us at this stage of the Championship”.
Holtwick/Semmler continue Germany’s tradition in the competition with this country qualifying two pairs for the semis as 2008 and 2010 European champion Laura Ludwig and partner Kira Walkenhorst also made the top 4 after besting Jantine van der Vlist and Marloes Wesselink of the Netherlands 21-15, 22-20.