Fuzhou, China, April 24, 2015 –Riika Lehtonen/Taru Lahti from Finland fend off the competition to enter the second round of the single elimination at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Fuzhou Open 2015. The first FIVB tournament of the season also opens the Olympic qualification window for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil.
In its third consecutive year, the FIVB Fuzhou Open is the first double-gender FIVB Open event of the 2015 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour calendar with a prize purse of $150,000.
Lehtonen/Lahti have time to prepare for the knock-out phase after beating Germany’s Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude 2-0 (21-16, 21-13) in their concluding pool match.High hopes for Finland
With two wins each for Lehtonen/Lahti and Laboureur/Sude, the final pool match would decide the winner of Pool C. As the sun emerged through the clouds in Fuzhou, the two teams took to centre court with little to separate the two in the first set.
Laboureur/Sude had a strong season together in 2014 climbing the podium at the Durban Open with silver. The two teams displayed similar determination with accurate dinks over the net from Sude and Lehtonen/Lahti’s ability to pull the ball back into play from every angle.
A couple of German service errors at the start of the second put pressure on Laboureur/Sude as Lehtonen/Lahti took advantage of the situation. Close teamwork by the Fins set up for some great third touches and Lehtonen/Lahti went from strength to strength taking the win 2-0 (21-16, 21-13).
“We’re feeling pretty good because we have never beaten that couple before and of course we are coming from difficult year. We worked a lot and have big goals and now it’s nice that we are in the shape that we can start to challenge those couples. We played well tactically and kept our tactics throughout the game and that worked out and our side-out was good, so we can just be happy about the result, but it’s not finished yet,” said Lehtonen.
“It was a good game with our good side-out and block defence. They made a lot of service mistakes which helped us,” said Lahti.
“We played them last year but I was still coming from the two knees injury and our shape was not like it is now. We had the two games that they have played here, but as Lahti said they made a few more mistakes than we did so that made all the difference,” said Lehtonen.
In 2014 Lehtonen/Lahti’s best results came towards the end of the year at the Xiamen and Mangaung Opens where they finished ninth.
“It’s a little different than last year because basically I didn’t have any practice behind me, we just started to play and that you can absolutely see in the game,” said Lehtonen.
“For sure we will scout the other players before tomorrow because we haven’t seen so many couples so we will see more about our adversaries and then to rest and keep going day by day, game by game and ball by ball.
“We always search for the best, we have the kind of character that we are not satisfied with anything less than the best so that’s why we really need to focus on the moment and stay there, you cannot think too much further,” said Lehtonen.
Laboureur/Sude also progress to round two after beating fellow countrywomen Anni Schumacher/Sandra Seyfferth from Germany 2-0 (21-12, 21-10).Local favourites Wang Fan/Yue Yuan
Focus on centre then shifted to China’s Wang Fan/Yue Yuan, now the clear local favourite after Chen Xue/Xinyi Xia were forced to a disappointing withdrawal following a shoulder injury sustained by Xue on the first day of pool play.
Wang Fan/Yue Y. met Schumacher/Seyfferth from Germany in their last Pool A match as temperatures reached the hottest of the tournament so far. With the Chinese crowds on hand, Wang Fan/Yue Y. began confidently and an infuriating serve into the net by Seyfferth ended the first set 21-16.
Seyfferth regained her composure to start the second with an ace and the set continued on much closer than the first. Yue Yuan’s powerful serving also produced a number of aces and it was the final critical serve landing out for Germany that gave China the win 2-0 (21-16, 21-19).
“It's too hot today. Playing under such conditions is a real test for us, especially after we played two games yesterday. Compared to yesterday, we didn't play very well, as we went slowly into the game. I felt pain in my knee at the beginning, so I dared not to jump too much, but as the match went on, I felt much better with my knee.
“If you hit top form now, it may not be a good thing, because it's just the pool stage. We need to save the best for the following single elimination rounds.
“It's the first stop of the new season, so actually, we didn't put too much pressure on ourselves. Wang Fan and I are entering the second year as a team on the World Tour. For us, the main task for the whole season is to improve teamwork,” said Yue Y.
“I am still very young, kind of lacking international experience. Hopefully, with the help of Yue, I can improve step by step,” said Wang Fan.
The win for Wang Fan/Yue Y. places them top of Pool A and directly into the second round of the knock-outs played on April 25.
The Fuzhou Open is held at the purpose built venue in the city’s Mianjiang Riverside Park. China has hosted a total of 49 FIVB World Tour events and the second Chinese stop on the 2015 calendar will be the double-gender event FIVB Xiamen Open scheduled for September 22 to 27.
The gold medal teams in each gender at the FIVB Fuzhou Open will each split $11,000, the silver $8,000, the bronze $6,000 and fourth place $4,500. The men’s medal matches will be held on Saturday and the women’s medal matches will be held on Sunday.