Russia’s Ukolova and Birlova thrive on the energy of the home crowd

Sochi, Russia, September 9, 2015 – With two wins under their belt on the first day of the FIVB World Tour Sochi Open Russia’s Evgenia Ukolova and Ekaterina Birlova feel confident they will end up on the podium at the end of the week.

In the morning the first seeded Russian team booked a 2-0 (21-15, 21-15) win over Brazilian qualifiers Eunyce Martins Vercosa and Barbara De Sousa Alves Ferreira and in an evening match on centre court defeated Tatyana Mashkova and Irina Tsimbalova from Kazachstan 2-1 (17-21, 21-19, 25-12).

“We really want to finish with a medal”, stressed Ukolova. “First of all it is important for us, for the Olympic ranking, because we missed two Grand Slams this season and we have to make good results in Opens. The second reason is that this is a home tournament and it’s always great to finish with a medal for everybody, for us, for the spectators, for the coaches, for all our staff and the federation.”

Ukolova and Birlova, who won silver at the European championships this summer, were pushed hard by the 17th seeded team from Kazachstan in the final match of the day.

The Russian girls lost the first set due to some adjustment problems, Ukolova explained.

“We had a difficult start playing with the lights. The vision on the ball was different. Returning a fast floating service is difficult in these conditions and it took us the first set to adapt. The first set was crazy, it was also difficult to pass the ball and side-out.”

“In the second we were behind two points but we kept working and pushed with our serve and we had some good digs and then the game turned in our favour.”

Ukolova and Birlova came out very energetic in the tiebreak, speeding up their game by hitting the ball in two. They had a five-point lead at their first match point, but it took them three more to finish.

The support of the fans in the almost full 1,500-seat Sport INN stadium was very important to the Russian pair. “It’s always good to play at home. You have more energy because everybody is cheering for you. It was a full stadium and it was really nice to play here. It gave us some extra energy.”

The Russian team has not been on a World Tour podium yet since they were reunited this season after Birlova’s two-year break. Their best finish was fifth at the Lucerne Open.

They really need the points, Ukolova said. “Right now we have the Olympic rings in the ranking, but everyone is really close, like one hundred points difference, so I think next season will be very important for many teams.”

USA tops the pool

Another team eager to get some points for the Olympic ranking is USA’s Summer Ross and Lane Carico. The Americans secured top position in pool H with wins over China’s Ma/Xia (21-14, 16-21, 15-12) and Dutch team Braakman/Sinnema (22-20, 13-21, 15-10).

“Awesome, we have never done that before”, said Summer about topping the pool. The 8th seeded USA team plans to play all the remaining tournaments of the 2015 World Tour season.

Summer: “The tickets are already booked. We just want to get experience for the Olympics. We want to push ourselves and try to get there.”

Asked about their chances for a podium placement in Sochi, Carico answered: “We are not going to underestimate anybody but we we’re confident in ourselves and our team so we’re shooting for number one.”

In pool E fifth seeded Nadine Zumkehr and Joana Heidrich from Switzerland and Austria’s Stefanie Schwaiger and Barbara Hansel (12th) share the lead with two wins each against China’s Wang/Tang and Latvia’s Lece/Ozolina. In a direct match on Thursday they will decide who will top the pool.

Other still undefeated teams are Czechs Slukova/Hermannova, Finland’s Lehtonen/Lahti, China’s Wang/Yue, Forrer/Vergé-Dépré from Switzerland and Italy’s Menegatti/Orsi Toth.


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