Sochi, Russia, September 12, 2015 – Right in the middle of the lion’s den USA’s Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser upset a lot of Russian fans on Saturday. The third seeded Americans defeated home team Konstantin Semenov and Viacheslav Krasilnikov 2-1 (13-21, 21-16, 15-8) to reach the final of the FIVB World Tour Sochi Open.
In the other semifinal Latvia’s Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins beat Italy’s Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai 2-0 (21-17, 21-17).
The pressure on Semenov and Krasilnikov was huge, since they were the only Russian team to reach the final fours of the Sochi Open. With the support of the home crowd in the packed 1,500-seat Sport Inn stadium they had a flying start, winning the first set with ease (21-13).
But in the second set the Americans cleaned up their game and continued to put more and more pressure on the 2,08 meter tall Semenov. Lucena and Dalhausser took a lead from the start and sided out well. After winning the second they just stuck with their tactics. The Russian team made more and more enforced errors and with another kill block on Semenov the Americans took the tiebreak.
The key in winning was messing with Semenov’s mind, two-time Olympian Dalhausser said. “There are a few guys that can get in his face and make him think a little bit. Usually he just can hit over guys and I am lucky enough to get in his face and block him a few times. All it takes it one or two blocks and guys start to think: What is he going to do next? So instead of reacting, they are thinking about what I am going to do.”
“We got him a few times in the first set as well", he continued. "But I played really bad in the first set. I had problems siding out, passing mostly. But then I cleaned it up in the second and they started serving Nick and the rest is history.”
The fact that they were playing in front of a roaring crowd didn’t bother them a bit. Dalhausser: ‘I love playing in other countries, like playing Brazil in Brazil or Russia in Russia. And Poland in Poland is a lot of fun, because they love their volleyball. It fires me up, gets me going and it makes me want to win even more, if possible. I have done it a lot in Brazil and a few times in Poland, this is the first time in Russia. So I have had a little bit experience doing this.”
Veterans Lucena (35) and Dalhausser (35), who respectively played five and 39 FIVB finals before, partnered up in August to have a go at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Sochi Open is their third event after placing second at the Long Beach Grand Slam and fifth in Olsztyn.
In their second final together they will have to face Rio Open champions Samoilovs and Smedins, who they met once before, at the Long Beach Grand Slam (2-1 for USA).Latvia sets aside jetlag issues
Despite some jetlag problems the Latvians came out strong against Lupo and Nicolai. With quick setting and attacks in two they managed to move around Nicolai’s big block. The Italians levelled a couple of times during the match, but Samoilovs and Smedins never gave away the lead, although it took them three match points in the end to finish the game at 21-17, 21-17 and reach their eleventh career final.
“We played many times against them and Nicolai has one of the best blockers in the world”, Samoilovs said. “So our tactic was not to hit hard, but at maximum height and get a touch on his fingers.”
The Latvians played the Italian team five times before, losing the last four encounters. “There was a bit of psychological pressure from our side since we lost to them so many times. Because when you lose all the time and try different strategies and it doesn’t work, you don’t know what to do anymore. But today we played really focussed and this was a very important win. Not only because we are in the final, but also because we beat a team that used to make us feel very uncomfortable.”