Sanya Open 2012
Medal winners at the podium: from left to right: Larissa Franca, Juliana Silva, Talita Antunes, Maria Antonell, Xue Chen, Zhang Xi
Brazilian third seeds Maria Antonelli/ Talita Da Rocha Antunes held off world champions Juliana Felisberta Silva/ Larissa Franca 2-1 in an all-Brazilian final at the 2012 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour Sanya Open presented by Olympic Bay on Sunday.

With the 21-17, 17-21, 15-13 victory, their sixth in a row in Sanya, Antonelli/ Talita reaped their eighth FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour title together and split the prize of $30,000.

"It’s a good start for us; last season we didn’t start so well,” said Talita, who paired with Antonelli to finish as runners-up to Xue Chen/ Zhang Xi of China in the Brasilia Open last week. “This year is an important year and we’ve started with two finals – one first place, one second – so you know our staff and our team are doing a good job.”

"We are fighting a lot to win,” said Antonelli. “It was very difficult to lose in Brazil because we really wanted to win, but we are very happy here, because we like China. Me and Talita, we always do well in China. It’s a difficult trip, but I like the people; everybody is smiling. It’s incredible. The feeling is perfect. I think the very good result is because I believe in the ‘therapy’ of China.”

"If you fight a lot, if you practice a lot and you can win, that’s the best feeling you can ever have,” she added. “My partner was incredible in support.”

Talita predicted that the contest for medals at this summer’s London Olympic Games would be more difficult than in Beijing. “The London Games will be harder than Beijing. We have more good teams and everybody wants the gold medal. We have to work hard and be focused all the time,” she stated. “The Olympic Games are very important and we are looking forward to it. We will try our best and I hope that it will be a wonderful season, a wonderful year.”

Dropping the second set and trailing 6-1 in the third, Antonelli/ Talita fought back with a 13-6 run to make it 14-12. Defending champions Juliana/ Larissa, who lost to Antonelli/ Talita on Friday before winning a lower-bracket match and the semifinal against top seeds Xue/ Zhang to make the final, withstood one matchpoint, but Talita beat Juliana over the net to seal the match in 56 minutes.

"It’s so hot and it’s not easy to play,” Talita said. “Maybe they felt relaxed when leading by five points. But we never gave up; we kept trying all the time and we were more focused. That’s the most important thing.”

With their third victory in a row over Juliana/ Larissa, Antonelli/ Talita also improved their head-to-head record against their compatriots to 6-13.

"Our matches are always close; it’s always two- or three-point games,” Talita said. “Maybe now we play better towards the end of the game.”

Juliana/ Larissa, who were fourth in the season-opening Brasilia Open, settled for the silver medal, while the bronze medal went to home duo Xue/ Zhang, who won 21-16, 21-17 over Austrian 20th seeds Sara Montagnolli and Barbara Hansel. The bad news for the Beijing Olympic bronze medallists was that Xue injured ligaments in her right hand in a clash under the net with Hansel in the first set.

"We are still not sure how serious the injury is, but it seems she has a torn ligament,” said China coach Miao Zhihong. “We will send her to hospital for further checks.”

"I thought I could continue to play, so I tried my best to finish the match,” said Xue. “After the clash, it was difficult for me to do some of the moves, but it also made me calm down. It’s just the beginning of the season and I think we are in good shape, better than last year. I hope we can continue like this for the rest of the season.”

Montagnolli/ Hansel felt satisfied with their fifth top-four finish together on the FIVB Beach Volleyball SWATCH World Tour.

"We are very happy with our performance here,” said Montagnolli. “We had a very hard start, but then we came back and got good rhythm against top teams like China and Brazil. It’s difficult to play against them because they were almost without mistakes and gave us a lot of pressure. For sure, we are very happy with our semifinal and it’s very important for us.”

The Austrians are still fighting for a ticket to the London Olympic Games. “We are right now on the edge,” Montagnolli said. “We have to fight with other teams for points. So this result is very important and we will try to play well in Shanghai and in Beijing.”

The 2012 FIVB Beach Volleyball Swatch World Tour will continue in the next two weeks with consecutive $600,000 Grand Slams (men and women) in Shanghai and Beijing.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first FIVB Beach Volleyball event held February 17-22 in Rio de Janeiro.

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