Xue and Xia silence the crowd and win Itapema Challenge
Back together after six years, the Chinese topped the home team of Carol and Bárbara in the gold medal match in Brazil
Pubblicato 08:01, 09 Apr 2023
Playing their first tournament together in more than six years, the Olympians silenced the home crowd at the Meia Praia Beach and defeated top-seeded Brazilians Carol Salgado and Bárbara Seixas 2-0 (21-18, 21-17) in the gold medal match. Americans Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil also made it to the podium in the Itapema Challenge, in third place.
The victory in Itapema was the third for the Chinese at the international level, with the first two having happened in their first stint as partners, which lasted between 2013 and 2016. Ten years ago, the 34-year-old Xue and the 26-year-old Xia triumphed in FIVB World Tour events in Phuket, Thailand, and Durban, South Africa. The two have now won six medals (three golds, one silver, two bronzes) in 21 international events.
The victory in Durban ten years ago had been the last in Xue’s accomplished career – she now has 18 international gold medals. A Beijing 2008 Olympic bronze medallist and a 2013 world champion, the Chinese star has struggled with a shoulder injury since 2015 and entered the Itapema Challenge after nearly two years of inactivity.
“To be honest, we didn’t expect this result,” Xue commented. “We set a very realistic goal, which was making it to the elimination rounds and then going step by step and I think we did a great job here. More important than the result here was what we managed to do on the court. After so many years separated, each match has been a new experience for us. We just wanted to do our best and compete.”
A Tokyo Olympian, Xia won her fifth international title this week in Itapema. Besides the triumphs with Xue in 2013, the defender also topped the podium in an FIVB World Tour event in Nantong, China, in 2017, and in last year’s Beach Pro Tour Leuven Futures, paired with Meimei Lin.
“Winning this gold medal here was an excellent start for us being our first tournament together after so long,” Xia added. “We fought for every ball and that's what took us here. We'll continue to work hard every day and our goal is to keep improving step by step.”
The Chinese duo won three of the first four points of set one in the gold medal match, but Brazil came right back to regain the lead at 4-3. With Bárbara very active on the backcourt, the home team got a two-point lead at 10-8, but it immediately disappeared when Xue got a trickle ace at 11-11. The Olympic medallist had another strong serving run a few minutes later, getting back-to-back aces to create a 16-14 lead for the Asians. Xue came big again getting a block point at 18-15 and a serve from Bárbara that stopped at the net gave the Chinese the 21-18 win.
The Chinese carried their momentum into set two and won the first three points played. The Asians continued on a roll and quickly built a 6-1 lead after Xue registered another ace. The Brazilians stabilized their game, but the Asians didn’t slow down either and had a 14-7 lead heading into the technical timeout after Carol hit out of bounds. The South Americans had a good run during the set and managed to cut the deficit to two points at 19-17, but the Asians then scored the two points they needed and ended the match with a swing from Xue.
Americans Cannon and Sponcil finished third in Itapema after they topped Swiss qualifiers Zoé Vergé-Dépré and Esmée Böbner in straight sets (21-16, 21-17) in the bronze medal match. It was the third Beach Pro Tour medal for the two, who took silver in last year’s Cape Town Elite16 and bronze in the Kuşadası Challenge, also in 2022.
“We love coming to Brazil to play,” Cannon explained. “It’s so fun, they have the best fans in the world. Thank you for watching and cheering, it’s amazing.”
Earlier, in the semifinals, the Brazilians defeated the Swiss in two sets (21-15, 21-17) while the Chinese needed the tie-breaker (21-15, 18-21, 21-19) to overcome the Americans.
The Beach Pro Tour continues in Brazil for another week, with the competition moving north to Saquarema, the host city of next week’s Challenge tournament, which will happen from Thursday to Sunday.