FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – They win so often, it seems like it’s been forever since Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes have captured an FIVB World Tour title.
For the record, their last gold medal came in early July in at the Gstaad Major, their final event before the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, in which they surprisingly came up empty.
“But this is only our third tournament since July,” Talita protested Sunday.
The Brazilians went back to what they do best, collecting gold medals. They defeated compatriots Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa, 21-15, 21-18, to capture the Fort Lauderdale Major in the first event of the 2017 FIVB World Tour.
It was the 28 th event they’ve played together and 14th title, a rather astounding win rate on an unforgiving tour. For Larissa the Legend, it was her 60th career gold medal – she’s already the record holder with five more than Kerri Walsh Jennings – and the 100th medal of her career.
Talita captured her 32nd career title and 65th medal of her career, and while they treasure the victory and the $40,000 first prize, they had a different idea for their gold medals.
And only moments after they had their gold medals hung around their necks, they honored retiring referee Mario Ferro Junior by draping him in a Brazilian flag and placing their medals around his neck.
“I like the referees as friends,” Talita said. “They travel with us all the time, they are so nice.”
They don’t exactly treat opponents as nicely and their victory exacted a bit of revenge after Agatha and Duda had beaten them in straight sets in their most recent meeting on the Brazil domestic tour.
“We are so happy,” Talita said. “It’s the first tournament of the year. We are not 100 percent, but we knew we had to play our best and we did. We fought a lot in all of the match and this one was amazing. We played against Brazil, and always against Brazil it was a hard match.
“We came out stronger than that weekend and focused. We didn’t feel good about that and today was another day, another final, a World Tour. We just wanted to play together all the time. Another gold medal in Fort Lauderdale makes me feel good.”
The last time they played in Fort Lauderdale they beat Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst in the inaugural World Tour Finals in 2015.
Sunday marked the 58th time Brazilian women’s teams met in a World Tour Final. To reach the championship match, Larissa/Talita stopped upstart Americans Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross, 21-16, 21-16. Agatha/Duda topped Germans Julia Sude and Chantal Laboureur, 24-26, 21-18, 15-11.
Sude/Laboureur turned around captured the bronze medal with a 21-14, 21-14 win over the Americans, who were playing for the first time as a team.
Sweat/Ross had rolled through the tournament undefeated in their five matches heading into the semifinals. Their confidence snowballed and despite the two losses on Sunday, that won’t quash their enthusiasm at the outset of the season. Their biggest achievement of the week?
“I think it’s the fact that nobody expected us to be standing here right now talking to you,” Sweat said. “It would have been way cooler if we had a medal around our neck. But if you told people we were going to come here and get a fourth place, they wouldn’t believe you. I’m proud of how we fought and we stuck together. We have a lot to learn, obviously, and we know that and we’re always wanting to get better.”
It’s such an early start to the 2017 season that virtually only the Brazilians are in tip-top shape. Their domestic has been underway since late September and have already had six events, with one looming this coming week Maceio.
But for the rest of the world, it’s back to training. The FIVB World Tour doesn’t resume in earnest until late April and the next 5-star event is not until Rome in June. Several Europeans will return to Tenerife to pick up where they left off before Fort Lauderdale.
The Americans also head back to “preseason” training in advance of the May 4-7 AVP Huntington Beach Open, the opener to the domestic schedule.
The week in Florida sends notice to the AVP that Sweat and Ross will be a force to deal with as a new partnership.
Clearly, they enjoyed each other’s company. Sweat, for example, probably smiled more this week than she did during the whole Rio 2016 Olympic qualifying cycle with Lauren Fendrick.
“Lauren and I had a goal of making the Olympics and it felt like everything we were doing was just for that,” Sweat said. “So we were so focused on that and I think I lost the love of the game in the process. I think coming out here, Summer’s young and I feel like she always has that young, fun presence.
“I just feel like it’s a perfect partnership right now, getting me back in the game, I’m loving it right now and I’m in a good place.”
They’re having so much fun they’re actually looking forward to training.
“It’s a great start and I can’t wait for practice on Tuesday so we can get better,” Ross said. “I’m just proud to be playing with Brooke and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to play better and redeem ourselves. We’re going to have so much fun on the AVP. I can’t wait to start.”
Women’s Semifinals — Match 69: Agatha Bednarczuk/Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa Brazil (5) def. Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude Germany (3) 24-26, 21-18, 15-11 (0:56)
Match 70: Larissa Franca/Talita Antunes Brazil (2) def. Brooke Sweat/Summer Ross United States (13) 21-16, 21-16 (0:34)
Bronze — Match 71: Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude Germany (3) def. Brooke Sweat/Summer Ross United States (13) 21-14, 21-14 (0:28)
Gold Medal — Match 72: Larissa Franca/Talita Antunes Brazil (2) def. Agatha Bednarczuk/Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa Brazil (5) 21-15, 21-18 (0:38)