ITAPEMA, Brazil — It was over. Start escorting the fans, please.
Betsi Flint and Emily Day led Brazilians Barbara Seixas and Carolina Salgado 10-4 in the second set after winning the first, 21-18, in the ninth-place rounds Friday of the FIVB Beach Volleyball Tour Itapema Four Star.
And then Brazil happened.
One point became two, two became three, and suddenly the slide was on, the crowd was dancing, the emcee was singing, and the team that had blasted its previous two opponents by a combined 37 points was rolling. There was little Day or Flint could do to halt or even slow the momentum, falling 17-21 in a topsy turvy second set that would be harbinger for the madness that was to come in the third.
There were Flint and Day again, jumping out to a lead, 4-1 then 9-4. Flint’s fast, flat float was working. Day’s block was effective.
And then Brazil happened.
One point became two, two became three, and suddenly another slide was on, the crowd was dancing, the emcee was singing, and Barbara and Carol were charging once more. An 8-12 deficit flipped into a 13-12 lead for the Brazilians. But Flint and Day’s resolve was unparalleled on Friday night. Back came Flint’s fast float, Day’s imposing block. Back came the lead — then the win, a 16-14 third-set win that was 59 full minutes of cardiac arrest for American and Brazilian fans alike.
“Playing against Brazil, on stadium court, with a bunch of Brazilian fans cheering against you is exactly where we want to be,” Day said. “Betsi was an absolute threat from the service line and she kept me forward thinking throughout the match. We want to keep rolling.”
And they’ll keep rolling against Brazil again on Saturday. Of the eight teams remaining on the women’s side, six are Brazilian and two are American. Day and Flint will meet Taina Silva and Victoria Lopes at 10 a.m. local time — 5 a.m. Pacific — while fellow Americans Terese Cannon and Sara Hughes will get a rematch with Rebecca Cavalcanti and Talita Antunes.
Already, this is a career tournament for Cannon. She’s parlayed back to back one-star medals in Italy and the Netherlands into a quarterfinal match in Brazil, which, no matter the result on Saturday, will be her personal best in terms of points on the World Tour.
Like Flint and Day, they won two matches on Friday, over Spain and Germany. Unlike Flint and Day, however, there was no need for comebacks or breath holding or white-knuckling the railings. They led every single point of the way against Germans Cinja Tillman and Svenja Muller, making few errors, taking advantage of what was given them.
“I’m really excited to be out here with Terese,” Hughes said. “She is playing amazing. Every match we are getting one percent better. Looking forward to a rematch with Brazil tomorrow.”
It is now up to the women to carry the American hopes in Brazil. Earlier in the day, it was top-seeded Brazilians Agatha and Duda who knocked out Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn.
Following Flint and Day, in front of a packed center court crowd, Chaim Schalk and Theo Brunner fell to Alison and Guto, 21-16, 21-18, though Brunner’s ankle was the size of a grapefruit after rolling it in a victory over Russia’s Maksim Hudyakov and Aleksandr Kramarenko earlier in the day.
Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander, too, were felled by Brazil. In wind and rain and a flurry of aces, Sander’s first career beach tournament came to an end, at the hands of Andre Loyola and George Wanderley, 21-12, 21-16. Lopsided, yes, but still: A ninth at a four-star, on the road, with a week of practice together is no small feat for Sander. His offense was efficient, spectacular at times. His serve was one of the best in the tournament.
It wasn’t Brazil who provided the final blow to Chase Budinger and Troy Field, but a pair of youngsters from Sweden who are ushering in one of the most thrilling style of volleyball on the World Tour. David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig, at just 19 and 20 years old, respectively, put on the most exciting show on tour, jump setting, optioning, displaying an uncommon control of both body and ball. Field and Budinger challenged them, more than the previous two teams in Sweden’s wake had, but it wasn’t enough, as the Swedes won, 21-18, 21-19.
This year, then, will finish much the way the majority of this quad has: In the hands of the American women.
“There are six Brazilians teams and two American teams left battling,” Flint said. “We want to represent the U.S. well and bring home another win tomorrow.”