FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It was another compelling quarterfinal match under the lights at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, with the perfect foils in place.
The United States vs. Brazil in the Fort Lauderdale Major with a trip to the final four on the line. The Americans sent their No. 1 team into battle against a Brazilian Olympic silver medalist and an 18-year-old prodigy who plays beyond her years.
One team controlled one set, the opponent socked away the other set. A tense, thrilling tiebreaker brought eight match points, and it ended on a block.
This time, it was Brazil emerging victorious, with Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa advancing to the semifinals with a 16-21, 21-15, 20-18 victory over Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross in an atmosphere crowd that reminded some of the participants of a gold-medal match.
It was in stark contrast to the one American women’s team that did reach the semifinals — newly formed Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross, who rolled to their fifth consecutive win in the tournament with what looked to be an easy 21-13, 21-14 victory over Kristyna Kolocova and Michala Kvapilova of the Czech Republic.
Earlier in the day, American men’s teams Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena and John Hyden/Ryan Doherty lost their semifinals to Brazilian teams before meeting for the bronze medal, which Dalhausser/Lucena captured with a 14-21, 21-13, 15-10 victory.
But the match of the tournament was highlighted by Walsh Jennings/Ross erasing a 14-11 deficit in the third set, fending off two more match points after holding three of their own, before Agatha blocked Ross to end it after 52 excruciating minutes.
“I thought for sure we were going to get it,” Ross said. “We did everything the best we could. Our defense is a little bit shaky at this point of the season and I felt that way every other match, but we kind of got away with it. We needed to make a dig there at the end and we didn’t.
“It was amazing. It felt like a final.”
The last time Agatha stepped onto the court against Walsh Jennings/Ross was in the Rio 2016 Olympics, when she teamed with Barbara Seixas to stop the Americans in the semifinals. She admitted to flashbacks.
“Yes of course because the last time I played against them was in the semifinal in the Olympic Games and it was a very hard game, so when we entered into the court, I remember this,” Agatha said. “I thought I needed to be strong because of my partner, because the other side is a big team.”
Not so much on the other side of the net.
“No,” Walsh Jennings said. “I think about winning the entire time. I love playing her, I really do. She’s very good, she’s very smart, they’re both very well trained. They’re a really good team.”
So are Ross and Sweat, who dropped the second set they played in the tournament but none others and have allowed more than 14 points only once since. It took them only 27 minutes to cruise past the Czechs.
“We’re just playing really well right now and having fun and not thinking about it,” said Sweat, a 2016 Olympian. “We know what we have to do and we’re going out there and doing it.”
“We’re meshing so well,” Ross said. “We both know how to play volleyball, we’re bringing it together and doing our thing and we’re coming along. I can’t wait to get better. No, I’m not surprised because I’ve been ogling over Brooke my whole life but I never thought I could actually play with her. I’ve been preparing for this my whole life.
“I’ve never had this much fun. This is the most fun I’ve ever had and I’m always having fun.”
Their reward is a morning semifinal against Brazilian legends Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes. The winner will face either Agatha/Duda or Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude of Germany for the gold medal in the first event on the FIVB World Tour.
The women’s final will be broadcast live on NBC at 2 p.m. Central.
Brazilian youngsters Alvaro Filho and Saymon Barbosa defeated compatriots Evandro Goncalves and Andre Loyola, 21-15, 21-17 for the men’s gold. Both teams are in their first season together.
Alvaro/Saymon had defeated Dalhausser Lucena, 21-16, 21-19, in the semifinals and Evandro/Andre topped Hyden/Doherty, 21-16, 21-9, when Doherty was sapped by the searing heat on center court.
“Obviously we’re disappointed (with the bronze) but it could have been a lot worse,” Lucena said. “We only had about 3 1 /2 weeks of practice. We kind of relied on our experience and I’ll take a third any day on 3 1 /2 weeks practice.”
Doherty was a last-minute replacement for Hyden’s partner, Tri Bourne, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.
“It’s a great opportunity to play with Hyden, if nothing else than to hear how he thinks about the game,” said Doherty, who will go back to regular partner John Mayer. “He’s such a smart player. Usually I’m on the other side and he’s chewing me to pieces.”