Brazilians Talita Antunes sets the ball for Larissa Franca against Americans April Ross and Lauren Fendrick on Saturday during the women’s final of the World Series of Beach Volleyball. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
In the stands Saturday at the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach, it was clear that plenty of fans were disappointed that three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings didn’t make it out of the group stages.
Regardless, the women’s semifinal and final matches were the most competitive contests ot the event. With the new USA versus The World format, Saturday brought fans exciting matchups featuring rising stars from the U.S. and dominant international players.
Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes played a semifinal match with April Ross and Lauren Fendrick. Claes and Hughes, who starred at USC, and Ross and Fendrick had a hand in Walsh Jennings and Nicole Branagh’s exit by beating them in straight sets Thursday to kick off the tournament.
In their most recent match with Ross and Fendrick, Claes and Hughes won 2-1 at an FIBV World Tour event this month in Gstaad, Switzerland.
On Saturday, Ross and Fendrick redeemed themselves. In a three-set thriller, Ross and Fendrick earned their spot in the final, clawing their way to victory after dropping the first set.
“The most dangerous server in the world,” as the stadium announcer called Ross, overpowered her opponents, who made several mistakes.
“We played them in Gstaad and it went the other way but they really stepped their serving I think,” Claes said. “April’s an amazing server and I think that was a big factor for them.”
In the final, Ross and Fendrick went up against Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca of Brazil, who won the other semifinal match against 2016 Olympic gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst in straight sets.
The best images from the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach.
The Brazilians dominated Ross and Fendrick in straight sets in front of a capacity crowd that included people dressed as George Washington, Apollo Creed and Wonder Woman.
Antunes and Franca, who didn’t drop a set on their way to the title, contrasted the Americans’ power style with finesse and craftiness.
“I think that the American game, at least for a long time has been about a lot of power,” Ross said. “The international teams, I think know that about us and they play for that and so approaching them, I felt like we needed to be a little bit craftier and misdirectional with our shots and stuff. It’s just more of a strategy game against them.”
The Brazilians, who won $50,000, said their dominance in the event stemmed in part from being able to compete in front of the fans in Long Beach.
“We just tried to play the match to have fun,” Antunes said. “This place just makes us so happy. The vibe, the people, the crowds, the families. I think that’s it. There’s no real secret.”
Follow Tyler Blint-Welsh on Twitter @tylergabriel_