Photo: Lilyana VinogradovaMarcus Ferreira (BRA)
For a while there, it looked like Belo Horizonte revisited as Brazil quickly went behind in their much-anticipated semifinal against Germany and continued to struggle in the deciding mixed doubles match of the ITF Beach Tennis World Team Championship. But eventually normal service in beach tennis, if not football, was resumed and Brazil overturned the deficit to set up a repeat of last year’s final against Italy.
In an ideal Brazilian world, they would have humiliated the Germans, just as the German footballers had humiliated the Brazilian football team in the semifinals of the World Cup, but beach tennis doesn’t go in for humiliation. Instead, the match was so close and tense that Brazil hardly got to enjoy their moment of revenge.
It was another blistering hot day in Moscow on Saturday, cooled only marginally by the delightful wooded setting of Moscow’s National Tennis Centre – such perfect beach weather it could have been in Rio.
Temperatures were running high on and off the court as the championship moved towards its climax on Sunday and Venezuela, the No. 3 seeds, were surprising early fallers against Russia in a closely fought quarter-final. Ultimately, though, the hosts came out on top.
Last year Brazil deservedly beat the Italians, who have long been the dominant force in this young sport, but they were helped by an injury to Italy’s Federica Bacchetta that had weakened their team. Now back at full strength, they have not only won each of their men’s, women’s and mixed matches but are yet to drop a set.
Brazil has looked much less convincing, largely due to the fact that its world No. 1 pairing of Samantha Barijan and Joana Cortez inexplicably struggled, losing both their matches in the quarterfinals against Spain and in the semi-finals against Germany. But when Guilherme Prata, the captain and still a player himself, decided to use 20-year-old Lorena Melo in the mixed doubles she did not let him down.
“We had a very bad day today with the girls,” said Prata, “and I had to make a choice after we lost the women’s match to Germany. I put in a young girl [Melo] who had never played in this type of situation before. It was a little bit of a gamble.
“My heart was in my mouth when we were losing the second set almost 4-1 for Germany. I almost had a heart attack. But in the end Vini came through, Lorena played unbelievable – Lorena actually kept us in the game because Vini was not playing as well, he was a little bit slow in the beginning of the match.”
Not for the first time Prata was indebted to the support his team received, which, couple with the perfect weather, makes you wonder if you are not in Brazil. As it was, the Russian hosts scored a notable victory of their own before its big-serving partnership of Nikita Burmakin and Sergey Kuptsov went toe-to-toe with Italy’s world-beaters, Alessandro Calbucci and Marco Garavani. Unfortunately for them it was only for a set and then the superior experience and class of the Italians took over.
It meant that Italy - which is looking to avenge its defeat in last year’s final to Brazil - could then enjoy watching their fellow finalist struggle. “I think they have to reflect a little bit tonight before the final,” said Calbucci a little unsympathetically. “But this is a Brazilian side – they don’t like easy victories, they complicate a little bit their lives.”