Americans cash in on Phuket volleyball win

KARON, PHUKET: With a masterful performance, the American pair of Jen Kessy and April Ross captured their second-straight Phuket Thailand Open title on Karon Beach yesterday, walking off the sand with the winners’ check of US$30,000.

The top-seeded Kessy and Ross finished their four days of competition by downing compatriots Angie Akers and Tyra Turner with clinical precision in the 37-minute final, 21-12 and 21-17.

Playing with the poise of true champions, it was all business for Kessy and Ross.

The match was the seventh FIVB meeting between the two teams and Kessy and Ross have finished on the winning side each time.

Yesterday’s championship match also marked the third-straight all-American finale for the Phuket Thailand Open.

It was the sixth SWATCH FIVB World Tour gold medal for Kessy and Ross since forming their partnership in 2007.

Ms Akers was competing in her first-ever gold medal match. She and Turner split the US$21,000 second-place prize.

Turner was competing in her second Phuket Thailand Open title match. Ms Turner also appeared in last year’s final with Nicole Branagh, losing to Kessy and Ross 18-21, 21-14 and 15-12 in 63 minutes.

In the bronze medal match, 22nd-seeded Maria Bratkova and Evgenia Ukolova secured Russia’s first-ever women’s podium finish, much to the delight of a large contingent of Russian supporters who turned out for the match.

Riding the wave of support, the pair struggled back from one set down to win 15-21, 22-20 and 15-9 win in 53 minutes over 17th-seeded Lauren Fendrick and Ashley Ivy of the United States.

The win denied the Americans what would have been their third podium sweep in the 18-year history of the international beach volleyball circuit.

Bratkova and Ukolova were crowded by autograph seekers after the exciting win.

But the undisputed star of the tournament was Ms Ross, who was awarded the tournament MVP prize.

Her powerful, laser-like serves put Akers and Turner on the back foot as they did the five pairs that fell before them.

After a great deal of passion in the third place final, the final came off more like an exhibition, as there was no national partisanship in the all-American encounter.

Among the VIPs in attendance were Permanent Secretary for Interior and Former Phuket Governor Pongpayome Vasaputi, current Phuket Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop and his wife Taiseka, Phuket Provincial Administration Organization President Paiboon Ubatising, Kata Group Director and sport tourism pioneer Eam Thavornwongwongse, event organizer Geoffrey Rowe of Pentangle Promotions and Karon Mayor Tawee Tongcham.

Karon Deputy Mayor Sompong Darbpeth said after the match that he was very happy with the all of the organizational elements of the event, though he was a little disappointed with the crowd turnout.

The stadium was only about 75% full for the free-admission final match. About half of the crowd was made up of foreigners.

Asked whether the stadium construction harmed the large sand dunes that largely spared Karon from the 2004 tsunami disaster, Mr Sompong said the improvements had been carefully carried out with respect to the environment.

No concrete or permanent structures were involved and the dunes face more damage from erosion from heavy monsoon-season surf, he said.

This year’s tournament was the largest on the 16-stop SWATCH FIVB tour, with 66 teams from 28 countries taking part.

— Stephen Fein & WATCH FIVB

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