Fort Lauderdale, USA, February 12, 2017 – They might be nice enough champions to give away their gold medals, but you can’t pry a championship performance out of the hands of Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes.
In their 28th tournament together, the Brazilian legends won their 14th gold medal with a 2-0 (21-15, 21-18) victory over compatriots Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa in the Fort Lauderdale Major.
And only moments after they had their gold medals hung around their necks, they honoured retiring referee Mario Ferro Junior by draping him in a Brazilian flag and placing their medals in his hands.
“I like the referees as friends,” Talita said. “They travel with us all the time, they are so nice.”
They were a lot more stingy on the court against Agatha and Duda, who were playing in their first tournament together. Although the latter had defeated Larissa/Talita on the Brazilian national tour two weeks ago, they were not up to the task this time.
“We are so happy,” Talita said of her 32nd career victory on the FIVB World Tour. “It’s the first tournament of the year. We are not 100 per cent, but we knew we had to play our best and we did. We fought a lot in all of the match and this one was amazing. We played against Brazil, and always against Brazil it was a hard match.
“We came out stronger than that weekend and focused. We didn’t feel good about that and today was another day, another final, a World Tour. We just wanted to play together all the time. Another gold medal in Fort Lauderdale makes me feel good.”
The last time they visited Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, they captured the inaugural World Tour Finals title. Larissa added to her all-time women’s victory record with her 60th crown and it was the 100th medal she’s earned in her career.
In the last 13 seasons in which she has played, Larissa has won at least one gold medal. She took the 2013 season off following the London 2012 Olympics.
The first set was tied at 12-12 when Talita gave her team the lead with a hit off the block of Agatha, then hit a service winner, sparking a 6-1 run.
Seven times in the second set, Agatha and the 18-year-old Duda led by as many as four points, with Duda finding her offensive rhythm. But Larissa began to find shots with her defense and shotmaking and suddenly she and Talita reeled off five of six points to take an 18-17 lead that they never gave up.
“It could have been better, but it’s a good start to the World Tour,” Agatha said. “I think we were tired with all the heat on center court. Sometimes I am very strong but I was very tired.”
Nevertheless, it was a positive for the new Brazilian team, formed after Agatha and Barbara Seixas split after winning the silver medal in the Rio 2016 Olympics. For Duda, especially the result is atleast a milestone, if not a breakthrough.
She did win two FIVB open events in 2016 and won the FIVB under-19 and under-21 Age Group World Championships, but this was her first major podium stop. Friday night, Agatha/Duda reached the semifinals with a thrilling win over top-seeded Kerri Walsh Jennings/April Ross, then on Sunday topped Germans Julia Sude/Chantal Laboreur to clinch a spot in the final.
“Yesterday when we went to the semifinals she said, 'Oh this is a dream, I so much want a medal,'” Agatha related. “And when we won against the Germans she said ‘Oh, you gave me a medal, thank you Agatha!’ So this moment is very special for her.”
After their quarterfinal match Friday, in which Duda admitted to nerves facing Walsh Jennings, the American three-time gold medallist was asked if it’s scary how good Duda is at her age.
“No, age questions are just silly to me because she is just good,” Walsh Jennings said. “She uses every inch of herself and her IQ for volleyball is like she’s 50. No, it’s not scary, it’s amazing, and I appreciate her very much.”