LONDON – Twice Olympic champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh of the United States reduced an Italian opponent to tears on Sunday as they powered into the beach volleyball semi-finals.
World champions Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca of Brazil also beat a German pair to stay on course to achieve their dream of playing the Americans in the final on Wednesday.
Italy’s Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti beat the Americans earlier this year and were considered the strongest European team at the Olympics.
But May-Treanor and Walsh gave them such a pounding that Menegatti was in tears on court.
“I didn’t know that but that’s what you want,” said May-Treanor when a reporter told her what had happened.
“Well, it’s not what you want to do but that’s (because of) us being aggressive. She was probably like ‘I don’t know what to do’, and that’s how you get teams in trouble.”
The Americans beat the Italians, who were undefeated in the group phase, 21-13 21-13.
Juliana and Larissa disposed of Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig 21-10 21-19, ending European participation in the women’s event.
The Brazilians have won every trophy except for an Olympic medal after Juliana missed the Beijing Games in 2008 with a knee injury.
“All the teams in the Games are dangerous. There are little cats and lions but in the Olympics sometimes the lion turns into a little cat and the little cat into a lion,” said Juliana.
She said before the start of the Games that her dream was to face the Americans in the final. May-Treanor retorted that her dream was to beat the Brazilians in the gold medal match.
Walsh and May-Treanor are friendly and charming in conversation but on court they show no mercy. After Sunday’s match they gave an insight into the steely mindset that has made them the most successful pair in the sport’s history.
“I don’t want to let our opponents breathe. I don’t want to give them an edge. I don’t want them to feel comfortable for one second out there,” said Walsh.
Asked about a possible clash with compatriots April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in the final, Walsh replied: “That would be amazing for our country but we want to crush everybody. We don’t care where they’re from”.
Kessy and Ross, the 2009 world champions, knocked out Czechs Marketa Slukova and Krystyna Kolocova 25-23 21-18 and now meet Juliana and Larissa in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
May-Treanor and Walsh next face Zhang Xi and Xue Chen of China who beat Austrians Doris and Stefanie Schwaiger 21-18 21-11.
The Chinese pair were bronze medallists in Beijing and arrived in London with high expectations.
They lost to a Russian pair in their first match but have since recovered their confidence and won easily against the Austrian sisters.
May-Treanor and Walsh are the only pair in either gender to successfully defend an Olympic title in beach volleyball. They won gold in Athens in 2004 and again in Beijing.
They then took time away from the sport and from each other.
May-Treanor was involved in the hit TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ but injured her Achilles in rehearsals while Walsh had two babies less than a year apart.
The pair got back together in 2011 with mixed results, scoring some victories but also suffering some humiliating defeats.
This year they lost to Zhang and Xue at a tournament in Moscow and to Menegatti and Cicolari at another in Rome.
Those poor results were a turning point for the Americans. “We sold the old team and bought a new one,” said May-Treanor.
Walsh, at 1.88 metres tall, has proved an insurmountable obstacle at the net, blocking most attacks.
She also has a knack for retrieving tricky balls with what looks like a casual flick of the hand but is clearly nothing but, as the ball invariably lands on the perfect spot on the other side of the net.
May-Treanor, shorter but equally agile, is masterful in defence at the back of the court and deft at springing up to the net to shoot an unstoppable spike.
The effect on the Italians, who have been playing beach volleyball for only three years, was to inhibit them to the point that their game was unrecognisable from previous matches.
The Americans paid tribute to Menegatti who at 21 is the second-youngest female beach volleyball player at the Olympics.
“She’s a young player and she’ll learn. She has no reason to hold her head down whatsoever. She’s done an excellent job throughout the year but you can’t let the emotions get the best of you. You go out there and you fight hard,” said May-Treanor.
Walsh had some parting advice.
“You need to have that cut-throat mentality. Not mean and not ‘I want to hurt you and devastate you’. It’s ‘I respectfully want to beat you and give you my best game.’ Crush you, yes. Not your soul, just you on the court.”