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BPT Challenge Torquay Women - CHNvsCZE-7

Spectacular save by Dong Jie

Duels between teams from China and the United States shaped up for both of Sunday’s medal matches in the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Torquay Challenge women’s competition. 10th-seeded Yuan Lvwen and Dong Jie and top-seeded Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng will lock horns for the trophy at 13:00 local time (02:00 UTC). An hour earlier, third-seeded Xia Xinyi and Lin MeiMei and second-seeded Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft will battle for the bronze.

· Watch all matches at the Beach Pro Tour Torquay Challenge event live on Volleyball TV.

In an all-Chinese semifinal on Saturday, Yuan and Dong delivered a 2-1 (21-17, 17-21, 15-11) upset of their compatriots Xia and Lin and secured their first podium at the Challenge level. The pairing of 26-year-old Yuan and 21-year-old Dong have already collected three medals – two golds and a bronze – at the Futures level. Tokyo Olympian Xia and her current teammate Lin have also picked three pieces of hardware – one of each colour – at Futures events and are now in the chase for their second Challenge podium after snatching silver at the first Dubai tournament.

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With Dong pushing in attack and from the serving line (four aces), their team gradually broke away with a five-point lead at 11-6 in the first set and kept pace until Yuan produced two consecutive monster blocks for the last two points, which closed the set at 21-17. Three points in a row gave Yuan and Dong an early 4-1 lead in the second set. However, after 10-8, with Lin on fire at the net, her team produced four back-to-back points to take a 12-10 advantage and never looked back to level the match after a 21-17 set win. The tie-breaker was really tight until 7-7. Then a one-handed block by Yuan was followed by an ace from Dong and an overpass kill by Yuan again to give them a 10-7 lead, of which they never let go. A clever swing by Dong registered her 29th point in the match and stopped the clocks at 15-11. Dong’s tally included as many as six serving aces.

Earlier in the day, Yuan and Dong came back from a set down against Czech qualifiers Helena Havelkova and Marketa Slukova to claim a 2-1 (20-22, 21-16, 15-5) quarterfinal victory, with a 24-point match high by Dong, while Xia and Lin disposed of another Chinese pair, Zhu Lingdi and Wang Fan, after a 2-0 (21-14, 21-19) sweep.

BPT Challenge Torquay Women - CHNvsCZE-6

Yuan Lvwen handles the ball

The all-American semifinal went Hughes and Cheng’s way in two sets, 2-0 (21-14, 21-15) to decorate the reunited pair’s Beach Pro Tour debut with a spot on the podium. The partnership between the two athletes, now both 27 years old, started some 10 years ago for a successful period that lasted through early 2018. They have recently teamed up again and that has already paid off with a Huntington Beach gold on USA’s ATP Tour and this Torquay Challenge final. 34-year-old Stockman and 20-year-old Kraft are still in the hunt for their first Challenge podium after picking up a Futures gold in Byalistok earlier this year.

An ace by Hughes crowned a three-point series that gave her team a 9-5 advantage in the first set of their semifinal match. Stockman and Kraft kept fighting, but never managed to catch up. Instead, in the set epilogue, Hughes and Cheng pushed further to widen the gap to seven points as Cheng’s swing brought in a 20-14 set point and Hughes converted it with a beautiful rainbow shot for a 21-14 set win. The top seeds quickly established control of the second set as Cheng finished the first two rallies with successful swings. The rest of the set was quite one-sided, at least until the final moments, when Stockman and Kraft denied three opponent match points before Hughes could finally close the set and the game at 21-15. Tokyo Olympian Cheng was the best scorer of the match on 18 points, including four kill blocks.

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Both US duos achieved convincing straight-set wins in their quarterfinal matches earlier on Saturday. Hughes and Cheng mastered a 2-0 (21-10, 21-10) sweep of Australia’s Georgia Johnson and Jasmine Fleming, while Stockman and Kraft delivered a 2-0 (21-17, 21-12) shutout of China’s Zeng Jinjin and Wang Xinxin.

“I think our styles of play really complement each other and I think our energies complement each other too. We are both pretty loud and fiery and that fires the other one up too. I think that as long as we keep doing that for each other, we are going to be OK.” Kelly Cheng (USA)
BPT Challenge Torquay Women - USAvsAUS-39

Kelly Cheng & Sara Hughes in action