Latvia celebrated reaching its first Olympic semifinal in women’s beach volleyball on Tuesday evening as Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka outplayed Canada’s Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson in the Tokyo 2020 quarterfinals at Shiokaze Park. Australia’s Mariafe Artacho Del Solar and Taliqua Clancy will be the young Latvians’ semifinal opponents on Thursday after upsetting reigning world champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in the day’s closing match.

Graudina and Kravcenoka, 23 and 24 years old, respectively, who have never won a medal on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, followed up on their first two final fours earlier this year with a qualification to the Olympic semifinals. They completely dominated the first set of their quarterfinal against Bansley and Brandie, but failed to close a tight second in their favour. Staying confident on the court, the Latvians regained control in the tie-breaker to run off with a wide lead until Kravcenoka hit the winner for a 2-1 (21-13, 18-21, 15-11) victory.

“We started playing really well at the end of 2019 and we would have had a medal (on the World Tour) if the corona pandemic had not happened. So now we are just taking it from where we left off,” Graudina told Volleyball World. “The second set kind of slipped through our fingers. We feel that we lost it, not that they won. We just had to make sure that we came with a very aggressive mentality and that’s what we did. It was all in the head, so we just switched our attitude. We will see what happens further, but we just like to play volleyball; we like to be on this court. But a medal would mean the world. Our country is small and every medal is cherished.”

“It was a very difficult match and we needed to be very focused,” said Kravcenoka. “Our opponents made a lot of mistakes and we just needed to take advantage of that and keep our game. Both potential opponents are very good and it doesn’t matter to us who will play against us. We just need to show our best game and stay confident on the court. It’s not a Cinderella story, because we are a good team.”

Graudina and Kravcenoka

Graudina and Kravcenoka

Pavan and Melissa, who had not lost a single set in the tournament so far, fell victim at the hands of fighting Australians Artacho Del Solar and Clancy in the last quarterfinal. The Aussies were clearly the better team on the court throughout the first set and managed to win it by a wide gap. The Canadians regained control in the second and despite allowing the opponents to catch up at 18-18 they took it by a narrow margin to prompt a tie-breaker. Artacho Del Solar and Clancy came back strong, storming into the decider on two consecutive aces and dominating the rest of the set. They broke away with a five-point lead before cruising on to a comfortable 2-1 (21-15, 19-21, 15-12) victory.

“We knew it was going to be a gold-medal level match and we needed to come out strong and play really aggressive,” said Artacho Del Solar. “We’re just going to enjoy this moment now. We’ll just do what we’ve been doing, just take one day at a time and get ready for the semis.”

“With these temperatures and the humidity it’s such a serving game. You can see there’s a lot of aces, a lot of amazing serves, because people are a bit uncomfortable with the pass. And we are a great serving team. That’s one of our skills that we use as our weapon,” Clancy added. “We’re just happy that we were able to take another step forward and we just have to do it all over again.”