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Sunday, August 15, 2004
May, Walsh sweep; Metzger, Holdren rally

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- They're together again -- and dominant as ever.

Top-ranked American beach volleyball duo Misty May and Kerri Walsh, teammates for just the second time in two months, defeated Japan's Chiaki Kusuhara and Ryoko Tokuno 21-9, 21-16 in preliminary pool play Sunday.

May spent much of the summer rehabbing a pulled abdominal muscle while Walsh played with others and fretted about her favorite partner's status. They played five matches in Hermosa beach in July before May decided she needed more time to recover.

On Sunday night, May showed no signs of an injury, leaping and diving with confidence and ease.

"It's fine. No problem," she said. "It felt great to get out there."

The duo showed no rust, either, instantly regaining the chemistry they had while winning 90 consecutive matches between July 2003 and last June. With Walsh controlling the net and May scrambling behind her, the Americans jumped to a 9-1 lead.

"Everything was clicking," said the 6-foot-3 Walsh, who turned 26 on Sunday. "We didn't miss a beat."

The Japanese duo offered more of a challenge in the second set, building a 13-11 lead. But Kusuhara served into the net before May and Walsh angled well-placed winners to retake control.

Walsh finished with 17 kills, most of them overpowering spikes, and May had 10 digs and three aces.

"It was a great match to start the Olympics," Walsh said.

Earlier, Americans Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger rallied from a set down to beat Australians Andrew Schacht and Josh Slack in a match filled with exciting rallies and tense drama.

The 12th-seeded Americans staved off two match points in the second set and won 22-24, 24-22, 15-13. Holdren finished the 80-minute match by blasting a spike that Schacht couldn't handle from his knees.

"When Dax and I win matches, we have to win like that," Metzger said. "We have to scratch and claw and win the rallies that go back and forth three or four times."

The Americans were down 21-20 in the second set when Metzger tapped a soft shot to open sand to tie the game. A spike by Schacht gave the 13th-seeded Aussies another match point, but Slack slapped a serve into the net.

Metzger sent a serve between Schacht and Slack and the Aussies almost collided as Schacht missed the bump. Metzger then drove a hard serve into Slack for an ace to even the match.

The Americans never trailed in the decisive set, although it was tied five times. Holdren set Metzger up for a hard spike to put the United States up 14-12. Schacht answered with a spike before Holdren's game-winning kill.

"Nothing comes easy out here," Holdren said. "You've just got to battle."

While blustery winds played havoc with outdoor sports at other Olympic venues Sunday, the sunken, round beach volleyball stadium largely kept the weather from being much of a factor.

In other play, Brazil's formidable quartet swept its openers.

Top-ranked men's pair Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos struggled, but finally put away 24th-seeded Norwegians Iver Horrem and Bjorn Maaseide 21-15, 19-21, 15-10. Second-seeded women Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar, silver medalists in Sydney, routed No. 23 Leigh-Ann Naidoo and Julia Willand, of South Africa, 21-7, 21-10.

Marcio Araujo and Benjamin Insfran, the No. 2 seeds on the men's side, defeated French duo Stephane Canet and Mathieu Hamel 21-13, 21-14. Sandra Pires, who has won medals at both previous Olympic beach competitions, and Ana Paula Connelly, the women's No. 3 seeds, defeated 22nd-seeded Norwegians Nila Hakedel and Ingrid Torlen 21-18, 21-19.

Third-seeded Swiss brothers Martin and Paul Laciga needed only 35 minutes to beat mistake-plagued Austrians Peter Gartmeyer and Robert Nowotny 21-14, 21-14.

The Lacigas converted 24 of 35 kill attempts and scored on nine digs. Martin Laciga, at 29 the younger brother by five years, called their performance lackluster and said they had "a lot of things to improve."

"We didn't play very well," he said. "We have to make more of a statement."