Japan ends PH beach volley campaign

Bernadeth Pons (left) and Sisi Rondina celebrate after winning the PSL Beach Volley Challenge Cup on Sunday.

BORACAY – Sisi Rondina and Bernadeth Pons left everything in the sand court before bowing to Japan’s Sakurako Fujii and Minori Kumada, 17-21, 19-21, and ending the Philippines’ campaign in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Boracay Open Saturday at the White House Beach Station 1 here.

The country matched its best Beach World Tour finish of fifth place in the Manila Open 1-star last year with Rondina and Dzi Gervacio. Incidentally, Sakurako was the one that eliminated Rondina and Gervacio with Shinako Tanaka.

“We are still grateful we played against them. We definitely gained experience,” said Rondina.

Rondina and Pons finished their international debut as partners with two victories in the tournament. They pulled off a dominant 21-18, 21-6 win over Ekaterina Filina and Ekaterina Zazhigina of Russia to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals after losing to Japan’s Satono Ishitsubo and Asami Shiba, 16-21, 19-21, earlier in the day.

“We lost but we’re close. We felt we can beat them if we have longer preparations and more international exposures,” said Pons.

Sakurako and Minori, who have paired for six events this year, were really pushed to the limit against Rondina and Pons, the highly-popular Filipina pair who reunited in the four-day tournament organized by the Beach Volleyball Republic and presented by Globe.

“Rondina was tough,” said Sakurako. “She improved her defense. I remember last year, she was good in digging. She also improved in receiving.”

“It’s an honor of course, coming from a Japanese. Japan is very good in beach volleyball. It’s really an honor,” said Rondina, a four-time University Athletic Association of the Philippines beach volleyball Most Valuable Player while playing for University of Santo Tomas.

The Japanese were still able to progress to Sunday’s semifinals despite the loud cheers for the Rondina-Pons tandem by the home crowd.

“Everybody was cheering for the Philippines. But we just focused in our game,” said Sakurako.

Rondina and Pons then became the last Filipina team standing after Bea Tan and Dij Rodriguez bowed to reigning two-time Asian U21 champions Pawarun Chanthawichai and Thatsarida Singchuea of Thailand, 12-21, 12-21, in the other Round of 12 duel.

Playing like a well-oiled machine, Tan and Rodriguez cruised to a 21-7, 21-15 win over Malaysia’s Tan Hsi Yan and Tasha Mae, in the morning session to give the Philippines another slot in the Round of 12.

Jackie Estoquia and DM Demontaño dropped a heartbreaking 14-21, 21-19, 13-15 loss to Filina and Zazhigina in the final pool match that eliminated the Iloilo tandem.

Leaving behind a heartbreaking 21-17, 13-21, 14-16 loss to Singapore’s Eliza Chong and Lau Ee Shan in last Friday’s opener, Tan and Rodriguez were in the zone on both ends of the sand court to send the Malaysians packing, while keeping the three-time Beach Volleyball Republic On Tour champions in the competition.

Rondina and Pons went toe to toe with world No. 86 Ishitsubo and Shiba in both sets, but the Japanese were simply too classy to remain undefeated.

Rondina and Pons opened their campaign with a 21-14, 21-8 conference of Japan’s Shinako Tanaka and Miyuki Matsumura Friday.