Gstaad, Switzerland, July 13, 2018 - With qualifying set to begin in September 2018 for the beach volleyball competition at the Tokyo Olympics, women's teams from Japan are developing rapidly to seek one of the two host country berths in the 2020 Summer Games.
Leading the way for the Japanese women at this week's FIVB World Tour stop in Gstaad are 30th-seeded qualifiers Miki Ishii and Megumi Murakami as the pair has won four of five matches this week against higher ranked teams from Brazil, Canada, Latvia and the United States.
Competing in their 19th FIVB World Tour event and their 10th this season, Ishii and Murakami are guaranteed ninth in the $600,000 Gstaad Major after the Japanese pair upset 13th-seeded Carolina Horta and Taiana Lima of Brazil 2-0 (21-19, 21-15) in 36 minutes. The Brazilians netted a silver medal earlier this season at the Fort Lauderdale Major in the United States where Ishii and Murakami failed to qualify for the south Florida Main Draw.
With the victory, the 28-year old Ishii and 32-year old Murakami are within one win on Friday of matching their best-ever performance at a five-star FIVB World Tour event as the Japanese pair placed fifth in the United States stop in Long Beach at the first international beach volleyball tournament following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
With only 47 combined World Tour appearances to their credit, Ishii and Murakami's next Gstaad Major opponent will be 11th-seeded Victoria Bieneck/Isabel Schneider of Germany (combined 117 FIVB events). The winner of that match meets either fourth seeded Mariafe Artacho/Taliqua Clancy of Australia or seventh-seeded Chantal Laboureur/Julia Sude of Germany Saturday for a spot in Sunday's semifinals.
Japan had two other women's team in the Gstaad Major with 29th-seeded qualifiers Azusa Futami/Akiko Hasegawa winning three of five matches to place 17th after dropping a 2-0 (21-18, 21-13) elimination bracket decision to 10th-seeded Sara Hughes/Summer Ross of the United States. In Tuesday's qualifier, Suzuka Hashimoto/Sayaka Mizoe were ousted by Norwegians Emilie Olimstad/Oda Ulveseth in the first-round.
Akiko Hasegawa (left)and Azusa Futami of Japan
Ishii and Murakami, who have won 14 of 27 FIVB matches this season, claimed a FIVB World Tour gold medal together last season at an event in Korea where the second annual edition is also being played this weekend in Daegu. The pair’s best finish on the 2017-2018 calendar was a fourth last October in the Netherlands at Aalsmeer with a ninth in the European country at The Hague in January.