BEIJING Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor advanced to the women's beach volleyball semifinals, as expected, at the Beijing Olympics on Sunday, in part, because winning is old hat for the longtime partners.
It also helped that their talented Brazilian opponents were playing together, here in Beijing, for the first time in their successful careers.
You saw the difference between partnering for seven years and for just days as the Americans cruised to victory over Brazil's Larissa Franca and Ana Paula Connelly, 21-18, 21-15, at Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground.
Though Connelly, who had failed to qualify for Beijing with her own partner, stepped in to replace the injured Juliana Felisberta on Aug. 7, many still expected the Brazilian duo to reach the medal round.
Both teams fought nerves in the quarterfinal match.
"We've faced them so many different times with different partners and they're two of the best in the world," Walsh said. "Misty and I played steady. Our coach told us, 'Outlast them. They're a new team. You will get them. Stay patient.' ... My hat's off to them for making it this far."
The Brazilians showed growing pains throughout pool play. Walsh said you could see it in how Franca was setting Connelly lower, as if she were Felisberta, instead of higher, where Connelly likes the ball.
"I think they've been fighting that this whole tournament," Walsh said.
Connelly dismissed the idea that adjusting to that was too big a hill to climb.
"It could be too much for anyone but not for us," she said. "We were confident we could make it. We knew we didn't have time to know each other and practice
I'm a dreamer she's a dreamer. Larissa wrote me something the other day and put it on the wall in our room. Everything is possible for us. We have been believing in this the last 10 days."
The U.S. team was too efficient and Walsh too deadly with five block kills in the match.
By midway through the second set, both teams seemed to relax and enjoy the competition though Walsh and May-Treanor were motoring to victory.
With the score 12-9 in favor of the U.S., Walsh and Franca went up for a ball on the net together and Walsh won that battle and celebrated the point before reaching under the net to apologize and slap hands with Franca.
With the score 13-9, the duo went up to fight for another ball and this time Franca won that battle, giving Walsh a big grin.
"That was all in good fun," Walsh said. "We had kicked each other under the net on that first point. The next one she threw me on my butt so that's what I get for celebrating in her face, I guess. But I really respect her feistiness."
The defending Olympic gold medalists have won 106 consecutive matches dating back nearly a year. The last time Walsh and May-Treanor lost was in Boston last year to USA teammates Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh.
The partners don't talk about what is now an 18-tournament winning streak. Asked about it right after Sunday's match, Walsh simply knocked on her own head so as not to jinx herself.
After clinching the victory, Walsh hugged May-Treanor and said in her ear, "Don't stop. Don't stop."
The Americans move on ever grateful for their friendship and on-court partnership.
"You need at least a month to get ready (with a new partner)," May-Treanor said. "I respect what Larissa and Ana Paula have done here. We certainly know we have something special. This is our eighth season together. We know how lucky we are."