BORACAY – Japan and Thailand loom as the teams to beat when the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Boracay Open opens on Thursday at the White House Beach Station 1 here.
Last year's Manila Open winners Ayumi Kusano and Takemi Nishibori won't be around this time, but the Japanese looked good with three women's pairs entered in the four-day, 1-star tournament.
Satono Ishitsubo and Asami Shiba, bronze medalists in the Battambang 1-star last month in Cambodia, will banner Japan's campaign. Partners for more than year, Ishitsubo and Shiba were gold medal winners in the 1-Star Manavgat Open in Turkey last June 2018.
Also in the main draw are Sakurako Fujii and Minori Kumada, who finished fourth in the Battambang 1-star.
2006 Doha Asian Games silver medalists Shinako Tanaka and Miyuki Matsumura complete the Japanese cast, though the two needs to hurdle the qualifiers to enter the main draw. Now 43-years old, Tanaka clinched her first ever medal in the Beach World Tour by winning the bronze together with Sakurako in the Ulsan Jinha Open 1-star in South Korea in July last year.
This will be Tanaka's second Beach World Tour stint in the country, where she also competed In the Manila Open last year, placing fourth with Sakurako.
"We're really expecting a heavy challenge from Japan since they are extensively preparing for the Olympics," said Charo Soriano, Beach Volleyball Republic's co-founder who also serves as the tournament director.
Not to be outdone is Thailand, which is led by its young pair of Thatsarida Singchuea and Pawarun Chanthawichai, champions in the SMM Asian U21 Beach Volleyball Championships last March in Roi Et, Thailand,
Thatsarida and Pawarun also competed in Manila last year, making it to the quarterfinals, but not before surviving the Filipina pair of Lot Catubag and Karen Quilario in the Round of 12.
The superb Thais boast of four titles, having won the Asian U21 Championships in 2017 and 2019, and are also champions in the Asian U17 Championships and the Asian U19 Championships in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
In the men's division, Russia's Maxim Sivolap and Artem Yarzutkin, who won the gold in the Kg Speu 1-Star tournament in Cambodia to go with a silver in the Siem Reap 2-star in Thailand last month, are tipped as heavy favorites.
One of the Russians biggest threats are Thais Phanupong Thanan and Phichakon Narathon, who also emerged as champions in the SMM Asian U21 Beach Volleyball Championships last March in Roi Et, Thailand.
The Philippines will field in four women's teams in the main draw - Sisi Rondina and Bernadeth Pons, Dij Rodriguez and Bea Tan, Jackie Estoquia and DM Demontaño, and Fiola Ceballos and Patty Orendain - while another pair - Babylove Barbon and Gen Eslapor - will go through the qualifiers.
Coming off her UAAP volleyball stint, Rondina has finally trained in the sand court together with Pons Tuesday before flying to the island Wednesday.
Air Force's Ranran Abdilla and Jesse Lopez will spearhead the country's men's campaign, which also includes collegiate standouts James Buytrago and Krung Arbasto, and Cebu's Mike Abria and Jade Becaldo.
A total of 48 teams (20 women, 28 men) from 17 countries will compete in the BVR-organized tournament. The qualifiers on Thursday will be a single-elimination format with the top four women's and men's teams to will play in the 16-team main draw.
The main draw on Friday will have a modified pool play format, where teams will guarantee two matches on the first day, followed by single elimination the following day. The medal matches is set on Sunday.