Canada's Bansley, Wilkerson drop Olympic beach volleyball opener

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Canada's Heather Bansley, pictured, and beach volleyball partner Brandie Wilkerson lost their opening match at the Tokyo Olympics in three sets to China's Wang Fan and Xia Xinyi on Saturday. (Pilar Olivares/Reuters - image credit)
Canada's Heather Bansley, pictured, and beach volleyball partner Brandie Wilkerson lost their opening match at the Tokyo Olympics in three sets to China's Wang Fan and Xia Xinyi on Saturday. (Pilar Olivares/Reuters - image credit)

Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson were unable to follow the lead of their Canadian beach volleyball teammates on Saturday, losing the third and deciding set to China's Wang Fan and Xia Xinyi in their Olympic opener in Tokyo.

After dropping the opening set, Wang and Xia prevailed 21-15, 15-11 at Shiokaze Park against the Canadians, who ranked ninth in the world entering the Summer Games.

Bansley and Wilkerson did manage to save three match points but didn't have an answer for Wang's subsequent cross-court winner.

The Canadians will continue preliminary round play Monday at 10 p.m. ET against Ana Gallay and Fernanda Pereyra of Argentina, who lost 21-19, 21-11 to reigning Olympic silver medallist Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Santos of Brazil on Saturday.

WATCH | Bansley, Wilkerson lose momentum after 1st-set win:

Canada's Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, the 2019 world champions, were also in action and swept Katja Stam and Raïsa Schoon 21-16, 21-14 of the Netherlands for their fourth win in as many meetings this season.

The momentum for Wilkerson and Bansley shifted in Saturday's match after a kill by the latter sealed a 21-18 first-set win in 20 minutes.

Wang and Xia had focused primarily on Bansley in the set but changed to Wilkerson, who was a huge net presence early in her Olympic debut after serving as an alternate five years ago in Rio.

The move paid off as the Chinese duo never trailed after taking a 4-3 advantage in the second set.

After a Wang misserve cut China's lead to 16-13 in the middle set, Xia delivered an ace and never looked back.

WATCH | Wilkerson always puts herself in a 'started late' category:

A Wang block put China ahead 5-2 in the final set, a lead it would extend to 10-5 and then 13-7 before a Wilkerson kill stopped the run. Xia then finished a long rally, using her left hand to direct the ball cross court.

Canada took control of a tightly contested opening set when Wilkerson unloaded an ace, followed by a Bansley kill, for a 13-11 lead. Wang and Xia cut the deficit to 16-14 but were subsequently charged with a foot fault at the service line, allowing Canada to regain its three-point advantage and close out the set 21-18 in 22 minutes.

The women's Olympic tourney features 24 teams across six groups. The preliminary round runs through July 30, with the top two from each group advancing. Those teams will be joined by four other tandems in the round of 16 that will be trimmed to determine the bronze- and gold-medal matchups on Aug. 5.

Swiss women on top

It was a disappointing day for Germany's Laura Ludwig, the Rio champion who returned to the sport in 2019 following a maternity break, as she and partner Margareta Kozuch lost their Pool F match to Switzerland after a good start.

Nina Betschart made all the difference for the Swiss, with 14 successful digs in the match to keep the ball in play.

The second Swiss women's team of Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich also triumphed over Germany's Julia Sude and Karla Borger despite a second set fightback, winning 21-8, 21-23, 15-6.

Japan's women won the day's opener by default as their Czech opponents withdrew after player Markéta Sluková tested positive for COVID-19.

Sluková is one of at least four members of the Czech team who have tested positive since their arrival in Japan, including men's beach volleyball player Ondrej Perusic. The team has said it's investigating if the COVID-19 outbreak is linked to its charter flight to Tokyo.

A third beach player, American competitor Taylor Crabb, tested positive for COVID-19. But his partner, Jake Gibb, will remain in the competition with alternate Tri Bourne, who was able to make it to Tokyo in time.

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