Walsh Jennings, Ross advance in Olympic beach volleyball
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) They call her ''Six Feet of Sunshine,'' and Kerri Walsh Jennings is pretty good under the moonlight, too.
The three-time gold medalist and partner April Ross advanced to the quarterfinals of the Olympic beach volleyball tournament in a midnight match, dispatching Italy 21-10, 21-16 in just 35 minutes.
It was the third time in four matches the Americans played at midnight to showcase them for the U.S. television audience.
You won't hear them complain: The gold medal match is also scheduled for 12 a.m. local time.
''We know that we wanted to get used to the midnight matches because that's when the later (round) matches are,'' Walsh Jennings said.
Ross said she has been getting to bed around 3:30 a.m. after the midnight madness. Walsh Jennings said it's more like 5 a.m.
''We're just so amped,'' she said. ''But we don't have to set an alarm in the morning.''
Walsh Jennings earned her nickname from her sunny disposition.
But, as her opponents can attest, she's fierce on the court.
One match after losing a set to Switzerland - just the first set the Americans lost in Rio, and the second Walsh Jennings has lost in 25 Olympic matches - the Americans rallied from deficits in both sets to put Italy away.
That made it an early night of sorts for the fans who packed the Copacabana venue, despite the late start. Among those in the stands: comedian Leslie Jones, who draped an American flag around her shoulders and led her section in cheering.
Walsh Jennings said she made eye contact with the ''Ghostbusters'' star on her way out to the court, and appreciated the energy she brought to the crowd. ''She's just on fire,'' she said.
The Americans first formed their partnership in London, when Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor won their third straight gold medal - beating Ross and Jennifer Kessy in the final. With May-Treanor retiring, Walsh Jennings asked Ross to join her on the quest for a fourth.
Four years isn't all that long for a beach volleyball partnership, but it's an eternity compared to Italians Marta Menegatti and Laura Giombini.
Menegatti had qualified for Rio with Viktoria Orsi Toth, finishing a comfortable eighth in the world tour standings that fill out most of the field. But Orsi Toth failed a doping test just days before the Olympics were to begin, and she was replaced by Giombini.
''I want to thank Laura. It wasn't easy for her,'' Menegatti said. ''I am sad about Vicki. I am sad because she's not here and she should be here. But I think everything will work out because she's in the right. I have no doubt.''
The Italians had four training sessions before their opener in Rio, but still managed to advance out of group play and into the knockout round.
''It's the easiest thing in the world,'' Menegatti said with a smile, ''with four days of training when you work four years for this competition.''