Fortaleza, Brazil, July 22, 2020 - Legendary Brazilian Juliana Felisberta will be in Fortaleza today celebrating her 37th birthday with her 80-year-old mother and a few close friends.
"My mother (Maria) came from Natal to spend some time with me," said Juliana, who ranks third on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour's list for women's gold medals with 48 behind former partner Larissa Franca (62) and Kerri Walsh Jennings (56) of the United States. "I’ll be with her on my birthday with some friends since we’re still not allowed to have large gatherings here.”
Juliana has played in only 12 international beach volleyball events the past three seasons with two medals and one title in 2017 with Carolina Horta at Monaco. But she says she "was planning on competing in some tournaments on the World Tour this year with Josi (Alves), but after all that happened, I don’t know if it’s going to happen. We’ll see when events are rescheduled and will make a decision.”
As for the quarantine, Juliana said she lives "on my own in an apartment in Fortaleza, so I thought it would be a good idea to go to Natal and spend time with my mother. She’s 80 and lives in a house, so besides us being together I knew that I’d have a better chance of working out there. I spent 110 days there and returned just two weeks ago.”
On her birthday, Juliana has posted a pair of international beach volleyball victories highlighted by a FIVB World Tour gold medal in Russia at St. Petersburg in 2006 and a PanAmerican crown on home sand in Rio on Copacabana in 2007.
Juliana Felisberta diving for the Mikasa at the 2007 PanAmerican Games in Rio
On the 2007 St. Petersburg victory, which was the second of three consecutive gold medal finishes on the Neva River centre court at the Peter and Paul Fortress, Juliana said: “I remember that before playing the semifinal in that tournament we went out to get breakfast and when we returned to the room Larissa had left a letter on my bed. It was from my mother and she was wishing me a happy birthday. That made me very emotional because she had never written a letter to me. I was so excited about that and I felt like I was playing for my mother in that final. It was really special, an occasion I keep in my greatest memories.”
In St. Petersburg, Juliana and Larissa won 18 of 19 World Tour matches with their only setback to Jen Kessy and April Ross. After losing to the Americans in the finals of the winner’s bracket in 2007 in the first every FIVB match between the two teams, Juliana and Larissa posted a two-set gold medal win over Kessy and Ross in the finals.
Five years later, the two teams would meet for the final time with Kessy and Ross defeating Juliana and Larissa in the semifinals at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Overall, Juliana and Larissa won 18 of 23 matches with Kessy and Ross.
Although the 2007 PanAmerican gold medal match started in the last hour of July 21, Juliana and Larissa won the match several minutes after mid-night by defeating Dalixia Fernandez Grasset and Tamara Larrea Peraza of Cuba in the finals.
“I remember the final was late in the evening, so when it all ended it was already past midnight and they had the entire crowd at the stadium to sing happy birthday for me,” said Juliana. “We played Cuba in the final and it was nice because my entire family was there. We had a big party to celebrate that night and the next morning we went to Gstaad for the World Championship. It was special to spend my birthday in Brazil, it was my first appearance at the Pan American Games and to have that love from the people, it was really nice.”
Juliana said: “The 2009 season is special to me. Larissa and I had had great success for a few years, but I had that knee injury that forced me out of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. I had no clue what the future of my career would look like, but we played really well and won the World Tour that season for the fourth time. I remember our first victory was in Brazil, but after that I had some struggles with a back injury. For the first time I was considered the Most Outstanding Player and it was a mix of emotions for a number of reasons. I remember we clinched the title in Barcelona, and I was so exhausted that we skipped the following events.”
As for her favorite location on the international circuit, Juliana said she loved “Switzerland. To me, Gstaad is the coolest event in the World Tour. Mexico is also a special place. I remember Larissa and I first defeated Walsh Jennings (Kerri) and May Treanor (Misty) there in 2005, in Acapulco. We returned a few times later and it was amazing to see how I felt at home there and how the fans sent so much love to me. And Klagenfurt is also unique. The tournament has an unbelievable atmosphere and I believe that one of the steps to become a great beach volleyball player is winning a tournament there.”
On her memorable matches with May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, Juliana said “it’s funny that our trajectory as a team was always directly connected to theirs. Playing against them was always an unbelievable learning experience. They were the winningest team in our sport and to be able to battle them and defeat them was such a privilege. An interesting thing is that we never repeated a strategy against them. Every time we played them, we had to come up with something different. That was exciting and pushed us to be a better team. And the nicest thing about it is that we were rivals, but always had a lot of respect and love for each other.”
Juliana remembers the first meeting with the Americans as she and Larissa dropped a 2-1 (21-18, 22-24, 8-15) to May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings in a 60-minute match in the finals of the winner’s bracket in Fortaleza in 2004. Juliana and Larissa placed third in the event in their first-ever FIVB World Tour appearance together.
“We first played them in our first event as a team, and we lost 2-1,” said Juliana. “It was a few months before the Olympics, which they went on to win. The next year we defeated them for the first time in a historical match in Mexico, it’s still the longest match or the match with the most points scored in the World Tour, I believe. And in that same year we made it to the final of the World Championship against them. We lost, but it was crazy to think that we had started just one year before and were already challenging the best in the world.
Juliana noted that her three-set gold medal win with Larissa over May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings at the 2011 FIVB World Championships in Rome was “unforgettable. It was a fantastic venue and it was packed. There was another occasion in The Hague (2011) in the gold medal match and it was so windy. We were losing the first set but turned things around and to do it against them in such difficult conditions, it made us really proud.”
Juliana Felisberta (left) being interviewed after winning the gold medal at the 2011 World Championships in Rome
Overall, Juliana and Larissa met May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings 22 times on the FIVB World Tour with the Americans winning 13 times. In gold medal matches, May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings won nine of the 15 meetings. As for the Acapulco match on October 30, 2005, Juliana and Larissa posted a 2-1 (28-26, 40-42, 15-13) win in 100 minutes.
Since the start of rally scoring in 2001, the 2005 Acapulco match is still the FIVB World Tour record for longest match and highest scoring set. As for highest scoring set, the 164 points in Acapulco was a record until 168 points were posted on August 4, 2006 when Emanuel Rego/Ricardo Santos of Brazil defeated Kristjan Kais/Rivo Vesik of Estonia 2-1 (29-27, 27-29, 29-27) in 85 minutes.
In 156 FIVB World Tour events Juliana has amassed 74 gold medal appearances, 94 podium placements and 102 semifinal appearances. She ranks third all-time for women in matches played (937) and wins (749) with the fourth-best winning percentage (79.9 percent). With Larissa, the pair won 82 medals, appearance in 65 finals and advanced to 87 semifinals in 108 World Tour starts together with a 587-107 match mark (84.6%).
During the Rio 2016 Olympics, Juliana was part of the Brazilian television broadcast team with legendary players Ricardo Santos, Emanuel Rego and Sandra Pires.