LONDON Olympic gold medal favourites Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti of Brazil fought back from a set down to win a surprisingly tight match against an Austrian pair in the men's beach volleyball on Sunday, as rain fell on the sandy court for the first time.
Emanuel and Alison took an hour to subdue Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst, who saved three match points as they frustrated the Brazilians with one dramatic block after another.
The favourites eventually prevailed in their first game by two sets to one with a close score of 19-21, 21-17, 16-14. Pairs compete in pool matches to qualify for later knockout stages.
Beach volleyball matches are scored using a best-of-three-sets system in which the first two sets are played to 21 points and the third, if required, goes to 15 points. A two-point advantage is needed to win a set.
"They knew very well how we played, but we did not know them. So we had to find their weaknesses first to beat them," Alison told reporters after the match, which started out under bright sunshine before a heavy downpour in the second set.
"I did not even know it was raining. I did not see anything. I was just focused on the game," said Emanuel.
The Brazilians are an unusual pair in that Emanuel, 39, had a long and very successful career with former team mate Ricardo Costa Santos, winning Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 and bronze in Beijing in 2008, before pairing up with Alison, 27.
Ricardo is also competing in London, with his own new team mate, Pedro Henrique Cunha.
Emanuel and Alison, favourites to win gold in London, have been playing together since 2010 and have won numerous trophies.
Another strong men's team, defending Olympic champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser of the United States, will be one of the main attractions later on Sunday. They are scheduled to take on a Japanese pair at 2200 local time (2100 GMT).
The Olympic beach volleyball event is being staged at Horse Guards Parade, a spectacular location in the heart of London, next to Prime Minister David Cameron's residence at Number 10 Downing Street and a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace.
The sport has brought beach culture to London's staid government district, with pop music blaring in between points, dancers in beachwear performing raunchy routines and players, in shorts and vests or bikinis, battling for glory on golden sand.
(Editing by Matt Falloon)