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Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat eliminated from beach volleyball worlds

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Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat were eliminated from the world beach volleyball championships in the round of 32 on Wednesday in Hamburg, Germany, hurting their chances of qualifying next June for the Tokyo Olympics.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and her new partner, Rio Olympian Sweat, were swept by formidable Brazilians Agatha and Duda 21-18, 21-16 on the first day of elimination rounds.

It’s Walsh Jennings’ worst result in seven career world championships. They went 1-2 in pool play, the lone win a 21-2, 21-2 rout of an inexperienced team from Mauritius.

Walsh Jennings said it was the worst that she and Sweat have played since pairing in October.

“This is the most disappointing event I’ve ever had, and I think Brooke would probably feel the same,” Walsh Jennings told media in Hamburg in audio provided by NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit. “This is a horrific thing to say, but it’s almost a relief it’s over.”

Walsh Jennings and Sweat and Agatha and Duda split matches at the Americans’ last two international events in May and June.

Agatha and former partner Barbara handed Walsh Jennings her only Olympic beach defeat in the Rio semifinals, when Walsh Jennings played with April Ross.

The world championships carry the most points of any tournament in the two-year Olympic qualifying window.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat came to worlds ranked second among Americans in average points, behind Ross and Alix Klineman, and gained no ground in Hamburg.

Both Klineman and Ross and the other top U.S. pair, Sara Hughes and Summer Ross (no relation), won Wednesday matches to reach the round of 16.

The top two U.S. teams in qualifying points come next June are in line to go to Tokyo.

Walsh Jennings, a 40-year-old mother of three, is in line to become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player in history, should she and Sweat hold off younger U.S. pairs over the next year.

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MORE: Beach Volleyball Worlds TV/Stream Schedule

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Kerri Walsh Jennings pleased by result after longest break in five years

Kerri Walsh Jennings
FIVB World Tour
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Kerri Walsh Jennings returned from her longest competition break since 2013 and, with partner Nicole Branagh, nearly beat the world’s top-ranked team.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh ultimately were eliminated in the round of 16 at the Xiamen Open in China.

“We WILL do better,” was posted on Walsh Jennings’ social media. “We actually had a great showing and learned and battled and improved – sometimes the stats don’t show everything.”

Walsh Jennings and Branagh, a pair of 39-year-old moms, played together for the first time since July 22, when Walsh Jennings’ five-times surgically repaired right shoulder popped out mid-match.

Walsh Jennings, eyeing her sixth and final Olympics in 2020, underwent a sixth shoulder surgery and an ankle surgery and did not return to training on the beach until March (her longest break between hitting a ball on sand since switching from indoor following the 2000 Olympics).

The duo won their opening Xiamen match in three sets last week, then lost a three-setter to the world’s No. 1 team in group play. Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes prevailed 21-15, 22-24, 18-16 en route to the tournament title.

After Walsh Jennings and Branagh swept American qualifiers Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman in the first elimination round, they squandered a one-set lead in the round of 16. Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy eliminated them 19-21, 21-16, 20-18.

Walsh Jennings said before flying to Xiamen that she and Branagh would next play on the FIVB World Tour at the Itapema Open in Brazil in mid-May. In four FIVB World Tour events since partnering last year, they were eliminated in qualifying once, bounced in the round of 16 twice and forfeited a bronze-medal match due to that shoulder dislocation.

Early season partner changes defined the U.S. women’s landscape. In Xiamen, one of those new teams, Kelly Claes and Brittany Hochevar, reached the final, losing to the Canadians.

It marked the first final four appearance on the senior FIVB World Tour for the 22-year-old Claes, an NCAA champion at USC with former partner Sara Hughes, and for the 36-year-old Hochevar, the older sister of former Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar.

MORE: Walsh Jennings documents comeback from surgeries

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WATCH LIVE: Walsh Jennings, Ross one win away from gold medal match in Rio

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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USA beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings is shooting for her fourth-straight Olympic final when she stares down Brazil’s No. 2 pairing of Agatha and Barbara on Monday.

WATCH LIVE: Walsh Jennings-Ross vs. Agatha-Barbara

Walsh Jennings’ partner April Ross is looking forward to the final for another reason; Ross lost to Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor in the 2012 final, and is aching for a gold of her own.

The 11 p.m. EDT match should have another fiery if not star-studded crowd to close out the night in Rio.