With three of the top four seeded teams eliminated, Karch Kiraly and Adam Johnson have a great chance to advance to their first tournament final of the season in the $300,000 Miller Lite U.S Championships at Hermosa Beach.
Their main competition, top-seeded Kent Steffes and Jose Loiola, was eliminated in a late-afternoon consolation match Saturday. After losing in the morning, Steffes and Loiola fell, 14-12, in overtime to Eduardo Bacil and Brian Gatzke. Steffes and Loiola, who have dominated the Miller Lite Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour this season by winning 11 of 17 tournaments, finished seventh.
Kiraly, Steffes' former longtime partner, hasn't won any titles in 1997 because he had shoulder surgery in the off-season and sat out the first seven tournaments of the season.
"My main source of frustration has been my inconsistent level of play, and our level of play was pretty high today," he said.
Kiraly has won a record six U.S Championships, but he has struggled since the shoulder surgery. His best finish this season is third place with Johnson, with whom he is seeded sixth in Hermosa Beach.
Saturday, Kiraly looked like his old self. Johnson didn't look bad either. Both players made an array of spectacular shots, they rarely committed an error and overwhelmed both opponents on center court. For Kiraly, such a performance was extremely encouraging.
"It's been two steps forward and one step back all summer with my shoulder," Kiraly said. "But right now it's feeling real good."
Kiraly and Johnson started the day with an impressive 15-4 victory against No. 3 Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh, who remained alive with an afternoon contenders' bracket victory.
Then, Kiraly-Johnson beat No. 10 Dax Holden and Todd Rogers, 13-9, for a spot in this morning's winners' bracket final against No. 5 Dain Blanton and Canyon Ceman.
"Dodd and Whitmarsh put a lot of pressure on me and I handled it well," Kiraly said. "I got every serve and to still do so well against a team like that feels very good."
Ceman and Blanton, who won their only tournament title last month at Hermosa Beach, figure to give Kiraly-Johnson a tough match, though Blanton is recovering from an ankle injury.
In the morning, Ceman and Blanton defeated Gatzke and Bacil, 15-9, then No. 8 Rob Heidger and David Swatik, 15-8, for a chance to meet Kiraly-Johnson.
The highlight of Heidger and Swatik's day was beating Steffes and Loiola, 15-6, in the morning.
"It's the first time I've played Steffes and Loiola, so it was really great to beat them," Heidger said. "We really got into a rhythm and never got out of it."
Today's final will be at 2 p.m.