American beach volleyball stars Misty May and Kerri Walsh consider Holly McPeak a mentor and Elaine Youngs a friend.
On Monday, the two pairs will face off in the biggest match of their lives.
Both teams won Olympic quarterfinals in straight sets Sunday, setting up a showdown all four players have been anticipating for months.
"Our goal has been to play them in the semis," Walsh said. "If that happened, then we're both doing very well."
"We have been wanting to play them for a long time," said Youngs. "We know they've got a lot more pressure on them."
McPeak and Youngs defeated the eighth-ranked German pair of Stephanie Pohl and Okka Rau 21-17, 21-17 before top-seeded May and Walsh ousted No. 16
Guylaine Dumont and Annie Martin, a pair of Canadians, 21-19, 21-14.
The Americans will meet for the 19th time. May and Walsh have won 16 of the first 18 meetings, including the last 13 in a row.
McPeak and Youngs have been the top team in the world this summer, with six wins and 13 top-10 finishes. May and Walsh were the best before that,
winning 90 consecutive matches and 15 straight events until May injured an abdominal muscle.
McPeak, who became the sport's winningest female player earlier this year, says she and Youngs are ready for the rematch.
"We've lost to them a bunch, but a lot of times because we haven't played our best volleyball," said McPeak. "We've really hit our stride this summer
and we haven't been able to face that team when we're at our strengths. I'm looking forward to it."
Earlier Sunday, 12th-seeded Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger lost to fifth-seeded Swiss Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel 21-16, 21-19, ending U.S. hopes
of a third straight gold medal on the men's side.
Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes won the first Olympic beach tournament in 1996, and Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana captured the gold in 2000.
"It's a bummer," Metzger said. "But in a few hours, I'll recover and I'll go enjoy Athens."
Tournament officials said the temperature of the sand during the match was 107 degrees.
The sweltering heat drained both teams mentally and physically. Early in the second set, they played a rally that lasted nearly a minute — a
marathon in beach volleyball. When Kobel ended the point with a spike to open sand, all four players collapsed in the sand, exhausted.
"We killed each other," Heuscher said. "It's impossible to play in this heat."
May and Walsh have taken advantage of playing all their matches at night, out of the withering heat. They're the only team — men's or women's —
that hasn't dropped a set in Athens.
They also haven't lost a set to McPeak and Youngs since August 2003, a span of seven matches.
Walsh is still expecting a tight, tense semifinal.
"When we play them, the tension on the court is tangible, just because we have such a long history and we've had so many battles," she said. "My
parents need to bring some water and take their aspirin. We might have some heart attacks in the stands."