RIO DE JANEIRO — At some point, Phil Dalhausser just had to laugh.
After the Americans survived a couple of match points — and Italy fought off seven of their own — the final set of their final match in pool play at the beach volleyball tournament at Copacabana was tied 22-22.
His partner, Nick Lucena, smiled.
The Italians smiled, too, and then slapped hands with Lucena after he got a lucky roll on a winner off the top of the net to give the Americans a 23-22 lead. When Lucena made another crafty play to provide the necessary two-point margin of victory, the United States had won.
But only after the longest third set of the Rio Olympics so far.
"It's not very often you can have a game like that," said Lucena, an Olympic rookie who teamed with the 2008 gold
Beach volleyball plays the first two sets to 21 points, and the leader has to win by 2. If necessary, a third set tiebreaker is played to 15 — again requiring a 2-point margin of victory.
Heading into Thursday's games, 22 of the 60 men's and women's matches played at Copacabana needed a third set. Only four of those went beyond 15, and only one of those required more than one extra point to settle it.
"When you're in the 20s in the third set, and it's going back and forth, it's pretty fun," said Dalhausser, who recalled once playing a first set that was 41-39.
Even the Italian teams confessed to enjoying it.
"The match was great. It was great to watch, but it would have been better to win," said Paolo Nicolai, smiling afterward when he talked to reporters.
"Both persons are trying to do their best," he said. "It's fun for the players. It's fun for the crowd. It's fun."
With the victory, the Americans clinched the top spot in their group and a top seed in the knockout stage that begins on Friday. They will join top U.S. women's team Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, who also advanced through the pool play unbeaten.
The other U.S. team that played on Thursday wasn't as lucky.
Brooke Sweat and Lauren Fendrick took Russia to three sets before bowing out of the Summer Games with an 0-3 record in pool play. The first-time Olympians lost to Russia's Ekaterina Birlova and Evgenia Ukolova in three sets, 21-18, 26-24, 15-13.
"Unfortunately it didn't come out our way today, but I am proud to stand next to her and fight any day," Fendrick said. "We worked so hard. We had big goals and dreams, and I think if we had gotten past that round we would have gone pretty far and done some damage. So that part's hard."
Sweat noted that the pair fought to qualify for Rio, finally finishing 15th on a points list with an Olympic cutoff at No. 17
"It was a battle just getting here," Sweat said.
The No. 2 U.S. men's team of Jake Gibb and Casey Patters was eliminated on Wednesday after going 1-2 and losing the playoff tiebreaker.