A Wind-Blown Proving Ground

Bleak weather was a factor at this European tournament, balancing out the competition

Andrew Balcombe
Pedro of Brazil goes up for the block against Aleksandrs Samoilovs of Latvia.

In mid-June, the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Grand Slam was hosted for the first time at a blustery Scheveningen beach in The Hague, the Netherlands. Teams from the Americas, Europe, the Baltics, and the Pacific region all battled it out for the total prize money of $55,000 and a chance to climb higher in the world rankings.

The competition started with a qualifying round on June 11, then had two days of pool play followed by elimination rounds three days later, and held the final games during the weekend of June 15-16. Teams duked it out both on the moody North Sea coast and on the slightly more sheltered court at Het Plein in The Hague’s city center. The weather played a great equalizing role: high winds made conditions extremely tough for all players and produced some big name casualties.

The knocked-out list included the high-ranking U.S. men’s team of Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal, who were beaten by a lower-ranked Swiss team on Friday.

The first game started well for the Americans who overpowered Philip Gabathuler and Jonas Weingart in the first set 21-8. The Swiss, however, managed to turn the second game around with some strong serving and precision play in the windy conditions. The wind frustrated the Americans’ ability to set up strong offensive play.

Rosenthal told the press after the match that the Swiss “cleaned up their game really good. It was a bit of a surprise after losing the first set like that. They really served us off the court and our reception was really bad. We are the better team, but with this wind you can never tell.”

Switzerland’s Jonas Weingart admitted that playing in windy conditions is different. “We just didn’t stop working and before we knew it, the game was ours. The Americans seemed to be taken by surprise.”

Another upset that took place was in the form of the top-seeded Dutch ladies’ team and Grand Slam favorites, Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel, losing in the second elimination round to Spain’s Liliana Fernández Steiner and Elsa Baquerizo McMillan in three sets (17-21, 21-17, 16-14). In a tough game, the Spanish fought harder and took more chances to claw their way to victory.

Where one Dutch team’s hopes were dashed, another’s were given a welcome boost. For the first time, the lower ranked Jantine van der Vlist and Marloes Wesselink made it to the final eight by beating Germany’s top team Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst.

The win and higher place in the rankings also secured the Dutch duo a financial benefit; the win that took them into the final eight earned them an entire year’s salary.

In the next round however, the Germans Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler avenged their countrywomen and beat Van der Vlist and Wesselink to win the bronze medal game.

Holtwick and Semmler took the lead from the beginning and did not give the Dutch a chance to get comfortable. The Germans kept up the pressure on the Dutch, and they claimed their second medal of the season 21-12 and 21-14.

Following the win, the Germans said their experience of playing in more finals games probably helped them when the pressure was on. “It was [the Dutch] team’s first final and I think they were a little overwhelmed by it all, which is understandable,” said Holtwick to VBM.

The Dutch girls said they would take a day off to spend time with family in the Netherlands before flying out to Rome for the next round of the World Tour.

On Sunday, the last day of finals, three Brazilian teams (two women’s and one men’s) were ready to play for the grand prize money. The Brazilian women started the action with Talita Antunes da Rocha and Taiana Lima defeating fellow Brazilians and sister-duo Maria Clara and Carolina Salgado in the ladies’ final.

The two teams knew each other well and the Salgado sisters decided to target Lima who is the newcomer. Halfway through the first set, however, Lima regained her confidence.

“I started serving better,” Lima told the FIVB. “I practiced a lot and that gave me confidence and improved my overall game.” Two service aces later proved the practice had helped, and Lima turned the score around to win the first set 21-16.

Great rallies between the two Brazilian teams made for an exciting second match, with Antunes and Lima making fewer mistakes. Their first match point was beaten back, but at 20-13 Antunes ended the opposition with a skillful spike. Talita Antunes and Taiana Lima took their second gold medal of the season, winning in two sets (21-16, 21-13).

The men’s number one seed Pedro Solberg Salgado and Bruno Oscar Schmidt were victorious in their match against the third-ranked Latvians, Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs, in the men’s final.

In a straightforward, if not tempestuous competition, the Brazilian men’s pair dominated and outplayed the Latvians. Smedins and Samoilovs seemed a little flat compared to their previous World Tour performances. In the first set they matched the Brazilians with good reception and powerful spikes and blocks, but it wasn’t enough.

The Brazilians had studied the Latvians’ game plays following their loss to the European team at Corrientes, Argentina, in the semifinals where Latvia went on to take gold.

Latvia’s Samoilovs was frustrated at the net by Salgado’s powerful blocks. The tactic worked despite the Brazilian also having problems of his own with net violations. Altercations with the referee and verbal antics proved to only bolster his game, however. Both he and Schmidt overpowered and outplayed the Latvians to take the game: (21-19, 21-12).

After the victory Salgado told the crowd during an interview that their previous national competition had been a tough proving ground and gave them a good warm up for the Grand Slam. “This victory really gives us a confidence boost for the next round in Rome and onwards.”

Originally published in August 2013

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