Vamos a la playa!

My first impression of the sport of Beach Volleyball, 13 years ago already, was a volunteer, half-sitting, half-lying, on his high-chair at the Faliro Coastal Zone Olympic Complex, totally relaxed, making jokes with visitors passing by, occassionally shouting ‘Welcome to Beeeeeach Volleybaaaaall!’ and directing spectators to the correct entrances.

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Night session at Faliro (Athens 2004).

This somehow set the tone for my further encounters with this sport, be it in Hamburg, on the Greek island of Kos or at London’s Horse Guards Parade. After all, Beach Volleyball still involves to a significant degree having fun and generally a good time at the beach, or at places that pretend to be beaches for a while…

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‘Come on, Horse Guards Parade! Let’s wake the Prime Minister!’

Münster’s Schlossplatz was the latest ‘pretender’ in that regard and it served its purpose quite well. For three days we enjoyed the unique atmosphere, the general open-mindedness and friendliness of the Beach Volleyball community, watching the matches, dancing and singing along, trying to hit a ball through the open sunroof of a small car provided by the main sponsor (I’m still not entirely sure whether you could actually win that car or just a towel..), and relaxing in the sunshine. Well, OK, as far as the sunshine is concerned, I’m talking about Saturday here. We’re in Münster after all, and Friday happened to be a rather chilly affair indeed…

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As I said, Beach Volleyball is meant to be connected to fun and having a good time at the beach, but it has grown to be so much more. Its protagonists are mostly professionals, full-time athletes who show incredible skill, precision, strength, stamina. The tournament in Münster has grown as well, in prestige and professionalism, and this year hosted the No. 1 and 3 ranked teams in both the women’s and men’s world rankings, including the women’s Olympic Champions.  To be honest, I didn’t really plan to see Ludwig/Walkenhorst play. I hoped for it, but I didn’t look at the schedule before. Instead we just went there on Saturday afternoon together with some friends after our seminar at the nearby university building. The stadium was packed, which you can hardly see on my pictures as the courtside opposite of the main stand was open. Anyway, we were quite lucky to get a few of the remaining seats in the top row.

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And as it turned out, we had even more luck with the schedule of play. The second match was already a high profile affair, with the two best ranked men’s teams (according to the World Rankings), Alexander Brouwer / Robert Meeuwsen (NED), the Rio 2016 Bronze medal winners, and Aleksandrs Samoilovs / Janis Smedins (LAT), the latter having won the Bronze medal at London 2012, facing off during the group stages. The Dutch had the upper hand in this match and would eventually go on to win the tournament.

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‘Get your “Klatschpappen” ready!’

And then there were Laura and Kira…The last few months weren’t easy at all for the Olympic Champions, with Laura Ludwig still hampered by her shoulder injury. Münster marked their return to the big stage and so they were welcomed very warmly by the audience. Anna Behlen and Yanina Weiland proved to be worthy opponents and managed to give Ludwig/Walkenhorst a real fight, especially in the second set, but in the end it was not enough. The champions from Hamburg won in straight sets and despite a surprise defeat later that day reached the semifinals, and ultimately the final, via the ‘losers’ round’.

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There they met compatriots Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude, ranked No. 3 in the world, and they did meet on the very same level. The final score alone gives proof of that: 27:29, 21:19, 25:23. It could hardly get any closer, bearing in mind that the final set is normally played til 15 points… And those who have seen the match will agree that it was indeed outstanding in many ways. Laura Ludwig’s injury was obvious during the serve which she had to take underhand, but hardly visible in other phases of the game. Kira Walkenhorst’s skill at the spike and, well, anything else really was world class as usual. But the strength, skill and also the stamina of Laboureur/Sude was just as outstanding.

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Laura Ludwig quite happy with the result. Everybody else as well…

The smart beach tour, a national tour by the way, will continue throughout the next months with quite a number of stages to be held at actual beaches at the North and Baltic Sea. An advantage, the tour might have over the more prestigious, and better paid, FIVB World Tour. The tours will meet in my hometown, Hamburg, this august, where both tour finals will be held consecutively at the renowned Rotherbaum Tennis Centre. My calendar is marked…

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