23.07.2019 - Vienna
You’ve off to Vienna Major. You need a team to support. Just one, mind. None of this “I’m going to support these five teams this week”. No. Just one. Choose wisely. Don’t forget to pick your men’s team, either…
Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes (Canada)
Siri, tell me the most successful team in beach volleyball in the past two years, I want to support them at the Vienna Major. “Pavan/Humana-Parades”. Thank you. Siri, what did they win? “Pavan/Humana-Paredes won the 2019 Beach Volleyball World Championships, the 2018 Commonwealth Games and four further gold medals on the World Tour since teaming up at the end of 2016.” Well, that was easy. Siri, what are the words to O Canada?
Alix Klineman and April Ross (USA)
Alix and April. The all-American, A-Team. I mean, come on. What’s not to like? Recent winners in Gstaad, check. World Championship runners-up, check. Silver in Tokyo. World’s number one team right now. What more do you want? The back story? Sure. April; played beach forever, won more medals than you’ve had hot dinners; Alix; pretty much only just started beach, indoor was her game; gave it all up for sand between her toes and now she’s tearing it up with a legend by her side. You had me at A-Team.
Nina Betschart and Tanja Hüberli (Switzerland)
You’re in this for the long haul. Trust the process. You’re not in this for the easy wins every week. There will be pain, there will be heartache. There will be tears. There have been already. Twice. Nina and Tanja were a match-point away from the World Championship final. They were one win away from a Gstaad Major final. Do you know how much of a deal that is? In both events they finished fourth. Yes, gut-wrenching, horrible, horrible fourth… but you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. But trust the process. They will come good. Very good. Just you watch, you tell your friends. It’s been a rollercoaster so far and, hey, you like rollercoasters, so get on again and enjoy the ride.
Nadezda Makroguzova and Svetlana Kholomina (Russia)
“I was there when they won their second silver medal at the Under-21 World Championships,” says the elderly Russian gentleman next to you on side court 3. He has a tear in his eye. Is he crying? Together, you watch Nadezda and Svetlana slowly dismantle their victims in straight sets. Impressive. Nobody else is around you. The old man hushes your excited tones. “Tell no-one,” he whispers. But these are the next big things in beach volleyball. You know already, they won in Espinho. The secret’s out. You WhatsApp a friend. There’s this Russian team. Dead good. Momentum gathers. They keep winning. Come the final, the whole stadium is decked in red, white and blue. You knew all along. You spot the old man among the hysteria in the crowd and wave to him. He’s shaking his head disapprovingly at you. But he’s crying. We’re all crying.
Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Santos Lisboa (Brazil)
Do Da, Do Da, Do Da, Do Da, Do Da. It’s infectious. Do Da, Do Da, Do Da, Do Da. It’s in your head, it won’t go away. But you only ever hear it a few times a day. The DJs are only playing it when this Brazilian team are on. Suddenly your brain puts two and two together. Duda! Only one of the brightest young things in beach volleyball, won like 500 youth titles, who has her own song. Obviously, you know it’s not hers, but that doesn’t matter. She’s playing with a legend, Agatha. 2016 Olympic silver medalist. 2015 World Champ. One of the biggest smiles in the game. You’ve heard there’s a 15-year age difference between the two. Not that it matters. It’s real master and apprentice stuff. Reminds you of when you were playing soccer with your older brother in the park, learning all the cool tricks. They won in Tokyo, you say? Yes, this is your team.
Katharina Schützenhöfer and Lena Plesiutschnig (Austria)
I am from Austriaaaaaaaa! It’s the final moments of a long, hot, sweaty day on the Red Bull Beach Arena but there you are. Still standing. You are weary, you desperately want to have a lie down. But just not yet. You’re determined. I WILL NOT LET THESE GIRLS LOSE. From somewhere within, you summon enough energy to belt out Austria’s unofficial national anthem one last time. Remember at the start of the tournament you said you’d be backing Kathi and Lena? They are from Austria. Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy. You knew what you were getting yourself into. In Vienna, home teams get that extra push. You’re not even from Austria. But you sing it and sing it and sing it. And in the end, they win, 24-22 in the third. Was it down to you? “Probably” you say to yourself on the U-bahn on the way home. Probably? Definitely.
Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat (USA)
You’ve heard of Kerri Walsh Jennings. Everyone has. Triple Olympic champion. Undisputed beach volleyball icon. Won three successive World Championships, too. Of course the G.O.A.T. is in Vienna. There’s nobody on the planet more hell-bent on winning medals than the most decorated player of all-time. She has an unquenchable devotion to beach volleyball, just like you have: you were queuing for two hours just to see this match. You hold your breath in anticipation every time the ball flies menacingly low over the net, with Kerri ready to pounce. “She’s 40 and got three kids,” says the guy in front of you. We know. We all know. But it’s worth repeating. Brooke Sweat is no nobody. An Olympian, a serial winner. Just the kind of partner Kerri wants. And just the kind of team you want to support. Done.
Barbora Hermannová and Marketa Sluková (Czech Republic)
It was going to be a long drive. 700 kilometers. A good six-and-a-half hours in the car if the traffic was kind. Prague to Hamburg. You’d done it before. But, wait. Not this time. You looked at your phone. A push notification nobody wants to see: SLUKOVA WITHDRAWS FROM WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. It’s okay. You can wait. You’re the patient type. Vienna is only four hours away. You did it last year. It’s why you’re fans of this team now, when Bara and Maki won the Vienna Major in 2018. So impressed, you told your friends about it. That’s why there’s six of you squeezing in to a SEAT and heading for Vienna. “Maki is playing with a broken foot!” you chant. It’s not a very catchy song, but none of you care. The Vienna Major champions are back to defend their crown and you’re going to be part of it.
Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson (Canada)
You’ve had the A-Team, now here’s the B-Team. Bansley/Brandie. But this team are anything but back-ups. Oh no. How do you like the sound of three gold medals, one silver, three bronzes and a guzillion top-10 finishes in 27 tournaments they’ve played? Good, huh? You know what also begins with B? Blocks. Lots of them. Brandie’s your girl for that. At least two per set, guaranteed. Love a good defense? Hello Heather Bansley. She’s been voted the best defender on tour three times. Everyone’s talking about the other Canadian team, right? Well you don’t have to follow the crowd, right? Right.
Laura Ludwig and Maggie Kozuch (Germany)
Laura Ludwig. She’s back in Vienna. Two years ago you saw her lift the World title here. Since then she’s had a baby, returned to the beach with a new partner, Maggie Kozuch, and finished in the top 10 three times this season. What have you done? It’s ok, don’t feel bad, nobody’s judging you. Now two years ago you bought a German flag especially for that moment. It’s time to find it again. It’s also time for a new chant. “Laura, Maggie!” Get ready to project your voice loud enough for an impact on the sidecourts, because that’s where they will start, in qualification. Who doesn’t love a story of a reigning Olympic champ battling through qualification and going on to take gold on the final day against all the odds? Exactly. “Laura, Maggie!”