12.08.2020 - Vienna, Austria
If you didn’t get lost in the crazy times we’re currently living at, it probably crossed your mind a few times already that this week was supposed to be THE WEEK. The one in which we’d be all gathered in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet to watch world-class beach volleyball at the 2020 Vienna Major.
Unfortunately, the event couldn’t be realized this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and we feel the same way you do about it. We couldn’t help but wonder what would the tournament have looked like and which teams would have had the honor of topping the podium at the magnificent Red Bull Beach Arena at the Danube Island at the end of the week.
We were so curious about it that we even asked you that question on our Instagram account a couple of weeks ago and we decided to take your input and make our best effort to guess how it would have played out. The result of this exercise is this fictional article, which, of course, won’t come anywhere near replacing the goosebumps we’d all had felt at the actual tournament, but hopefully will bring up some good memories and get of us excited for the next season.
If we had hired an award-winning writer to prepare a script for the gold medal match of the 2020 Vienna Major it wouldn’t have come out so perfectly.
On one side of the court, there was a world champion defender, widely known for her craftiness at the backcourt and for expressing her charismatic personality with an enlightening smile that makes of her one of the greatest ambassadors for the sport of beach volleyball. On the other side, there was the same.
On one side there was an accomplished indoor star, who was a scoring-machine for the teams she played and carried them in some of the best leagues across Europe and that after reaching the top of her career decided to test new waters at the beach game and fell in love with it. On the other side, there was the same.
Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan. Laura Ludwig and Maggie Kozuch. Canada. Germany. So similar, but so different. And just one of them would leave the amazing Danube Island crowned as the 2020 Vienna Major champions.
Mel and Sarah had already been there. They won a fantastic tournament in 2019, beating top Brazilian teams in the semifinals and finals to complete their so-called “Beach Major Series trifecta” after victories in Poreč and Gstaad.
Laura did it too, in an even larger setting if you can remember, winning the 2017 World Championships at the Austrian capital with Kira Walkenhorst. Kira, by the way, is on attendance. Slowly restarting her volleyball career, she exited the tournament on Friday but decided to stay in Vienna for another couple of days to support her former partner.
The atmosphere is electric at the fully-packed Red Bull Beach Arena as the teams take the court for warm-ups and there are thousands of people waiting outside for an opportunity to enter – come on, it’s Vienna, what’s the surprise here?
Spiking at the net, serving, coin toss, all of that pre-game routine goes without us hearing a single word from the players as the crowd is impressively loud this time.
However, as the first whistle blows, there comes deep silence. When you can hear all the sounds of players serving, bumping the ball and hitting in a stadium filled with more than 10,000 people, it's easy to imagine how high the level of tension is inside that cauldron.
The Canadians, for some reason, seem to deal better with it. Sarah is as dominant as always at the net and Mel is just flying left and right behind her, giving the Germans a hard time every time they try to put the ball in the Canadian court. Simple, steady, efficient. Canada takes the first set 21-15.
But, winning a set against players like Laura and Maggie can be like waking a sleeping giant at times. As they take the court for the second get and see the numerous German flags waving at the stands in hand the hands of the traveling fans, they think ‘we can do it’. Of course they can. They not only can as they do, taking the set 21-17 with a “Ludwig” after a roll shot from Mel and forcing a tie-breaker – as if we hadn’t had enough tension already.
The third set goes by in the blink on an eye. It’s side out, side out, side out and we almost don't realize the Canadians have the first match point at 14-13. And their strategy for the next play is set. Mel will go with a short serve on Maggie in an attempt to put Sarah in a good position to block her – something she couldn’t do in the entire second and third sets.
Now it’s between those two. And they know each other pretty well. They were rivals at the Italian indoor league more than ten years ago. When Maggie left her Chinese club to return to Italy, it was Sarah who was signed to replace her. The same happened a few years later in Italy, when the German star ended her indoor career and saw her spot in the team be filled by the Canadian giant.
Several years later, their paths cross again in the big stage they grew used to thrive at. But this time there’s sand. There’s the sun. There’s wind. It’s like a full cycle being completed.
The serve is close enough that the pass is headed away from the net. Laura bumps it back towards the net and Maggie decides to hit a hard angle as she did more times than she can remember during her career.
But this time, Sarah’s right hand is right here.
The ball touches her hand.
The ball touches the sand.
The giant falls on her knees.
It’s match point.
It’s championship point.
Have you seen it before? Maybe.
The Canadians are, again, at the top of the podium in Vienna. It’s another fairytale ending for them. What more is to come for them in 2021? That's the question we're looking forward to answering at the Beach Major Series.
See you at the beach!