The kids are taking over in Hamburg – some overhaul required for World Tour Finals
Not surprisingly, Norwegian Vikings Anders Mol (21) and Christian Sorum (22) won the World Tour Finals in Hamburg. Having dominated if not even disrupted the beach volleyball world recently, the new stars had few difficulties to once again beat Fiyalek/Bryl (Poland) whom they had already defeated in the final of the Vienna Major. But Mol/Sorum are not the only youngsters that are slowly conquering the beach volleyball world. In an all-youngsters semifinal, the Norwegians had prevailed in a close three-setter against rising German youngsters Clemens Wickler (23) and Julius Thole (21). The young Germans played a great tournament beating several experienced top teams on their way to the seminfinals. Pushed by an enthusiastic crowd at the packed Rothenbaum stadium, they managed to post wins against Latvians Plavins/Tocs and Samoilovs/Smedins as well as Olympic silver medalists Lupo/Nicolai from Italy. The new generation can be expected to take over beach volleyball in the upcoming years. This will be even more the case after the Olympics 2020 when a range of experienced teams will probably retire.
Agatha and Duda finally make it to the top
In the women’s competition, Czech beach girls and Vienna Major gold medalists Marketa Slukova and Barbora Hermannova fought their way through to the final. Only being third in their pool, they had to go through an extra round until they played Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho (Australia) in the semifinal. With Marketa Slukova having a tough day and being slightly injured on her shoulder, the Czechs turned around a match that they normally shouldn’t have won. Losing the first set but coming back in the second, they were close to elimination at 6:10 in the tie-break. But Marketa and Barbora fought a huge battle to return and finally won the tie-break 17:15. In the gold medal match against Agatha/Duda (Brazil), their fighting wasn’t enough. They lost in two sets against strong Brazilians who had won silver against Ludwig/Walkenhorst (Germany) last year. Duda Lisboa Santos is only 20 years old and is another rising youngster and the youngest World Tour Finals winner ever. Duda after the match:
“This is certainly the biggest victory of my career. Except for the Olympics and the World Championships, this is biggest beach volleyball tournament on the planet.”
Wild card selection, schedule and format require some maintenance
The FIVB World Tour Finals are an amazing gathering of the beach volleyball elite and they are the climax of the beach volleyball season. So you want to make sure to have a perfect setting. In Hamburg, the 10 best teams of the season battled out their champion in a 5-day contest. Best teams? 5 days?
Well, it was actually the eight top-ranked teams in the FIVB World ranking that advanced automatically to Hamburg. In the men’s competition, two wild cards went to Thole/Wickler and Stoyanovskiy/Velichko (Russia). You might wanna question why no wild card was given to defending champions Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena (USA). You might argue that the defending champions should generally participate in this type of competition. You might wanna think that adding at least one American team to the competition would have contributed positively to an all-European men’s competition. Not a single team from North America or Brazil did qualify turning the Finals into another European Championships in the men’s competition.
One might also be tempted to ask why a competition with 10 teams participating has to be stretched out to 5 days. You could normally play it out in only 2 days. But the event format divides the 10 teams in 2 groups with 5 teams each and results in an extended pool play with 4 pool play matches for each team. This takes time. And although there is plenty of time, the women’s semifinals take place from 9am on Sunday morning in front of empty stands. If you have 5 event days, why not plan a schedule that allows the best possible atmosphere and audience for a semifinal?
The format also made things complicated. On Saturday, Canadians Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson did not know until early afternoon if and when they have to play late afternoon the same day. They had to wait for their competitors’ results to know if they would top their pool or not. After winning their match against pool winners Mol/Sorum, Dutchmen Brouwer/Meeuwsen were eliminated based on a hard to understand points ratio comparison. Their Latvian competitors Plavins/Tocs advanced to the next round although they had lost more sets than the Dutch (6:6 vs. 6:5).
Silver medal winner Barbora Hermannova after her last pool match:
“We were confused after the last match, we came into the mixed zone and people had told us we had qualified but our coach wasn’t sure. In the end we were happy to get through.”
And gold medal winner Agatha regarding the pool situation before the last match:
“We actually entered the match not knowing what the exact situation was for us.”
So why not invite 12 teams and play a format that players, coaches and the crowds do understand? The World Tour Finals are a great concept, just the details require a slight overhaul.