BPT Saquarema - Men Qualification -  BRAvsARG_02

Alison and partner Oscar succeeded in the Saquarema qualifier

Experience played a factor in the qualifier of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Saquarema Challenge, in Brazil, on Thursday and three of the four Olympic medallists that competed for a spot in the main draw at the Campo de Aviação advanced.

Brazil’s Alison Cerutti, Latvia’s Janis Smedins and Germany’s Laura Ludwig will be back on the court on Friday, when the pool phase begins, with the first matches scheduled to start at 8:00 local time (11:00 UTC).

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A bronze medallist at the London 2012 Olympics, the 35-year-old Smedins had the hardest day among all three, with partner Aleksandrs Samoilovs, a three-time Olympian, and him coming from behind and needing all three sets (17-21, 21-16, 15-9) to overcome Uruguayans Hans Hannibal and Nicolas Llambías in the second round of the qualifier – they had topped Germans Lukas Pfretzschner and Robin Sowa 2-0 (23-21, 21-18) earlier in the morning.

“We watched their match from Itapema and we saw that Switzerland had a really good strategy against them,” Samoilovs explained. “We just tried to follow what they did. We also watched their first match today and I think we had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do. The first set was close but it was mostly because of our struggles to side out as we made quite some plays on defence. We’re looking forward to having a lot of fun on the main draw.”

BPT Saquarema - Men Qualification -  LATvsGER_10

Smedins hits during Thursday's qualifier in Brazil

The Latvians should, indeed, be excited to compete in the main draw this week in Saquarema as it will be the first time in the season that they manage to do it after falling in qualifiers at the Doha Elite16, La Paz Challenge and Itapema Challenge.

“The season certainly didn’t start the way we expected,” Smedins reflected. “Although we still have our points from a third-place finish in Espinho, we didn’t have enough points to be in the main draw, which is crazy, and we couldn’t qualify three times. We finally made it here, even if the second match was a little shaky. But we are in the main draw and we’re satisfied.”

Rio 2016 Olympic champion Alison will also make his first main draw appearance in the season after new partner Oscar Guimarães and him won a pair of matches in Saquarema on Thursday – they first got a 2-0 (21-19, 21-10) victory over Argentineans Bautista Amieva and Leo Aveiro and then got another sweep (21-12, 21-11), this time against the French brothers Quincy and Calvin Aye.

USA’s Taylor Sander, a volleyball bronze medallist at the Rio 2016 Games, was the only Olympic medallist to not advance in the Saquarema qualifier. Partner Taylor Crabb and him started the day well, overcoming English Issa Batrane and Frederick Bialokoz 2-0 (21-17, 21-17), but ended up falling to Swiss Yves Haussener and Quentin Métral in three sets (21-17, 16-21, 16-18).

The other five men’s teams to advance from the qualifier in Saquarema were Lithuania’s Audrius Knasas/Patrikas Stankevicius, Portugal’s João Pedrosa/Hugo Campos, USA’s Chase Budinger/Miles Evans and Andy Benesh/Miles Partain and Argentina's Nicolás Capogrosso, Tomas Capogrosso.

The only medallist in action in the women’s qualifier, Rio 2016 Olympic champion Ludwig also advanced with new partner Louisa Lippmann. The Germans topped French Aline Chamereau and Clemence Viera 2-0 (22-20, 21-14) in the first round of the qualifier in Saquarema and then secured another straight-set (21-19, 21-17) victory to advance, this time against young Dutch Brecht Piersma and Emi van Driel.

“I’m so happy that we advanced,” Ludwig commented. “On both matches today, we did really well on the first set, but for some reason had slow starts on the second sets. But we had the guts to fight through it and trusted each other the entire time. I’m very proud that we managed to win both matches like this, especially after losing in the qualifier last week in Itapema.”

BPT Saquarema - Qualification - Women - NEDvsGER_09

Ludwig passes during the qualifier

Not advancing in Itapema was a blow for the Germans, who are playing only their third tournament as partners this week in Saquarema and could certainly use a few more matches last week at the Meia Praia Beach to continue their development. The upset, however, didn’t hurt their motivation heading to the Saquarema Challenge as they were pleased with their play in Itapema, despite not advancing.

“Last week, against the Chinese, we felt we were going in the right direction, but we just couldn’t grab it,” the German explained. “We were so disappointed because, as a new team, we want to play as much as we can, and this week we’ll have this opportunity. Starting from the bottom again is not easy, but I love playing and also the feeling that I’m improving and getting better every day - it’s just a passion for me. And I couldn’t be more excited to do it with Louisa, she’s a great person a great athlete and can become a very good beach volleyball player.”

Austria had two teams advancing in Saquarema in Katharina Schützenhöfer and Lena Plesiutschnig, who defeated Americans Corinne Quiggle and Sarah Schermerhorn in the tie-breaker (18-21, 21-17, 15-6), and the Klinger sisters Ronja and Dorina, who eliminated Paraguayans Erika Bobadilla and Michelle Valiente in straight sets (21-19, 21-14).

Also making it to the women’s main draw in Brazil are Spain’s Maria Carro/Angela Lobato, Poland’s Jagoda Gruszczynska/Aleksandra Wachowicz, Finland’s Anniina Parkkinen/Sara Sinisalo, Lithuania’s Monika Paulikiene/Aine Raupelyte and Mexico’s Abril Flores/Atenas Gutierrez.

The first day of the main draw in the Saquarema will have 24 pool play matches in each gender, with the best two teams in each group and the second-best third-placed duos all advancing to the Round of 16. The remaining four third-placed tandems will play for the final two spots in the elimination rounds in the lucky loser round, also on Friday.