Beach Pro Tour - News

Joana Heidrich

Beach volleyball fans surely remember that grave moment during the women’s bronze medal match at the Beach Volleyball World Championship Rome 2022, when Switzerland’s Joana Heidrich & Anouk Verge-Depre had won the first set convincingly, thanks to some great serving from Heidrich, and had a 10-7 lead in the second. Joana received a painful shoulder injury as she was serving, and that cost the team not only the spot on the World Championship podium, but also over a 10-month absence from the competition courts.

The good news is, Heidrich is finally fine and she and Verge-Depre are about to return to action on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour next week, at the Uberlandia Elite16 in Brazil.

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“The excitement to compete again is huge!” Heidrich told Volleyball World. “The whole period since my injury in Rome was not easy and I had to fight with many things to reach this point. That's also why it didn't feel like 10 months. I am overjoyed to be back doing what I love the most.

“I would say that I have never been as physically fit as I am now. I have done a lot for it and, of course, I had to, because I had to compensate for my strength deficit in the shoulder. Since my strength in the arm is not as before yet, I had to learn a lot technically and am still doing so. I would say that I am at a good level. I was able to train without major limits at the beginning of March. But I always had to make sure it wasn't too much.”

31-year-old Heidrich is one of the most accomplished female players in Europe. In fact, she and Verge-Depre were only the second European team to earn a women’s Olympic medal, when they claimed bronze at Tokyo 2020 two seasons ago. A year earlier, they triumphed as European champions at EuroBeachVolley 2020 in Latvia.

In the early stages of her career, Joana won the 2011 U21 world title in a team with Nina Betschart (now Brunner). For about four years, she partnered with Nadine Zumkehr, with whom she earned her first FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour trophies and podiums in 2015 and 2016 and qualified for her first Olympics, Rio 2016, where they finished fifth.

Since the following season, 2017, Heidrich & Verge-Depre have been teammates, winning five World Tour medals together, including a 2019 Moscow 4-star gold and four silvers before reaching the podium at the Olympic Games in Japan.

The Swiss pair played at five events during the inaugural season of the Beach Pro Tour and the fourth place at the Ostrava Elite16 last May was their best result on the Tour before Heidrich’s injury interrupted their competitive journey just moments from what was likely to be their first World Championship podium and marked the start of another journey for her, the long road to full recovery…

“I certainly had a very difficult course. I had problems with my nerves. I could not move my hand or use it for a very long time, because my nerves were squeezed,” Heidrich explained. “That's why the whole process with physio and rebuilding was painful and complicated. At the beginning, the doctors could not say how long it would take, so now I’m even happier to be back on the court.”

After their Rome 2022 fourth-place finish, Heidrich & Verge-Depre climbed to number four in the FIVB World Ranking, but have since dropped to number 40. They will be seeded seventh for their return to competitive action at the Uberlandia Elite16 next week, as they resume their quest for their first Beach Pro Tour medal and start collecting those precious points towards Paris 2024 Olympic qualification.

“I don't put any pressure on myself. I feel ready to compete again, so we decided to make our comeback as a team in Uberlandia. I may not be at my top level yet, but I am aware of that and I can deal with it,” Heidrich pointed out. “I never counted the ranking or the points in the previous two Olympic qualifiers, but just focused on myself and our team. Because of that I played with a lot of joy and the results came. And I simply have the best team. Without them, all this would not have been possible.”

The Swiss duo will compete in Pool B of the Uberlandia main draw. Their first match will be against a qualifying team on Thursday, April 27, at 09:00 local time (12:00 UTC). Later that day, they will face Katja Stam & Raisa Schoon of the Netherlands, the current number four in the World Ranking, at 17:00 (20:00), before completing their pool stage campaign with a game against the world’s number three team, Barbara Seixas & Carol Solberg of Brazil, on Friday at 13:00 (16:00).

“Our biggest goal as a team is to get back to the level that we had at the World Championship in Rome before I got injured. And clearly, we are still missing a World Championship medal, so we will give everything to make this wish come true. In general we want to become a top team again,” added Heidrich.

Heidrich & Verge-Depre certainly have a shot at making their wish come true at the Beach Volleyball World Championship Tlaxcala 2023, set to take place from October 6 through 15 in Mexico.

“I just want to encourage all athletes or people to never give up and keep fighting for what they want,” concluded Joana Heidrich. “Even if sometimes it looks hopeless...”