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Australia’s Laird expects return to form in Moscow Grand Slam

FIVB Beach Volleyball U23 world champion Nikki Laird returns to form and is ready to team up again with Mariafe Artacho del Solar at the Moscow Grand Slam
Canberra, Australia, May 25, 2015 – FIVB Beach Volleyball U23 world champion Nikki Laird will make a return to the courts of the FIVB Beach Volleyball Moscow Grand Slam after being sidelined by an ankle injury early this year.

The past few months have been pretty tough to take for the 22-year-old Manly Beach native after a wave of sporting success in 2014. While she sat on the sidelines, her U23 World Championship partner Mariafe Artacho del Solar teamed up with London 2012 Olympian Becchara Palmer and won a domestic title in Perth and medals in Asia.

This week, Laird and del Solar are back together for the first time since January, and ready to tackle the first beach volleyball Grand Slam of the year in Moscow.

“I’ve been prepping for a long time now, so I’m physically and mentally ready to go,” Laird said from Moscow. “It was hard because I always wanted to be playing. But I knew what I needed to do to get back out there playing with Mariafe so it was just a matter of patience. It was good to be able to watch her train hard and improve heaps.”

Most of the teams Laird and del Solar will come up against this week have already had a handful of minor tournaments to prepare for Moscow. But Laird does not think that she and del Solar will be at a disadvantage.

“I don’t think we’ve lost much ground,” Laird said. “We’ve both been doing what we need to over the last few months to get ourselves individually to where we need to be. Now we’ve been able to meet at a point and start tracking forwards as a team again. It’s been good for us.”

Joining U23 world champions Laird/del Solar in Moscow will be Australia’s No. 1 men’s and women’s teams.

Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy had an outstanding start to the international season, finishing fifth at the Fuzhou Open in China, and claiming several big scalps along the way.

Chris McHugh and Isaac Kapa had a different story as their first tournament back together after Kapa’s summer shoulder surgery ended with just one win.

Like Laird and del Solar, Kapa and McHugh will need to win their way through qualifying in Moscow, while Bawden and Clancy go straight into the main draw as the 19th seeds.

The Moscow Grand Slam is the first of five double-gender grand slams that begins on May 26 and runs through until May 31.

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