Ludwig to vie for seventh European medal, van Iersel wants second crown
Ludwig and her partner Kira Walkenhorst showed a very solid performance to rout their compatriots Karla Borger and Britta Büthe 2-0 (21-19, 21-16) and get the right to play Swiss' sensations Tanja Goricanec/Tanja Hüberli in the semifinal on Saturday.
Marleen van Iersel, on the other hand, and Madelein Meppelink upset the home fans by seeing off Italian top team Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth after three close sets (21-19, 21-23, 15-10).
Ludwig is a two-time European champion with former partner Sara Goller in 2008 and 2010, and on Saturday may claim her seventh European Championship medal. As for van Iersel, after winning gold at home in The Hague two years ago with Sanne Keizer, she has now her sight set on another accolade to be added to her resume.
The women’s quarterfinals got started with a surprise as German pair Victoria Bieneck and Julia Grossner confirmed their status as a rising power on the European beach volleyball scene with a straight sets (24-22, 21-18) victory over last year’s silver medallists Liliana Fernandez Steiner and Elsa Baquerizo of Spain. The Spaniards wanted to complete their collection of medals from the European Championship after winning bronze two years ago in The Hague and silver in Klagenfurt last August, but their opponents confirmed they are in fine form after winning last week’s Anapa Open in Russia.
Bieneck and Grossner set the pace all the way through the opening set before the Spaniards levelled the score at 13-all. Both teams were able to complete their side-outs but in the end the Germans showed nerves of steel to seal the final 24-22. The story repeated itself also in the second set where Bieneck and Grossner opened with a 7-3 run but once more Liliana and Elsa got back on track to draw level at 16. This, however, was the very last time they could stand a chance to call for a tie-break as their opponents pulled out another series of three consecutive points at 19-16) and then held on to it to pocket their ticket to the semis 21-18.
“It was very windy today but we were able to cope with these difficult conditions,” Victoria Bieneck said. “We served really well and our performance was strong. We always play very good with them, we did so also last year in Argentina. We are pretty close friends off the court but this does not count anymore once you square off on the court. We now hope to keep on winning and are very motivated for the semis.”
The surprises continued to flock on Poetto beach as Swiss duo Tanja Goricanec and Tanja Hüberli upset another one of Europe’s top teams, Marketa Slukova and Kristyna Kolocova of the Czech Republic. The match started very well for the Czechs who imposed their rhythm in the first set 21-18 and continued to dictate the tempo of the game also in the second 6-4. The course of the game changed quite dramatically as the Swiss scored five consecutive points to flip the charts around and move up 9-6; their Czech opponents felt the pressure and looked nervous, started making mistakes in almost every aspect of the game and trailed by as many as four points before the Swiss cashed the second set with ease 21-16.
Goricanec and Hüberli were off to a very strong start also in the tie-break 5-1 and even though Slukova and Kolocova were able to storm back and cut their gap to only one point, the Swiss duo looked strong and broke away once more to cash an unexpected spot in the semis of the European Championship. On Saturday they will try to at least emulate their countrywomen Simone Kuhn and Nadine Zumkehr, the last Swiss duo to medal at the European Championship when they won bronze in Sochi in 2009.
“We did not really expect to be in the semis,” Goricanec said. “I am particularly happy with the fact that earlier this morning, in our previous match with the Russian team, we kept calm also after losing the first set. We did the same this afternoon with the Czechs, kept focused and seized the chance once our opponents got nervous and started making mistakes. I am delighted with the opportunity of playing in the semis and now we hope to continue the same way. We will play rally after rally, match after match, being ready to seize our chance again and again.”
The home heroines Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth could not make the semis though spearheaded by the noisy and passionate Italian crowd that got together on Friday night at Poetto beach, only some miles away from downtown Cagliari. The breeze had calmed down for the last couple of quarterfinal matches scheduled for Friday but Menegatti and Orsi Toth caught a slow start in their match with Madelein Meppelink and 2012 European champion Marleen van Iersel.
After losing the first set 21-19, Menegatti and Orsi Toth got back on track in the second where they claimed an early 6-4 lead and held on to it until the score was levelled at 16-all. The home girls missed out on a couple of set balls but they did not lose composure cashing the opportunity to play a tie-break 23-21. Though the fans expected their heroines would continue to play the same way, the “Azzurre” were able to stay in the race only up to 3-all, after that, the “Oranjes” exploited some excellent serving by Marleen van Iersel to record a 7-1 run to make it 10-4 advantage.
The game was almost gone but the Italians did not want to disappoint their fans and put on a strenuous fight to narrow their deficit down to three points 13-10. That was nevertheless all they could achieve with their late comeback since the “orange girls” scored the next couple of rallies to seal the 15-10 victory that propels them into the semifinal scheduled for Saturday morning versus Germany’s Victoria Bieneck and Julia Grossner.
“We are a little bit disappointed because we thought that we could win this match and that a spot in the semis was really within our reach,” Menegatti and Orsi Toth commented.
“This is really important for us after all our hard work, but we are not finished yet," Dutch player van Iersel said. "A fourth place is not good enough for us, we want to continue the same way. We felt some pressure, and that happened especially at the end of the second set where we missed out on a chance to finish it off. However, we regrouped for the tie-break, we spoke to each other and we agreed that we would win this one, which is what we eventually did.”
The last match of the day was an all-German affair where Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst wanted to re-assert their home leadership. Last year’s bronze medallists looked very focused and determined right from the start of their quarterfinal match with Karla Borger and Britta Büthe and eventually claimed the first set by 21-19.
They continued to perform strong also in the second going up by 3-0 and stretched their lead to 11-5 on good serving by Ludwig. Ludwig and Walkenhorst only had a very short setback halfway through the second set where they asked for a timeout by the time their lead had gone down to only three points at 16:13. Once the action resumed, they accelerated their tempo and finished it off at 21-16 with an ace by Ludwig.