Orange girls rule on white sand of Poetto beach
This is the second European title for van Iersel, who two years ago had topped the podium in The Hague with former partner Sanne Keizer. The Swiss pair, the major sensation of this year’s European Championship, could nevertheless be happy with their silver medal, the best result for their country since Simone Kuhn and Nicole Schnyder-Benoit had won gold ten years ago at Timmendorfer Strand. Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst completed the podium with a straight-set victory (21-12, 21-18) over their compatriots Victoria Bieneck and Julia Grossner. Tanja Goricanec received the “smart player of the tournament award” presented by CEV car partner smart to the player that did impress the most throughout the tournament with her behaviour, kindness, and fair play.
The stands of the centre court set up on Poetto beach were packed on Saturday night as an air show preceded the start of the final matches of this year’s European Championship. The “Orange girls” Madelein Meppelink and Marleen van Iersel looked very determined right from the start of the match, claiming an early 6-2 lead. Goricanec and Hüberli were able to come back strong drawing the score at seven-all and then again at 10, but the Swiss girls seemed to lack energy and fuel at the end of a very demanding tournament. The balance was kept up to 14-all, but down the final stretch the “Oranjes” showed their quality and class to make it 21-17. Supported by a small Dutch crowd, Meppelink and van Iersel briefly trailed in the score at the beginning of the second set (3-1) but quickly flipped the charts around, with excellent serving and an overall strong performance. They widened their lead up to 14-8 and never looked back all the way down to a 21-16 that got the party started on Poetto beach.
Though this is only their first season together – van Iersel previously played with Keizer and Meppelink starred with Sophie van Gestel – the Dutch women could immediately celebrate their first major success, which also accounts for the seventh medal won by the Netherlands since the European Championship was established in 1994.
“I am of course very happy with this gold medal and I would like to thank the staff that has been working with us so intensively here in Cagliari,” van Iersel said, thereby recalling that last week she had withdrawn from the bronze medal match of the Baden Masters after suffering an injury.
Germany’s hierarchy was restored on Saturday afternoon as Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst edged their countrywomen Victoria Bieneck and Julia Grossner in straight sets. It does not compensate for the major disappointment the first-seeded pair of the tournament had suffered earlier on Saturday in the semifinal with Goricanec/Hüberli, but Ludwig could be very proud of her seventh European medal. She had stood on the podium for the first time in 2007 winning silver with former partner Sara Goller in Valencia, before adding to her resume two gold medals in 2008 and 2010, as well as silver in 2009 and bronze in 2011 and 2013. There is no other player who has claimed a set of seven medals since the European Championship was established back in 1994. Ludwig and Walkenhorst claimed their second consecutive bronze medal after settling for third place also last year in Klagenfurt.
Ludwig and Walkenhorst easily controlled the game in the opening set (21-12) and in the second clawed back after trailing early on to seal the final 21-18 with an attack by Walkenhorst. “This morning we really did not find our way into the match and on top of this the Swiss team played really well,” Ludwig said. “We were disappointed because we wanted to repeat the good performance we had showed yesterday in our 1/4 final with Karla Borger and Britta Büthe, but we weren’t quite able to do so. It wasn’t easy to regroup after such a terrible match, but we have already had our highs and lows many other times, so we are quite used to that. We still wanted to make the podium, especially because this is a European Championship and we wanted to get a medal also to reward the staff that has been with us these days and that has been taking very good care of us.”