Talita and Taiana good enough to become world champions - Pottharst
"It's exciting to see the beginning of another four years in the lead up to Rio 2016. There are so many new combinations of players, as well as a return of some successful, experience combinations. And, with the announcement that Kerri Walsh will be returning by the end of the season, after having her third baby (incredible!!) it should shake things up a bit.
"Seeing the results of the events played so far makes me think that the door is wide open for any team to step up and regularly see themselves in the top 10 or even the top four. This is definitely the time to do it, as so many teams are finding their rhythm in their new partnerships. The competition seems to be quite equal in both women's and men's.
"One of the big surprises this year has been the Aussie men’s team Kapa and McHugh. After dominating the Renault National Beach Volleyball tour in Australia this past summer, I think they have not only surprised me, but surprised a lot of other men's teams on the World Tour. They are now finally getting some excellent match experience against the top teams in the world. This is something that Australians have always struggled with as our depth of competition at home is not as strong as the US or Brazil. With this experience I expect to see them hit a top four finish by the end of this year.
"However favourites for Stare Jablonki have to be the Americans and Brazilians. I would have had my eye on Kessy and Ross to start finding their form again, but now with Kessy's injury that's all on stand by. It will be interesting to see how Ross plays with Pavlik in the World Champs. I would expect them to be fighting for a position in the top four and if they get there, then a medal is likely. It will all come down to how Pavlik handles the pressure of a World Champs with such an experienced partner. Ross's job will be more difficult as she will have to try to support her partner and keep her focused, while concentrating on her own game at the same time.
"Talita and Taiana seem to have drawn a winning combination, for the Brazilians. Talita is so focused and calm and Taiana seems to have easy adapted to her new partner and adds a bit of spice to her team! These two have a lot of room to grow. It's also great to see another mum, Carol Salgado, back on tour after having her first baby. These two will also continue to improve as now they have new priorities and play with a different energy.
"And finally, the Chinese pairing Zhang/Xue are back after a couple of events off. This season will be one of regrouping for this pair as they struggle to forget their disappointment at the London Games. I believe that as long as they stay together and look ahead, then they will most definitely be taking home more medals as the season progresses.
"On the men's side, quite obviously its Dalhausser and Rosenthal. What an incredibly talented new combination. Both arguably the best in their respective roles. If these two have strong leadership, healthy bodies and stay focused over the next 3 years, they will no doubt be unchallenged for gold in Rio.
My picks for the World Champs: