Preview 2014 - World Tour ready to take centre stage in beach volleyball season
With less than a month since the end of the 2013 season, eyes are already focused on an action-packed 2014 which sees the World Tour feature 10 mixed-gender Grand Slam tournaments across four confederations with the exciting changes from 2013 seeing the return of Stavanger, Norway in place of Corrientes, Argentina and Fortaleza in May replacing Sao Paolo (which was staged in October) as the Brazilian stop. The Rome Grand Slam does not feature in 2014 since it is the venue for the European Championships while Xiamen returns to an Open event with the 2013 World Championships venue Stare Jablonki returning to the Grand Slam calendar. With nine Grand Slams confirmed to date, one more will be added later this month.
The Grand Slams will culminate with an inaugural FIVB Grand Slam final in October. There are also six mixed-gender Open tournaments, three women-only Opens and two men-only Opens.
Throw in a record $10.2m in prize money, and 2014 is set to be a record-breaking year for beach volleyball, on the back of 10 Grand Slams and four Open tournaments which featured along with the World Championships in 2013 and carried total prize money of $6.4m. The previous record prize money for a season was $7.5m in 2011.
For the first time in FIVB history, two of the Grand Slams (which ones are still to be confirmed) will have a prize pot of $1m, while the other eight will feature a total purse of $800,000 – nearly double the prize money of $440,000 on offer for Grand Slams in 2013.
With all these exciting changes, the race for the World Tour honours will be better and more impressive than ever.
In 2013, the women’s Season Ranking (includes points from World Championships, Grand Slams, Opens, Continental and National Tournaments) title was decided in November when the year-long leaders Talita Antunes and Taiana Lima claimed the title. The Brazilians will need to be at their best to defend their title in 2014.
April Ross and Kerri Walsh will be a full-time partnership from the start having signaled their intentions for the coming season by winning gold medals at the Sao Paolo and Xiamen Grand Slams in 2013; only their second and third tournaments together after Walsh had returned to the sport after giving birth to her third child following the London 2012 Olympic Games.
New teams and old rivalries
Talita and Lima’s fellow Brazilians Maria-Clara and Carolina Salgado will be out to improve on their second place finish in the rankings, while Germany provide the biggest challenge from Europe; both Ilka Semmler and Katrin Holtwick and Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst enjoyed podium finishes in 2013, though neither side were able to claim a gold medal.
The men’s title however went to the wire at the Durban Open in South Africa, the final tournament of the year and there is nothing to suggest it won’t again in 2014.
Latvia’s Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs went into the tournament with a narrow lead over Brazil’s Pedro Salgado and Bruno Schmidt and by reaching the quarterfinals were able to claim the title. Just for good measure they went on to claim the gold medal, while Pedro and Bruno won bronze.
The Latvians will be favourites to win again, though the USA’s leading duos Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal and Jacob Gibb and Casey Patterson will be seeking to build on the success they enjoyed in 2013, while Dutch duo Robert Meeuwsen and Alexander Brouwer will be out to build on their 2013 World Championships gold medal.
The Fuzhou Open in China will once again mark the opening of the 2014 season with a tournament that runs from April 22-27 before the first Grand Slam of the season takes place in Shanghai from April 29-May 4.
Stare Jablonki is due to host the final Grand Slam of the year from August 19-24, while the Grand Slam final is scheduled for October 15-19. Durban will once again end the season with the final mixed-gender Open from December 10-14.