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Strong winds catch out top seeds again in Melbourne

Isaac Kapa and Chris McHugh were unable to stave off the challenge from Soderberg and Van Dorsten at St. Kilda's in Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia, February 11, 2014 - For the third time in two weeks Australia’s top-ranked male beach volleyball team has been found wanting in windy conditions, beaten in straight sets on the St Kilda beach stop of the Renault National Beach Volleyball Tour.

Isaac Kapa and Chris McHugh were beaten by former Dane Bo Soderberg and 212-centimetre Dutchman Michiel Van Dorsten 2-0 (21-13, 21-18). Two weeks ago on the Gold Coast the Europeans ended McHugh and Kapa’s perfect two-year record.

Last week McHugh and Kapa exacted revenge, beating Soderberg and Van Dorsten on Perth’s Scarborough Beach.

Gale-force winds on ‘Super Sunday’ which blew sponsors tents away and pushed the ocean into the VIP tent, did not phase top seeded women Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy.

Stung by a shock loss, their first in two years, on Scarborough Beach one week earlier, Bawden and Clancy made short work of surprise Manly Beach finalists Pip Soulsby and Katie Bartoli, winning in straight sets 2-0 (21-16, 21-13).

Event organisers had toyed with pulling the plug on the event as ferocious winds made it almost impossible for players and completely unbearable for spectators.

But battle-weary athletes refused to concede, and as the conditions improved – marginally – the crowds returned.

As far as grudge matches go, the locking of horns of two former Olympic partners on a St Kilda beach volleyball court on Saturday did not disappoint.

Back in London in 2012, Louise Bawden and Becchara Palmer proudly wore the Australian colours together as they took on the world.

It did not really go to plan, and a disillusioned Palmer walked away from the game, leaving her Victorian partner to find someone else to share the sand with. But Palmer has since had a change of heart, and is back for the Australian summer vowing to unseat her former partner as Australia’s number one player and to earn a ticket to Rio in 2016.

All summer the beach volleyball community has been waiting for the match-up, and at the ungodly hour of 7am on Saturday it finally happened.

Such a match deserved a much bigger stage, but cautious organisers with one eye on a brutal weather forecast wisely decided on an early start.

Few of the early morning beachgoers who stopped to watch could have understood the enormity of the match unfolding before them. It certainly was not lost on the players, or the coaching staff – one who received a reprimand for badgering the chair umpire.

Of course, there were two other players on the court; Bawden now plays with Queenslander Taliqua Clancy, and the two spent last year plying their trade on the international stage.

And Palmer now calls former Youth Olympic silver medalist Zina Stone her partner, the Adelaide natives almost living in each other’s pockets. There are plenty of similarities in their new partners. Both are feisty, focused and already showing they will not back away from a fight.

But it was really the Bawden/Palmer show. When the latter and her partner stormed to a 21-11 first set win, the talk and the walk came together.

The intensity grew in the second set. Suddenly umpire calls that were met with a shrug of the shoulders in the opening set were being openly challenged, and in that environment it was the worldy-wise heads of Bawden and Clancy that remained cool, holding on to win 21-19 and forcing a third set.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the damage was done. Bawden and Clancy raced out to a 5-0 lead, a gap that is almost impossible to run down in a shortened third set, eventually winning 15-7.

They will meet again, probably on numerous occasions, between now and Rio but it did not happen in the St Kilda finals.

As of the weekend, Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy are Australia’s premiere women’s beach volleyball team.

The final round of the Renault National Beach Volleyball tour will be played in Cronulla from February 28.


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