Flying Dutchmen top the pool with three wins at Berlin Grand Slam
After two straight wins against Schalk/Saxton from Canada and USA’s Rosenthal/Dalhauser on the first day of main draw, the 18th seeded Dutch team needed a third set to defeat Czech team Premysl Kubala and Jan Hadrava: 21-13, 17-21, 15-6.
The first set was easy for tall Stiekema (2.00m) and Varenhorst (2.12m), attacking over the Czech block and serving strong. But Kubala and Hadrava came back in the second, moving the Dutch around a lot and misleading them in attacking.
In the tiebreak the Dutch regrouped and played a solid block-defence to create a big gap. At 14-5 they had their first match point, which was warded off by Hadrava, but at the next match point the Czech player spiked in the net.
“We didn’t think it was going to be a tough match”, said Stiekema. “But in the end it was. In the second set we weren’t able to get any points from them, while in the first we dominated and this was what it was like in our first two games. And now all of a sudden, we did not get any points. This guy (Hadrava) hit so fast! But in the end we won the tiebreak easily, so a few adjustments worked miracles.”
Stiekema and Varenhorst won their first World Tour medal this year in Fuzhou, where they finished third. They are happy with their form at the moment. “We’re doing really well. Yesterday we played really good, we started of well today, had a dip, but a clear win in the end again. So, it’s really going well.”
What makes the difference here in Berlin, is their block-defence, said Stiekema. “At the moment everything goes well actually, we score easily, blocking and in defence. That really makes the difference, even against the top teams, like yesterday against Rosenthal and Dalhauser. That’s our strong point at the moment.”
Their length is a big bonus too, since they are both able to hit over the block. “That always helps, but that’s beach volleyball. There are also some short teams that use their length to their advantage in defence, as we try to use our length to our advantage.”
After their bronze medal in Fuzhou, the Dutch finished 17th in Shanghai, 5th at the European Championship and 9th in Moscow. “We aimed for 9th here”, said Stiekema, “that’s always our general goal. Today we will evaluate and I would really like to be on the podium again. But this is such a strong field, from 9th place on there are only really, really good teams.”
Asked about the other teams that might end up on the podium, Stiekema said: “The team that impressed me the most out here, was Hyden/Bourne. I don’t know what they were doing, but they scored almost every point. They won against every team. Most of the top teams are failing. Erdmann/Matysik yesterday, Rogers/Dalhauser lost, Pedro/Emanuel, Semenov. But Nicolai/Lupo always win, they are a strong team too.”
Italy comes back from behind
European champions Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo were pushed hard in their final pool match against Moscow’s silver medallists Grzegorz Fijalek and Mariusz Prudel.
The Italians, who also won the Fuzhou Open and Shanghai Grand Slam this year, lost the first set, came back in the second, but were trailing in the tiebreak again.
Poland even had a match point at 14-13, but the Italians managed to level and at the next point had a match point of their own. It was Nicolai who scored the winner with a one-handed block: 18-21, 21-16, 16-14.
“Very tough”, said Nicolai. “They played very well. They used the wind better than us in the first part of the game. Then we served better and played a good side-out. We were behind in the tiebreak, but we were on the good side of the wind at the right moment, so we won the game.”
Nicolai and Lupo defeated Germany’s Walkenhorst/Windscheif 2-1 and Austria’s Winter/Petutschnig 2-0 on Thursday. “We are happy with these results”, Nicolai said, “because it was a very tough pool. Those Germans were good, and against Austria, if you don’t play top level, you can lose. And now another tournament begins.”
About their medal chances Nicolai said: “We are in a good moment, because we have been playing well in the other tournaments. In Moscow we finished fourth and we were a little bit down after this, but now we will try to win this tournament.”
There were only three teams that won the pool with straight wins: USA's birthday boy Tri Bourne and John Hyden, Latvia's Samoilovs/Smedins and Brazilian qualifiers Bruno/Alison.
Top seeded Germans Jonathan Erdmann and Kay Matysik finished 4th in their pool and are out of the tournament.