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Rio anxiety for Nestarcova & Dubovcova

Dominika Nestarcova (right) and Natalia Dubovcova of the Slovak Republic celebrate a point during a qualifying match Tuesday at the Rio Grand Slam on Copacabana.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 8, 2016 - While Dominika Nestarcova and Natalia Dubovcova are learning the allure of Rio de Janeiro for the first time, they also arrived for the $800,000 Rio Grand Slam with a little bit of anxiety.

The Slovak Republic duo had to endure something they haven’t seen in nearly three years - a qualification bracket start to a tournament just to get into the main draw. They would have to win twice or the whole trip from Europe would be over in a heartbeat.

Quick links
•    Rio Grand Slam website
•    Country quota results - Men
•    Country quota results - Women
•    Qualification - Men
•    Qualification - Women

Perhaps showing they’re back on the track to qualifying to the Rio 2016 Olympics, they pushed aside their fears Tuesday and dominated their two matches and to reach the 32-team main draw.

“It was a little bit stressful but I feel really good that we did it,” Nestarcova said after two matches in the midday heat on Copacabana Beach. “Everybody expected us to be there (in the main draw) but there is no easy match. We feel like we’re in hell because it’s such hot weather, and if you lose a match, you go home.”

Nope. They have a few more days, at least, of eating breakfast, slurping down their newfound delicacy of coconut juice after breakfast, and opening their 2016 season with a measure of confidence that seemed to have abandoned them in 2015.

In 2014, Nestarcova and Dubovcova appeared to be a team on the rise. Twice they reached the podium with third-place finishes in Grand Slam events in Stavanger, Norway and Long Beach, Calif. For the year, they piled up 1,500 rankings points and split $124,000 over nine tournaments.

And when they opened the 2015 FIVB World Tour with a ninth-place finish in Prague and a fifth in the Moscow Grand Slam, they figure they were on their way.

Then they discovered that success opens some other eyes, too, particularly when every team on the World Tour knows the year before the Olympics is crucial in the qualification process.

“You can see it is Olympic qualification and every team played so good, so it was extra motivation for everybody and there is no easy match,” Dubovcova said. “Whether it was qualification or main draw, every match is really tough.”


The struggles set in. They didn’t finish higher than ninth the rest of the year. Three times they failed to advance past pool play.

“It wasn’t really easy to realize in the most important season we didn’t play really well, but we are here and we go for it and we will do everything we can do,” Nestarcova said. “It was a disappointment for us.”

They started their journey with the inherent disadvantage of being the only team from their country to be good enough to give the Olympics a run. But the weight of disappointing finishes took their toll.

When they first started their partnership, they didn’t even know each other. First, they had to learn to live with each other, let alone decide which angles the 6-foot-2 Dubovcova should block or the 5-10 Nestarcova to defend.

At the end of the season, they knew they had to clear their minds.

“It’s really difficult to spend all the time together,” Dubovcova said, “so after the season we had a break from each other so we didn’t see each other.”

They met up again in January to train with several other European teams in Tenerife. The lessons they had learned through 54 World Tour events started to sink in.

“Sometimes it’s really difficult. We started seven or eight years ago and we traveled alone and everywhere we went alone,” Nestarcova said. “All the big teams had physios and coaches. The big teams like Netherlands has three women’s teams and three men’s teams so they were together everywhere and we are just two. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to play with Natalia, because I really want to, but it was really tough for my mind.”

“We were not friends before so the relationship is not so close, like we’re not best friends,” Dubovcova said. “But we’re like, ‘We can live together through tournaments.’ We know what is our goal, so we forget about all the stupid small things.”

So they’re off and running in their first trip to Rio. And they like a lot more than just the coconut juice.

“It’s our first time in Copacabana and hopefully not our last,” Dubovcova said. “This place is like a magic place, so we hope to come back in August.”


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