There was a buzz in Doha last week as the Beach Pro Tour visited the capital of Qatar. The Al Gharafa Beach Courts set the stage for the third Challenge event in the inaugural season of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour and featured their fair share of hard-fought battles and standout performances.
Doha Challenge: Five teams make their mark
Published 03:05, 09 May 2022
Between Thursday and Sunday, 117 matches featuring 82 of the best beach volleyball teams on the planet took place in Doha, culminating in victories for Brazilians Barbara Seixas and Carol Salgado and Poles Michal Bryl and Bartosz Losiak.
The experienced Brazilians are the first team on the list after they came out on top of a highly competitive women’s tournament that featured the current FIVB World Ranking leaders, two of the three teams who were on the the podium at last year’s Tokyo Olympics and the reigning European champions.
34-year-old Barbara (a Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist) and Carol had shown they can win on the Beach Pro Tour in the first tournament of the season, in Tlaxcala, and now they have shown they can do so consistently. The Brazilians were almost flawless over the entire tournament and saved their best game for last, finishing the week with a comfortable two-set (21-13, 21-13) win against Germans Chantal Laboureur and Sarah Schulz in the gold medal match.
If there’s one team that can brag about being even more dominant than the Brazilians in Doha, that’s certainly the Poles, who kept their record clean during the entire tournament, winning their six matches in a total of 12 sets. The icing on the cake was their straight-set (21-18, 21-15) victory against Italians Paolo Nicolai and Samuele Cottafava in the final, which left no doubts as to which team was the best of the tournament.
When the Poles announced they were joining forces, everyone knew that Bryl and Losiak could become a formidable duo, but as they had been part of long and successful partnerships, some imagined it would take a while for them to click as a team. Their victory in their first tournament together, the Tlaxcala Challenge, indicated things could be happening faster than expected. And after their title in Doha, it’s not too early to say they’re already among the best teams in the world.
Gold medal match highlights: Bryl/Losiak vs. Nicolai/Cottafava
Their defeat to Barbara and Carol in the final did not spoil Laboureur and Schulz’s brilliant campaign in Doha. The two navigated an extremely complicated bracket in the elimination round, knocking out two other German teams and the reigning European champions Nina Brunner and Tanja Huberli. Only the top team in the competition managed to stop them in the end.
The union between the experienced and talented Laboureur and the young and tall Schulz was welcomed with a lot of anticipation, but the two hadn’t yet been able to play consistently for a whole tournament as they did in Doha. If the event is indeed a turning point for them, they could be up for more later in the season.
The Italians have some points in common with Laboureur and Schulz. Their recent union brought together an accomplished veteran and a young, up-and-coming talent. There was some expected inconsistency in their first tournaments together, with finishes ranging from fifth to 13th, but the Italians were able to put everything together in Doha with solid wins against strong teams.
A Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist, the 33-year Nicolai was brave to select the 23-year-old Cottafava as his new partner, a player with undeniable talent but very few ranking points. His decision to embrace the challenge of climbing the rankings, however, is starting to pay off. The two are excellent servers and setters and played a very dynamic style of beach volleyball this week in Doha.
A team that finished ninth might look out of place in this list, but remember that Erika Kliokmanaite and Monika Paulikiene made it to that rank after being seeded 23rd in a 23-team qualifier. It was also the first international event in the 37-year-old Kliokmanaite’s career.
The Lithuanians won three matches against higher-seeded and more established teams. They only lost to world ranking leaders Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon of the Netherlands, from whom they stole a set, and to eventual champions Barbara and Carol. It was their first tournament as partners, but what they showed in Doha was promising and should help them move up the rankings very soon.