BPT Challenge Itapema - POLvsCHI_3586

Marco and Esteban have won four consecutive matches in Itapema

The Grimalt cousins Marco and Esteban have had a difficult year, but things have started to look better for the Chilean Olympians at the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour Challenge event in Itapema.

The only players to ever represent their country at the Olympics, the 32-year-old Marco and the 31-year-old Esteban had results well below their usual standards over the last 12 months, but a great start at the Meia Praia Beach has put the cousins in a good position to end their difficult run on the international beach volleyball circuit.

· Watch all the matches of the Itapema Challenge live or on demand on Volleyball TV.

Partners in international competitions since 2011, the Grimalts have won five medals (three golds and two silvers) together, but more than that, they have been part of the sport’s elite over most of the last decade. During the last 12 months, though, their form had dropped and they finished in the top ten just once in nine international events – the Tokyo Olympics, where they were ninth.

Their struggles were evident in the first two events of the Beach Pro Tour in Mexico, the Tlaxcala Challenge and the Rosarito Elite16, where they were not able to advance from the qualifier, but things started to change in Itapema. After making it through Thursday’s qualifier, the Chileans continued to improve their level of play in the main draw, where they defeated Italians Daniele Lupo and Alex Ranghieri 2-0 (22-20, 21-17) and Dutch pair Christiaan Varenhorst and Steven van de Velde also in two sets (21-18, 21-19) to top Pool F.

“We had to work really hard to take those two matches,” Esteban, who was 19th with Marco at the Rio 2016 Games, analysed. “We had some tough moments, but managed to handle them and kept pushing. We took a long break after the Tokyo Olympics and it took a while for us to get back in rhythm and that showed in Mexico. We’re feeling a lot better now and looking forward to getting a good result here. It will only get harder from now on and we’ll need our absolute best to keep advancing.”

Grimalt M./Grimalt E. vs. Varenhorst/van de Velde - Match Highlights

The two victories have not just guaranteed the Grimalts at least a ninth-place finish, which would be their best result in several months, but also reinstated some of their confidence after a difficult period. If they want to take another step forward in Itapema, the South Americans will need to now down another Dutch team, composed of Leon Luini and Ruben Penninga. The two duos will meet in the Round of 16 at 12.00 local time on Saturday.

“We knew that when we got our playing rhythm back our confidence would return as well,” Marco added. “I had knee surgery after Tokyo and was sidelined for five months, so it was natural that we’d have the difficulties we had in Mexico. It’s important that we keep playing and hopefully we have a few more matches here.”

The Chileans could benefit from a good result in Itapema. Besides moving up from their current 30th place in the FIVB World Rankings, they could also collect valuable entry points to improve their seeding in future events.

Saturday’s schedule in Itapema will feature the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals, with only the top four teams advancing to Sunday, when the semifinals and the medal matches will be played in Brazil.

The Grimalts weren’t the only team to have a perfect day at the Meia Praia Beach, though, as five other teams went undefeated to top their pools. Hosts Brazil had two of those teams in Andre Loyola/George Wanderley and Evandro Goncalves/Alvaro Filho, with USA’s Theo Brunner/Chaim Schalk, Austria’s Martin Ermacora/Moritz Pristausz and Poland’s Michal Bryl/Bartosz Losiak completing the list.

Evandro and Alvaro had arguably the most dramatic day of the six, coming from behind twice to win their Pool C matches against Germany’s Clemens Wickler/Nils Ehlers (18-21, 21-18, 15-13) and France’s Arnaud Gauthier-Rat/Youssef Krou (19-21, 22-20, 15-11). Estonians Kusti Nolvak and Maart Tiisaar will be their Round of 16 opponents at 11.00 local time.

“It wasn’t an easy day, but we stuck together and were really patient with each other,” Evandro said. “We were under a lot of pressure with our side-out, but when my blocking didn’t work, Alvaro’s defence did and we just found ways to score. It was a long day for us and we’ll try and rest and recover for tomorrow.”

Krou/Gauthier-Rat vs. Evandro/Álvaro Filho - Match Highlights

The Challenge events represent one of the three levels of the Beach Pro Tour. They are ranked between the Elite16, which feature the highest level of the sport, and the Futures, which offer young, up-and-coming players access to international beach volleyball, and feed into the elite of the sport.