Roland Garros

As the Paris Elite16 tournament on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour got underway in the French capital, some of the stars of the sport shared their excitement about competing at the iconic Roland Garros stadium, a venue well known among sports fans across the world as the home to one of tennis’s four Grand Slam events, and about playing in the city they hope to return to in two years vying for Olympic honours.

· Watch the main draw at the Beach Pro Tour Elite16 event in Paris live on Volleyball TV.

Reigning world and Olympic champions Anders Mol and Christian Sorum of Norway admitted that they followed and watched their compatriot Casper Ruud on television as he reached the final of the French Open Grand Slam in tennis earlier this year and hope to at least match his achievement as they compete at the Paris Elite16 this week.

“First, we hope to reach the final. That would be amazing, to play it in this stadium... And if we win, that would be even more amazing,” said Sorum. “I think it’s going to be a cool tournament in Paris and we are really excited to play beach volleyball here. I think it’s really important to build up the sport in Paris, to have events here, so people can get to know the sport. Before the Olympics, that’s really important. For us, it’s the first time playing in Paris and to be in this arena is a good warm-up for the Olympics.”

The Norwegians started their campaign with an emphatic 2-0 (21-14, 21-11) Pool B victory over fellow Beachvolley Vikings Mathias Berntsen and Hendrik Mol.

“This stadium looks really, really amazing! I’ve never been here before, but I’ve seen Roland Garros on television many times, so it’s fun to be able to play here, in the same arena. It’s an honour!” Mol added. “It’s a little too early to focus on the Olympics. Of course, when next year’s season starts, we have to collect points towards the Olympics and that’s when the Olympic race starts. Right now we are just trying to enjoy this tournament and do our best.”

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Mol & Sorum enjoying their first win at Roland Garros

Canada’s Brandie Wilkerson and Sophie Bukovec, silver medallists of the 2022 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship in Rome, are also stoked to be in Paris.

“It’s incredible! It’s an honour to play in this stadium. This is a beautiful city. Everyone dreams of coming here and, obviously, with the Olympic Games being hosted here, it’s very special. This is a venue that you want to play in all the time, so any chance we have we are taking advantage of it, for sure,” said Brandie before her team engaged in a three-set battle with USA’s Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss in the women’s Pool C, eventually losing in the tie-breaker, 2-1 (21-17, 13-21, 15-13).

“This is my first time in Paris. I’m really excited to be in a city, full of such culture. And to be in such a famous sporting arena is so incredible, so we are just excited to get going,” said Bukovec. “We are here to kind of scope out the city, to get a better understanding of what the Games could potentially look like, so we are trying to get as much information about the venue and about the tournament as possible, so that way you are that much more prepared for the Olympic Games.”

Of course, there is more to what the Canadian pair are trying to take away from their trip to the French capital.

“To go home with the gold - that’s always the game plan,” Bukovec added. “That’s always what we are looking to do.”

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Sophie Bukovec attacks

The tournament is extra special for the French pair of indoor volleyball stars Julien Lyneel and Remi Bassereau, who recently converted to the beach hoping to be one of the duos representing the host nation at Paris 2024. Not only will they compete at the magnificent Roland Garros, cheered on by the home crowd, but it will be their very debut on the Beach Pro Tour as they face the world’s number two team, Poland’s Michal Bryl and Bartosz Losiak, on centre court on Thursday evening.

“I will be able to tell my grandchildren - if I have any - that I played at Roland Garros,” said former French national volleyball team member Lyneel. “We’ll always be the first to play on sand here, so it’s incredible to be able to compete in this majestic place. We are very lucky and should make the most of it. And we’ll do our best. There hasn’t been an event in Paris for years, so to organise an event of the highest level in the host city of the Olympics in two years is a great way to put the sport in the spotlight. It will help French beach volleyball. The perfect weekend would see us creating a surprise. That’s how we need to take it - try and play good matches, find our rhythm, give the public something to cheer about, and end the event with lots of learnings.”

“It’s good to get the French and the Parisian public used to seeing this kind of event. It’s a good reminder that it’s an Olympic sport and a professional sport,” Bassereau added. “It’s the first event for us. We are not ranked, have no points and will play some of the best teams in the world. So obviously, it will be difficult. We dream of progressing beyond the pools, but it will be complicated.”