CKU Paris GER-SUI 008

More than anything this weekend, Lezanna Placette wants to “show the French public how the top players play, and it’ll encourage new people to try and to follow our sport more.”

It makes sense. All of it. If only it were easy to identify who the top players were anymore.

Look at the women’s qualifier bracket, and what you’ll find is pure carnage, a litany of upsets en route to the teams seeded 6 (Switzerland’s Zoe Verge-Depre and Esmee Bobner), 7 (Finland’s Niina Ahtiainen and Taru Lahti), 8 (the U.S.A.’s Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman), and 12 (Slovenia’s Tjasa Kotnik and Tajda Lovsin) all qualifying for the main draw of this weekend’s Paris Elite 16. Meanwhile, the top seed fell in the second round, as did the two and the three, while the fourth- and fifth-seeded pairs were knocked out in the first round.

Good luck predicting that.


Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman celebrate progressing to the main draw

It would have almost seemed wrong, had it ended there. And it didn't, as the top seed for the men, Italy’s Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi, were stunned at the hands of Lithuania’s Audrius Knasas and Patrikas Stankevicius, 21-11, 21-17. After five consecutive final-round upsets, however, the run ended, and order prevailed once more. Fourth-seeded Chileans Noe Aravena and Vicente Droguett qualified, as did young Australians Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher and home favorites Arnaud Gauthier-Rat and Youssef Krou.

So, yes, there was some semblance of a proper hierarchy on Wednesday afternoon, but to identify who is the best on the beach is not as simple as plucking the best seed and running with them. At the end of the day, that type of parity, an anyone-can-win-at-anytime event bodes well for the Parisian fanbase, who are expected to pack Roland Garros, one of the most iconic venues in all of sport.

“It’s the biggest event we have had at home so far,” said Placette, who is seeded twelfth in the tournament, next to partner Alexia Richard. “We have here the highest level in the world, so it’s good to show that we can host this kind of event in France.”

The field is, indeed, elite, one befitting an event hosted in such a prestigious arena. In a whimsical twist of fate, it also features a number of civil wars in the first round of pool play. Americans Sarah Sponcil and Terese Cannon will open the tournament against good friends Emily Stockman and Megan Kraft, a team with whom they share the same coach, Scott Davenport, who was recently named the VolleyballMag Coach of the Year for his successes on the AVP. Two hours later, both courts will host a friendly between countries: Aravena and Droguett will see fellow Chileans Marco and Esteban Grimalt, while Norwegian brothers Anders and Hendrik Mol will play one another for just the second time in their career (the first came in a country quota in 2016, in Porec, Croatia).

While Brandie Wilkerson and Sophie Bukovec are not technically competing for the United States, they are certainly no strangers to Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth. It was only a few weeks ago that Wilkerson, then playing with Melissa Humana-Paredes, met Nuss and Kloth in the finals of the AVP Chicago Open, where the young Americans won in three, claiming their fourth win of the season.

If it’s Placette’s vision for France to get treated to the best beach volleyball in the world, that vision has been met. It remains a wonder, however, in the wake of the qualifier chaos, who that best team is.

“We hope that tomorrow, it’ll be our time to make the stadium shake and to create our own history,” said Placette, who opens up pool play against Bobner and Verge-Depre. “We are very proud of our country and federation about the development of beach volleyball. For sure Roland Garros is an amazing spot, but trust us, there are a lot of places where an Elite 16 could take place in France. It is just the beginning.”