08_BPT Rosarito - Women Main Draw SUIvsUSA

Olympic medallist Joana Heidrich and partner Anouk Verge-Depre will try to give Switzerland its first victory on the Beach Pro Tour

An important week in the inaugural season of the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour is just behind us after teams from hosts Brazil and USA claimed gold in Itapema, the venue for the second Challenge-level tournament of the new international beach volleyball circuit.

A lot happened over four days of competition in the South American country, from Brazilians Andre and George winning back-to-back titles in Itapema and Americans Sara Hughes and Kelley Kolinske lifting their first trophy as partners, to Dutch pair Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam completing their spectacular journey to the top of the FIVB World Rankings.

And everything that happened in Itapema will have effects on the weeks ahead and on the next Challenge event scheduled to take place in Doha, Qatar, from May 5-8. Here are some of the questions that have been raised as the top international teams in the world prepare for their next outings.

Will Schoon and Stam remain at the top?

It may have come as a surprise that the young Dutch pair found their way to the top of the World Rankings so quickly, but with one gold and two silver medals in three events in 2022, it’s hard to argue against the fact that they are the best women’s team in the world at this moment, and exactly where they deserve to be.

What’s up for debate is how long they can stay at the top. Stam said they wanted to dominate the sport for a long time and with a 760-point advantage over the next active team in the rankings, composed of Brazilians Barbara Seixas and Carol Salgado, it’s unlikely the Dutch will lose their spot in Doha. The rankings are very fluid, however, and in a few weeks could look very different.

How low will Mol and Sorum drop in the rankings?

Remaining on the subject of rankings, but switching genders, it is worth thinking about reigning Olympic champions Anders Mol and Christian Sorum's position in the table. The Beach Volley Vikings are obviously one of the best teams in the world, but their position in the rankings is set to change dramatically over the next few weeks.

Mol and Sorum are currently second at 4,400 points and have Itapema finalists Andre/George and Perusic/Schweiner knocking on their door at 4,360, but the Norwegians’ problems go well beyond those two teams. The Vikings are soon set to drop 1,600 points from their two FIVB World Tour victories in Cancun last year, and as they’re not entered to compete in Doha, their next opportunity to add points won’t come until two weeks later, at the Kuşadası Challenge, meaning several rivals could move ahead of them.

05_BPT Rosarito - Men Main Draw NEDvsNOR

Mol and Sorum will likely have a few world rankings spots to regain when they get back on the court

Who will be the next country to take gold?

Considering just the Elite16 and Challenge events, five countries have topped the podium at the first three tournaments on the Beach Pro Tour – Brazil (twice), the Netherlands, Poland, Qatar and the United States. Who will be next?

Looking at the Doha entry lists, possible candidates among the women include Australia, who will have Tokyo Olympic silver medallists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho back in action, and Switzerland, with its top teams of Nina Brunner/Tanja Huberli and Joana Heidrich/Anouk Verge-Depre. Among the men, the Czech Republic showed they are able to claim a place on the podium with Perusic and Schweiner getting just one set away from gold in Itapema, and Italy has a strong tradition in the sport and two interesting new teams in Daniele Lupo/Alex Ranghieri and Paolo Nicolai/Samuele Cottafava.

03_BPT Rosarito - Women Main Draw CANvsAUS

Artacho and Clancy are candidates to give Australia their first Beach Pro Tour gold medals

Will the leading Dutch men's teams return to competition in good form?

Dutch fans have no reason to complain about the performances of their country’s teams in Itapema. The Netherlands won medals in both genders and saw one of their tandems climb to the top of the World Rankings. But it’s impossible not to wonder what else they could have achieved in Brazil had their top two men’s teams competed in the tournament.

Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen, the silver medallists in Rosarito, and Stefan Boermans/Yorick de Groot, who won a World Tour event in Gstaad last year, were both entered in the Itapema Challenge, but had to withdraw a few days before the start of the tournament for medical reasons. They have some time until Doha and if they’re cleared to play, their country will have two teams among the favourites to take gold in Qatar.

Who will be the next dark horses?

Both Challenge events held so far featured teams making unexpectedly long runs and returning home with medals. Not many people predicted Chileans Noe Aravena and Vicente Droguett would take silver in Tlaxcala or Dutch pair Luini and Penninga would claim silver in Itapema. The women’s bronze medals at both events were also won by Brazilian teams that were seeded 11th and not included in the favourites.

Dark horses are hard to predict due to their very nature, but looking at the Doha entry lists, Swiss pair Marco Krattiger/Florian Breer and Austrians Martin Ermacora/Moritz Pristauz, on the men’s side, and Japanese team Miki Ishii/Sayaka Mizoe and Germans Sandra Ittlinger/Isabel Schneider, among the women, stand out as good candidates for the role.

BPT Challenge Itapema - AUTvsEST_7250

Pristauz and Ermacora had a solid start to their season, finishing fifth in Itapema