Muller against Lahti at the net

In one of the day’s most exciting women’s matches at the Beach Volleyball World Championships Rome 2022, the number three team in the FIVB World Ranking, Svenja Muller and Cinja Tillmann snatched a nail-biting three-set victory over Taru Lahti-Liukkonen and Niina Ahtiainen to advance from the Round of 32.

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The German pair are seeded 16th at the World Championship, but arrived in the Italian capital as one of the favourites, following their first Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour gold, which they earned at their most recent appearance three weeks ago at the Ostrava Elite16 to rise to rank three in the world. They gained more confidence as they moved through their pool undefeated, but then came across some tough resistance from the 31st-seeded Finns.

Tillmann was on fire in offence during the first set of the match, but Lahti and Ahtiainen took advantage of the many German errors to stay close behind on the way to a 21-18 close in favour of Muller and Tillmann. A fierce and even battle unfolded in the second set before the Finns could edge forward in the money time to push it to three. With both teams spiking away, Muller’s improved blocking effort made the small difference in the tie-breaker. It also went deep into overtime before the Germans could close this epic duel with a 2-1 (21-18, 20-22, 18-16) victory.

“Yes, I think we have really gained confidence, but before every game we tell each other that we have to think from point to point. I think that turned out well today,” 21-year-old blocker Svenja Muller told Volleyball World.

“It was a really exhausting match for us in the midday heat, with every set so close! We are both pretty exhausted and pretty happy right now,” 30-year-old defender Cinja Tillmann added. “We don’t know who our next opponents will be right now. We just concentrate on every game that we play and fight for every point.”

Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil will be Muller and Tillmann’s next opponents on Thursday as they lock horns for a spot in Friday’s quarterfinals. The 17th-seeded Americans mastered a 2-0 (21-12, 21-19) shutout of Spain’s Belen Carro and Angela Lobato to progress.

11th-seeded Tanja Huberli and Nina Brunner, semifinalists at the previous edition of the World Championships in 2019, also had a difficult encounter in the Round of 32. France’s Lezana Placette and Alexia Richard pushed them to three, before the Swiss pair could celebrate with a 2-1 (21-14, 20-22, 15-11) victory. Next they will take on sixth-seeded Kelley Kolinske and Sara Hughes, who won Thursday’s all-American duel with Emily Day and Emily Stockman by 2-0 (21-19, 21-16).

In another high-level three-setter, 13th-seeded Karla Borger and Julia Sude took a 2-1 (21-17, 11-21, 15-12) win over fifth-seeded Americans Betsi Flint and Kelly Cheng. In the Round of 16, the Germans will face Sophie Bukovec and Brandie Wilkerson, seeded 20th. The Canadians also had a tough match against Thailand’s Worapeerachayakorn Kongphopsarutawadee and Taravadee Naraphornrapat in the Round of 32, but managed to earn a 2-1 (21-16, 19-21, 15-12) victory.

Two three-setters mean Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes will take on Talita Antunes and Rebecca Silva in one of the Round of 16 match-ups. The 10th-seeded defending champions from Canada came back from a set down against another Brazilian duo, Taiana Lima and Hegeile Almeida, to emerge with a 2-1 (18-21, 21-18, 15-10) win. Seventh-seeded Talita and Rebecca achieved a similar exploit against Germany’s Chantal Laboureur and Sarah Schulz on the way to a 2-1 (19-21, 21-12, 15-7) turnaround.

The next round will still feature a titanic all-Brazilian clash between second-seeded Eduarda Santos Lisboa (Duda) and Ana Patricia Ramos and fourth-seeded Barbara Seixas and Carol Solberg, the number two team in the World Ranking. They will go head to head after cruising to straight-set victories on Wednesday. Barbara and Carol defeated China’s Fan Wang and Xinyi Xia by 2-0 (21-18, 21-15), while Duda and Ana Patricia beat Japan’s Miki Ishii and Sayaka Mizoe by 2-0 (21-11, 21-14).


Mariafe saves the ball

Top-ranked and top-seeded Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon of the Netherlands will be challenged by Tokyo 2020 Olympic silver medallists Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho Del Solar. The eighth-seeded Australians claimed a 2-0 (21-17, 22-20) win over Germany’s Sandra Ittlinger and Isabel Schneider, while the Dutch standouts shut out Austria’s Katharina Schutzenhofer and Lena Plesiutschnig by 2-0 (21-17, 21-18).

Both host country teams made it to the next round to set up an all-Italian showdown on Thursday. Marta Menegatti and Valentina Gottardi were the lowest-seeded duo to make the Round of 16. Playing under number 43 in the 48-team bracket, the Italian pair produced an emphatic 2-0 (21-15, 21-17) shutout of Argentina’s Ana Gallay and Fernanda Pereyra. Their compatriots Claudia Scampoli and Margherita Bianchin, seeded 10th, persevered through a three-set battle with Canada’s Megan McNamara and Nicole McNamara to triumph with a 2-1 (21-12, 18-21, 15-12) victory.

There was a sister-against-sister all-Swiss duel in one of the last women’s matches of the day. The younger sibling, Zoe Verge-Depre and her teammate Esmee Bobner were close to upsetting Olympic bronze medallists Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich by winning the first set and leading for a great deal of the second, but the more experienced team eventually took the upper hand to claim a 2-1 (20-22, 21-17, 15-7) win. This way, 22nd-seeded Heidrich and Verge-Depre moved on to set up another remake of the Tokyo 2020 bronze medal match against Anastasija Kravcenoka and Tina Graudina. The third-seeded Latvians defeated Poland’s Kinga Wojtasik and Katarzyna Kociolek in two sets, but each by the narrowest of margins, 2-0 (21-19, 21-19). The Swiss and the Latvians already met in the pool stage of the tournament, with Heidrich and Verge-Depre claiming a straight-set win.