Joana Heidrich (SUI)

Anouk Verge-Depre honestly didn’t know what the process was to get awarded a wild card for this week’s World Tour Finals. All she knew was that theirs was a name more than worth throwing into the ambiguous hat from which the wild cards are selected.

“We just applied knowing we only had six results in the ranking,” 29-year-old Swiss defender Verge-Depre said, referencing how limited they'd be on points to get slotted into the World Tour Finals, which will be held in Cagliari, Italy. But it was a positive COVID test, not a lack of talent, that limited the Swiss. In Cancun, Heidrich tested positive, removing the two from all three events, capping their season at only six tournaments.

Eight finishes or not, then, it would have been near criminal to keep the Swiss out of the 2021 grand finale. Verge-Depre and Heidrich, as well as their countrywomen, Tanja Huberli and Nina Betschart, have been on a tour de force these past few years, showing up on the biggest of stages in the biggest of ways.

In their final event of 2020, Verge-Depre and Heidrich won the European Championship. Less than a year later, they’d beat Latvians Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka to win a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, the first Olympic medal for Switzerland’s women. One week after that, Huberli and Betschart would keep the European Championship in Switzerland, beating young Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam for gold. Had it not been an unfortunate meeting in the first round of the Olympic Games between the pair of Swiss teams, it’s a wonder how far both could have gone, or even if it would have been two medals returning to Switzerland.

“It has been a big year for Switzerland,” Verge-Depre said. “We have a good programme, that’s for sure. The respective coaches for the women are doing such a good job.”

It’s Florian Karl who has been paving the way for Verge-Depre and Heidrich, and it has been no small task for the coach, either. When he began coaching Verge-Depre and Heidrich in 2019, Heidrich was coming off a back surgery, and Verge-Depre was in the midst of switching both sides and position.

“He hasn’t had the recognition he should have,” Verge-Depre said. “As players, we always have awards and attention and coaches often don’t get that.”

While he may be short on the exterior recognition and honorifics, there is certainly no dearth of internal rewards for Karl. It’s not often a team can hit two of the biggest milestones of their careers in back to back seasons, after dealing with both health and tactical obstacles.

“We’d like to thank our coach and environment,” Verge-Depre said. “There’s a lot of trust and feeling well with the work they’re doing.”

The work Karl has been doing with Verge-Depre and Heidrich has led to a bounty of success that proved impossible to ignore when it came to selecting the wild cards for World Tour Finals. The event is, without question, a better event when one of three Olympic medallists is in the field.

“Participating with the best in the world is a great honour,” Verge-Depre said. “The difficult part was having a big break between all the competitions and World Tour Finals so it was not that easy to prepare, after such a big year for us, especially mentally. It was exhausting to keep on training and preparing, but when we go there, we want to do well and show the best we can. When I found out, I was happy we could go out and battle again with the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to next week.”