Hamburg, Germany, June 8, 2016 - It was an 8-2 deficit right at the start and Marcus Bockermann wasn’t exactly having much fun.
He should have been. After all, there aren’t many tournaments where he can look around and see hundreds of people cheering for him and Lars Fluggen in their home country. Even if the opponents were Olympic-bound Italians Adrian Carambula and Alex Ranghieri, Germans playing in their home country with their own Olympic berth on the line figure to ride the emotion to victory.
“It was different,” Bockermann later admitted. “We were behind 8-2 and there was no focus. I’m looking around and OK, here’s one guy you know, there’s the family. The focus was on everything around me and not on the game, so we needed eight points to find that focus and to find our game.”
They found it and went on to score an 18-21, 23-21, 15-12 win over Carambula and Ranghieri in the opening match of the smart Major Hamburg in a pool that also includes top-ranked Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt.
That in itself is enough pressure when Bockermann and Fluggen are locked in a struggle to qualify for the Olympics and Hamburg is the last stop on the FIVB World Tour to claim qualifying points. To make matters more interesting, the team they’re dueling with is fellow Germans Kay Matysik and Jonathan Erdmann. The German teams entered Hamburg tied for the last spot in the qualification with the same amount of points.
And they all had to wait two weeks after the Moscow Grand Slam results, which only built the anticipation to the German event.
“Yes, of course,” Bockermann said with a smile that was as much relief as it was joy. “It was really hard. Everybody talks to you like that, they want to know the situation, everybody wants to know if it’s going to be tied or not. You hear from family, friends, all the people who support you. We try not to think about that much.”
Easier said than done.
“It makes me nervous, that’s for sure,” Bockermann said. “The situation is really special and it’s the first time we’re in this situation.”
Once they filed away that nervousness and captured the tense second game of the match against the Italians, they were able to hold on at the end for the win. They did it not by reigning in their emotions, but focusing that emotional energy in the proper direction.
“We tried to celebrate every point to find our game, to win the game,” Bockermann said. “It’s really good. We’ve got the feeling now we’re here, we can play our best level here and we’ll try to do that until the end of the tournament.
“I think we can go to the next game (Thursday) with more confidence. That’s it.”
That’s when they’ll have two matches to finish play in Pool A, starting against Norway’s Iver Horrem and Geir Eithun before finishing on the stadium court against Alison and Bruno at Am Rothenbaum in the evening.
It’s a wild finish, but it has already been a wild season for Bockermann and Fluggen. In the FIVB Qatar Open in April, they reached the semifinals but had to withdraw due to a knee injury to Fluggen, giving the bronze medal to Poland’s Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak.
A month later, a presumably healthy Fluggen was back in form and he and Bockermann reached the championship match of the FIVB Antalya Open in Turkey, once again Fluggen’s knee gave out and they had to hand the tournament title to Latvia’s Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins.
But on Wednesday, it was Fluggen making all the defensive plays and key hits in their victory. And he doesn’t even have a wrap on his troublesome knee.
“The knee of Lars - it happened,” Bockermann said. “You’ve got to handle that somehow.”