Hamburg, Germany, June 9, 2016 - Posting the first “major” men’s pool win at the US$800,000 smart Major Hamburg here Thursday was Grzegorz Fijalek and Mariusz Prudel as the most experienced Polish team in the 30-year history of the FIVB World Tour is still looking forward to returning home next week for the Olsztyn Grand Slam.
But first, the 18th-seeded Fijalek and Prudel are more concerned about a good finish this weekend at the Am Rothenbaum stadium for the inaugural event after winning all three of their Pool B matches in the FIVB World Tour tournament with seed-break-throughs wins over pairs from The Netherlands and Mexico.
After posting a 2-0 (21-8, 21-15) win in 32 minutes over 31st-seeded qualifiers Lorenz Schumann/Julius Thole of Germany, the 30-year old Prudel was asked which event was more important - the smart Major Hamburg or the Olsztyn Grand Slam?
“All these events leading up to the Olympics are important,” said Prudel, who is playing in his 79th FIVB World Tour event with Fijalek with the first season being 2008. “This event is very important as we would like to improve our Olympic standings for Rio. The next event is important because we are playing in Poland. Then it is SWATCH Major Series events in Porec (Croatia), Gstaad (Switzerland) and Klagenfurt (Austria). Then it is Rio.”
After defeating a 15th-seeded Lombardo Ontiveros/Juan Virgen of Mexico 2-1 (18-21, 21-13, 15-12) in a 44-minute Pool B match Wednesday, Fijalek and Prudel opened play Thursday by upsetting second-seeded Reinder Nummerdor/Christiaan Varenhorst of The Netherlands 2-1 (21-18, 19-21, 17-15) in 50 minutes to open play Thursday to clinch the group leadership.
“That was a big match as we had never beaten the Dutch before,” Prudel noted about Nummerdor and Varenhorst who captured the last “big” event on the 2015-2016 FIVB World Tour schedule in Moscow. “The Dutch guys are tough due to the big guy’s blocking (Varenhorst) and Nummerdor’s defense. We are glad to finally defeat them.”
In two previous meetings this season, the Dutch were victors with Fijalek and Prudel dropping a 2-1 (15-21, 21-16, 15-12) elimination match in 47 minutes to Nummerdor and Varenhorst two weeks ago at the Moscow Grand Slam. In mid-March, the Poles suffered a 2-1 (16-21, 21-19, 20-18) setback to the Dutch in a 62-minute Pool B match at the Rio Grand Slam on Copacabana.
“All three of our matches with the Dutch have been three-setters,” said Prudel. “The only difference this time was we won the first set and we played strong in the third set. “ As Nummerdor noted after the match, “that is no 18th-seeded team. The Poles are very capable of winning any tournament. We are disappointed with our play today, but the Poles got the best of us at the end.”
With the smart Major Hamburg being their eighth FIVB World Tour event, Fijalek and Prudel are looking for their second podium placement after placing third four weeks ago at Antalya, Turkey. Last week at the European Championships in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, the Poles placed third by winning six of seven matches, including a two-set bronze medal win over Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen of The Netherlands.
“We would like to make it three medals in our last four events heading into to Poland,” Prudel added, “but that will be extremely difficult. All the teams in this tournament are playing at a very high level right now as we are eight weeks away from the opening matches in Rio. Each match is tough and the elimination rounds are very tense. We just hope to continue improving with each match leading into the Olympics.”
Fijalek and Prudel, who placed ninth at the London 2012 Olympic Games, are currently ranked 14th overall on the Rio qualifying list with 4,920 points for their best 12 finishes since the start of the qualifying process in April 2015. Depending on the finishes of the teams ahead of them on the ranking list, a quarter-final finish could propel them into the No. 10 spots ahead of pairs from Italy, Austria and Russia.
With the smart Major Hamburg featuring women’s play, the top three teams from each pool advance to Friday’s elimination bracket where the women will play three rounds and the men two. The winners of each group earn a first-round elimination “bye” and secure a guaranteed ninth in the smart Major Hamburg. The men play their quarter-final contests Saturday and the women contest their semi-finals and medal matches. The men’s semi-final and medal matches will be played Sunday.