Hamburg, Germany, June 11, 2016 - Certainly, the early-season results were not what Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst have come to expect of themselves on the FIVB World Tour.
What the duo from Germany are displaying now confirms that there was a method to their madness and it’s working out just fine.
Playing in their hometown in the smart Major Hamburg, Ludwig and Walkenhorst captured their third tournament championship in their last four events when they defeated Brazilian Olympians Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas, 21-19, 19-21, 15-12 victory at Am Rothenbaum stadium Saturday.
More than bringing home the US$57,000 first prize was showing that they will be a force when the attention turns to the Rio 2016 Olympics. Ludwig and Walkenhorst have always been a threat, but hadn’t cracked the top four of their first three tournaments of the season.
Believe it or not, they didn’t mind the less-than stellar finishes. It was about polishing the product first.
“Now is the period where we start to compete because before it was more about practice, about technique, about conditioning and bodies and everything and now we’re getting back in our game rhythm and we’re getting back in how we play together as a team,” said the 30-year Ludwig, who is heading to her third consecutive Olympiad. “This is also really important, like learning how to support each other and we could see last week we supported each other in every situation, in every phase and it didn’t matter who we played, we were always were together against our opponent.”
The Germans captured the European Championships in Switzerland, but that was after a puzzling ninth-place finish in the Moscow Grand Slam. They started their current run by winning the Antalya (Turkey) Open in mid-May.
“We wanted to start in Antalya to get our rhythm and play more competitively,” said Walkenhorst, who was selected as the Player of the Tournament in Hamburg. “Moscow was not that good but we’re getting better in our game and it makes it a lot of fun. Now we are playing Beach Volleyball and I think we can go two steps up. It’s nice.”
Ludwig and Walkenhorst will enter the Olympics with a No. 4 ranking in the provisional Olympic point race, two spots behind Barbara and Agatha. They opened the day by taking out No. 3 April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings in the semifinals.
And with Walkenhorst becoming a fierce net patroller in front of Ludwig’s scrambling defensive prowess, they’re also putting together game strategies they can turn to if needed down the line.
They started by attacking Agatha with their service game. Conventionally, teams serve Barbara the majority of the time.
“They killed me,” Agatha said, laughing. “They had very nice serves, they were difficult to defense and sideout. I needed to concentrate. I think my partner did only two sideouts and the rest was me.”
Late in the first game, Barbara’s dig set up her shot to the back line to give the Brazilians a 19-18 lead. Ludwig answered with a kill to the back line, then she picked up a dig and hit cross court before putting away the set with a service winner.
That started the crowd chanting “Laura! Kira!”
Kira Walkenhorst of Germany hits at the smart Major Hamburg net
But Barbara and Agatha never trailed in the second set, setting up the tiebreaker. The Germans showed they were immune this time to the pressure of a third set. After taking a 4-3 lead, they never let the Brazilians catch them. Walkenhorst was at her best when the score was 10-9, scoring three out of four points to give her team a 13-10 lead.
“That’s really important for her confidence,” Ludwig said. “She’s a young player and only three or four years now she’s been playing on the FIVB and it’s definitely important for her confidence that she knows she’s one of the best. She can go out on the court and just play her game.
“It’s good to have the feeling that my partner’s there for me and we give this to each other now and our communication gets better, our rhythm gets better, our energy gets better because we know each other better.”
The silver medal was also a rebounding-from-Moscow moment for Barbara and Agatha, who placed 17th in that event.
“We had to have a lot of patience, try to think about the mistakes that we made (in Moscow),” Barbara said. “It was difficult because it was the worst result we’ve had in a long time. But it was also good for us to think about what we deserve and really get more motivated and closer to each other so we can make this right.”
The smart Major Hamburg podium (left to right) featured Agatha, Barbara, Laura, Kira, Talita and Larissa