Olsztyn, Poland, June 18, 2016 - If anyone questions that Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst are not the best women’s Beach Volleyball team in the world, then they have not followed the Germans exploits the past five weeks highlighted by back-to-back gold medal finishes on the FIVB World Tour.
After topping the smart Major Hamburg podium last week in their hometown in Germany by defeating the second- and third-ranked teams on the list for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Ludwig and Walkenhorst completed the trifecta by defeating No. 1-rank Copacabana entrant Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca here Saturday afternoon to capture the gold medal at the US$800,000 Olsztyn Grand Slam on the Crooked Lake center court.
With their 2-1 (21-18, 15-21, 15-10) win in 41 minutes over the second-seeded Talita and Larissa, the third-seeded Germans split the $57,000 first-place prize after extending their personal winning streak to 21-straight victories. In losing to Ludwig and Walkenhorst for the third-time in four FIVB World Tour meetings, the Brazilians shared $43,000 for their silver medal performance.
Saturday’s final saw the Germans play well in the first set, not so well in the second set and struggling mid-way in the third and deciding set when Talita and Larissa overcame a 4-1 deficit to take a 9-8 lead with a three-point rally. Trailing 10-9, Ludwig and Walkenhorst closed out the match with six-straight points to notch the victory.
When asked about the gold medal match and the six-point run to close out the third set, Ludwig said “I still don't know. We knew we had to put pressure on them. And we did. We really wanted to serve good. We went for aces. Kira had two aces, I think. And then it just worked. Sometimes it's also a bit lucky, but we kept on fighting as a team and that was really the key."
When asked about winning four of their last five tournaments, including the European Championships at the start of June, Walkenhorst offered that for “some weeks we are playing very good now. We play our own game and concentrate every game, every point on ourselves. For sure there some times when it is not working out, like in the second set. But now we can fight back and keep fighting for every point. That's why we can turn around the game now."
Ludwig was asked about Olympics and peaking to early, and she said “that's a good question. We want to peak for sure in August. It also feels good that we play so well this early. We want to keep our rhythm, but we definitely still want to be better and we still can. Because we still make some mistakes, we have some problems like in the second set. And that is what we still want to work on.”
After placing on their third-straight podium this season without a gold medal, Talita said "this was not the result we wanted. But it was still a final. It was still a good match. Compliments for Germany. They just played better and we made a lot of mistakes. They served better, the digs and the attacks. They just played better in this match."
Sunday’s finale was the 18th gold medal meeting between the two countries with Brazil now leading 13-5 with Ludwig and Walkenhorst winning the last three finales from the South Americans. The two countries have combined for 162 women’s gold medals with Brazilians capturing 151 of the titles.
Ludwig and Walkenhorst advanced to their ninth FIVB World Tour gold medal match with a 2-0 (21-16, 21-18) Saturday morning semi-final win in 34 minutes over ninth-seeded qualifiers Eduarda “Duda” Lisboa and Elize Maia of Brazil. Talita and Larissa advanced to their 14th FIVB World Tour gold medal match with a 2-0 (21-16, 21-19) semi-final win in 34 minutes over 23rd-seeded Natalia Dubovcova and Dominika Nestarcova of the Slovak Republic.
In the bronze medal match, Dubovcova and Nestarcova placed on a FIVB World Tour for the first-time in almost two years by defeating Duda and Elize Maia 2-0 (22-20, 21-14) in 36 minutes in the first international match between the two teams. In collecting the $32,000 third-place prize, the Slovak Republic pair collected their third FIVB medal and first since July 2014 at the United States Grand Slam in Long Beach, Calif.
What made Dubovcova and Nestarcova’s performance this week so impressive in their 63rd FIVB World Tour events was upset wins over the first-, fourth-, sixth-, seventh- and ninth-seeded teams in the Olsztyn Grand Slam. In their previous two podium-placing events in 2014 in Norway (Stavanger) and the United States, the Slovak Republic pair totaled only two upset wins.
When asked about the match and winning a spot on the podium, Nestarcova said that “I will sleep with this medal tonight. We served really well and our -defense was great, especially Natalia's blocking. Dubovcova added that her team’s “side-out was quite stable. We were under pressure, but we handled it very good."
With the pair missing out qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games via the FIVB World Tour, Dubovcova and Nestarcova were asked about a second attempt next week at the European Continental Cup in Stavanger.
"It's important for our confidence to know that we are in good shape,” said Dubovcova. “It is such an important tournament. I am happy we beat such a good team from Brazil, so now we know we can beat anybody. We hope to keep going on this wave and bring this (medal) with us to Stavanger."
Nestarcova added that “we sent home the first-, fourth- and sixth-seeded teams in a row Friday. So I think we played very well and we deserved this."
The Olsztyn Grand Slam also features men’s elimination rounds Saturday with their semi-final and medal matches being played Sunday. The winning Olsztyn Grand Slam teams will share the $57,000 first-place prizes.