CUTS SHOTS: TALE OF TWO TOURNAMENTS
By Tom Feuer
(Rio de Janiero, August 9)—The Olympic beach volleyball tournament four days in can be classified as very predictable on the women’s side with a free-for-all occurring on the men’s part of the draw.
So far there has been one substantive women’s upset and that was when eighth seeded Karla Borger and Britta Buthe did not show up against the rapidly improving 17th seeds Joana Heidrich and Nadine Zumkehr of Switzerland, losing 21-12, 21-16.
Nineteen out of 24 matches have gone only two sets thus far and the leading contenders have all looked very good (Walsh/Ross, Ludwig/Walkenhorst, Larissa/Talita) or good enough (Agatha/Barbara).
Meanwhile the story could not be more different with the men. Almost half of the matches through Tuesday have gone three sets and the strangest set of circumstances occurred Monday on the greatest day in Austrian beach volleyball history. Shortly after veterans Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst, the 13th seeds stunned the top ranked, Bruno and Alison, with the partisan Brasilian crowd going nuts, and even booing on the Austrian’s serves, the 18th seeded Alexander Huber and Robin Seidl made very short work of sixth seeded Americans Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb.
However, the biggest story on the men’s side of the ledger has been the meltdown by the home side’s fourth seeded team, the mercurial Evandro Goncalves and Pedro Solberg Salgado. They lost to a deceptively good Cuban team, Nivaldo Diaz and Sergio Gonzalez in what was to date the most exciting match of the tournament. The Cubans iced the Brasilians, serving down match point (14-13), by taking their one and only timeout, and then Evandro launched one into the bottom of the net in front of a Copocabana crowd that went home very unhappy, especially as both players are locals to the Rio de Janeiro area.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning when Evandro and Pedro lost this time to Canadians Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk, 16-14 in the third set. It appears as if the high pressure and tense atmosphere of playing at home have permeated the heads of Evandro and Pedro. The 6-11 Evandro has not been able to get his lethal weapon jump serves in the court and when Pedro is blocking, Evandro is too slow to play defense. Don’t be surprised if these two find different partners after the season is over. They will not advance out of Pool D unless Thursday they defeat Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs, the veteran duo from Latvia.
Meanwhile the little known Cubans have played only one FIVB tournament together and that was at last year’s World Championships where they placed a very respectable 9th. They were knocked out of that tourney by of all teams, the eventual bronze medalists…Evandro and Pedro. Meanwhile, the Cubans pulled off yet another stunning upset on Tuesday defeating my pre-Olympic medal favorites Samoilovs and Smedins in Pool D which is proving to be the most interesting of the groups on the men’s side. Diaz is the second youngest men’s player in the tournament (22 years old) but his poise is amazing.
Although the taller of the two players, he interestingly plays defense, while Gonzalez handles the block. The Cubans have won eight NORCECA zone tournaments together, albeit the level of competition is not near what it is on the World Tour so it was hard to evaluate just how good this duo was.
A team that might be a tough out is Montevideo-born Miami resident and Italian national, ex-AVP player, Adrian Carambula and partner Alex Ranghieri. Carambula became an immediate crowd favorite, when in the very first match of the tournament, he unleashed skyballs tapping out at 50+ feet in the air. It was very effective against Doppler and Horst at 10:00 am in the morning and Carambula also brought it out for a nighttime win over Canadians Sam Schachter and Josh Binstock.
Carambula, 28, began playing on the AVP tour in 2007, with his best finish being two thirds in 2014 with Stafford Slick. Since he matriculated to the FIVB he has been very successful winning three Opens and also garnering three high finishes at Majors/Grand Slams.
The Italians next match will be against Bruno and Alison which should be one of the most interesting and “lively” in this Olympic tournament.
Tom Feuer has been a close observer of the sport since 1976. He currently works as the Director of Arizona State’s Cronkite Sports Bureau in Santa Monica, CA and is a Professor of Practice. Prior to that, he was the Executive Producer for Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket in Los Angeles and has won three National Emmy Awards for his work in television.