One thing is for certain: Anything can happen in a King of the Court competition. And that was the case in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the past few days.
For example, the Netherlands’ Sanne Keizer and Madelein Meppelink scoring a tie-breaking point as time expired to advance to the second semifinal round. Or Norway’s Ander Mol hit a ridiculously athletic left-handed jumbo shot. Or the Netherlands’ Ruben Penninga passed a tight skyball off the net tape to keep it alive.
The King of the Court, sponsored by Sportworx, was not only the first international volleyball competition since March, but was a fan-based event, featuring an impressive gladiator arena-like building of skyboxes that forced social distancing. For a primer on King of the Court rules, see our previous piece here.
The men’s and women’s competitions were a case of wild contrasts.
On the women’s side, the top-ranked Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Lisboa Duda led nearly wire to wire, even earning the cherished “golden ball” that allowed them to replay the last rally.
On the men’s side, Switzerland’s Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer pulled off a huge surprise by dominating the field. The Swiss have only played three events together, with their best finish a fifth-place finish in the Baden one-star.
The Brazilians’ dominance was such that they reached 15 points before the end of the 15-minute period, something that never happened during the men’s final, dashing the hopes of the home-team Dutch fans, who favored Keizer-Meppelink and Emi and Maxime van Driel.
For Bednarczuk, the win was a redemption of sorts for Bednarczuk.
“Before we just wanted to be on the podium, but we finished fourth,” Bednarczuk said. “This week we decided, ‘Oh no, now we want the crown, so we talked a lot about this. Now we are very excited and happy. It is marvelous.
“We haven’t played since March, we have teams here that have played on their national tours, but in Brazil, we don’t start until next week.”
The format rewards risk in that go-for-broke serving is more likely to get teams to the King side earlier than waiting for a sideout error. And go for it Breer did, launching powerful topspin rocket after rocket. Some were launched long, some were launched into the net, but enough were launched off defenders’ arms to carry them to the win, scoring at least 12 points in each of the three final rounds. The 21-year-old doubled his career earnings Saturday as the pair won the top prize of $14,809 (12,500 Euro) compared to his career earnings of $6,164.
“We told ourselves that we would go all in during the finals,” Breer said. “All in from the service line, and fight for every ball.”
But there wasn’t much time to celebrate, as Krattiger said that the pair is headed to Jurmala, Latvia for the European Championships September 15-20.
“We’re going back home, to wash our clothes as fast as possible, on Monday we’re heading to Latvia for the European championships. But today we can enjoy it for a little bit.”
The USA was represented by April Ross and Emily Day and Kelley Kolinske and Emily Stockman. Ross and Day reached the final, but were only able to score four points in the first round as the Netherlands’ Keizer and Meppelink scored the tie-breaking fifth point as time expired, much to Day’s frustration.
“I feel like we had our opportunities over there on the Queen side, but that’s how it goes,” Day said. “It was tough, we had a trickle ace on ourselves, that’s how it goes. I’m bummed that we don’t get to keep playing.
Ross, playing with Day because her regular partner, Alix Klineman, sat this one out, shared her frustration.
“I think the hard part for us is that we got over there enough times, but kept getting knocked out on the first try,” Ross said. “I wish I could go back and change some of those things.”
“This event, this atmosphere is nothing like we’ve ever seen before,” Day said. “It’s unbelievable. From the first day until tonight we’ve been able to calm our nerves and get used to it, but stepping out there the first night, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ ”
Kolinske and Stockman were disappointed Thursday when they were unable to score a single point despite six tries, failing to advance to Friday. Stockman got a second chance when German Laura Ludwig dropped out of the event due to injury, paving the way for partner Margarita Kozuch to pick up Stockman. The pair advanced to the final round of the semifinals but were unable to advance.
“I was walking into the hotel after practice this morning, and (Kozuch) needed a partner, and she said, ‘You can take five minutes,’ but I said, ‘I don’t need five minutes, I’m in.’
“There’s nothing to lose here, we’re just having fun, and trying to find each other’s rhythm.”
The next beach volleyball event on the calendar is the pro Best of the Beach contest set for November 6-8 at Hickory Point Beach in Tavares, Florida.
It, too, has a King and Queen of the Beach format, with players playing with each player in their pool. Pool winners will pick their playoff partners from the second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers. More information can be found here.