Assista à entrevista exclusiva em português com o campeão Olímpico de vôlei de praia Ricardo.
The year was 2016. After representing Brazil in the last four Olympics, taking home one medal of each color, Ricardo Santos sat the television booth of the beach volleyball arena in Copacabana between matches during the Rio Games while he thought about his future.
His longtime partner Emanuel Rego had retired a few months earlier, he would soon turn 42 and after more than two decades competing internationally with tremendous success, perhaps it was time for him to at least start slowing down.
His family, which had sacrificed so much for the benefit of his career, deserved to be put in first place for once and it was time he started paving the way for his after-volleyball life too.
But, he thought, what if I could do all of that and still pursue one last challenge?
This is how one of the most decorated players of history of the game and the AVP met. And, from winning four qualifier matches in one day and upsetting top-seeded Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in the next one in New York on his first tournament to finishing ninth to end his third season in Hawai’i a few weeks ago, a lot has happened with Ricardo since he moved to Orlando, Florida.
The Brazilian legend, who will turn 45 in January, sat down with VolleyballMag.com and talked about his experience in the AVP, his partners and his plans for the future.
Here’s the full conversation:
VolleyballMag.com: Ricardo, you’ve recently ended your third season playing on the AVP. How have things gone so far for you in the Tour?
Ricardo: I’m very happy that I have the opportunity to play in the AVP. I always knew about how strong American beach volleyball was at the international level and in these last few years I could see first-hand why it’s like that. The AVP is very professional and the way the athletes are put in the center of everything, it’s very different from Brazil. It’s a great event and mainly a big show for the fans. It’s been fun to have a different experience at this point of my career and even been here for three years, I feel that I get to see something new in each tournament I play. The AVP is the only title I’m yet to win, so hopefully I can do it next season.
VolleyballMag.com: Did you always plan to play on the AVP when you decided to move to Orlando or was it an opportunity that just arose later?
Ricardo: I always wanted to play in the AVP. I knew the kind of paperwork I’d need to have to be eligible to play and when I decided to come with my family, I wanted to be able to play here, in Brazil and eventually in the World Tour. So I made sure that the immigration process was planned in a way that allowed me to do that. It’s been great to provide a better life quality to my family and at the same time to pursue a new challenge in my career.
VolleyballMag.com: Would you say this new challenge of playing in the AVP has extended your career?
Ricardo: Absolutely. I feel that as long as I’m competitive and my body can manage the workload, the fire will still be there inside me. I’ve been fortunate to have partners who made me feel very comfortable and we formed competitive teams, so that was great. The way the fans interact with the players too, they make me want to continue playing for as long as I can. We’re treated like idols, legends, and to see the fans participating in every match, it doesn’t matter if it’s at the stadium or the side courts, it’s really pleasant. And all of these things are what make me keep going. In 2016 I said I wanted to play for two more years and the goal is still the same. I’ve played three seasons here already and I still feel like I want to be around for at least another two. But even after that, I’ll still be involved somehow.
VolleyballMag.com: How did your set up your training facility in Orlando and who do you practice with?
Ricardo: I have a partnership with the Orlando Tampa Volleyball Academy (OTVA), which is the largest volleyball club in Florida and one of the largest in the country. There I have two great guys who help me a lot, Alexandre and Roberto, who is the recruiting coordinator and was directly involved with my move here and helped me a lot off the court too. Phil (Dalhausser) and Nick (Lucena) also live in Florida, so sometimes we get together to practice, especially in the week before tournaments, and it’s always great to have them, they raise the level so much and I think we’ve had good sessions.
VolleyballMag.com: You had the opportunity to share the court with pretty good partners, such as Chaim Schalk and Sean Rosenthal, who were your opponents in the World Tour for many years, and Reid Priddy, who is an Olympic champion as you. What can you say about these experiences?
Ricardo: They’ve been great. I had three partners and each of them made me want to be better. They’re all great defenders, but have different playing styles, which kept me always looking for a way to benefit from each of them. I felt I had a good mix with all of them. Reid is a guy who was just coming from indoors when we first played together and it’s amazing how much he improved. He’s one of the top players in the country now, better than a lot of guys who have been playing beach for their entire careers. And Sean, who was my opponent for so many years, and Chaim, who is another guy who’s been playing internationally for a while, are both great guys as well. We had some nice moments together in the AVP and that’s really special.
VolleyballMag.com: The AVP and the Brazilian Tour are considered by most people the best national tours in the planet and you are very fortunate to be one of just a few players who get to play in both of them. Which one would you say is the best?
Ricardo: I think these two tours have been toe to toe for a long time, but I think they’re very different now and I believe the AVP is in a better position at this point. I say that because the Brazilian Tour is limiting the number of teams in events, there you can only enter 32 teams in the qualifier, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’re taking opportunities from younger players and in the AVP it’s the opposite, I’ve played in tournaments in which there were 100 teams in the qualifier. To provide these opportunities, that’s how players improve and for that reason I’d say the top 15 teams in the AVP are all very good while in the Brazilian Tour there’s a big gap after the sixth or seventh-best team. I hope that changes in Brazil because it makes a big difference for player development.
VolleyballMag.com: You’ve recently got a new partner in Vitor Felipe. What are the plans you guys have for the next year?
Ricardo: I’ve been playing with younger guys in Brazil in the last few years and it made me a lot of good. Vitor and I will be together at least until the end of the year, I hope that until the end of the Brazilian Tour in the spring. But at the same time I understand that for a guy at his age playing in the World Tour is very appealing and that won’t be a priority for me in 2020, I want to slow down and focus more on the Brazilian Tour and the AVP. So if he has a good opportunity to play internationally with someone else, I want to help him with that. We’ve talked about it and he knows what my plans are, so he’s very comfortable about taking this chance if it happens.
VolleyballMag.com: You’ve said a few times that you want to retire partnering with your son, Pedro, who plays in the Brazilian Tour, and now he’s moving to the United States to study at the Park University, in Kansas City. Could that farewell happen in the AVP?
Ricardo: That’s why I’m bringing him closer (laughs)…He decided to make this move and focus on getting his degree and preparing for his post-career, especially because it’s been tough to be a professional player in Brazil and make a living out of just eight events each year. The dream of sharing a court with him is still very much alive and this moment is getting closer. We’ll have the opportunity to play together in some events and I hope we can play a few AVPs, then share the courts in Brazil too and maybe even in the World Tour. It’d be very special to share my last moments as a player with him and I feel I deserve it for all I’ve done in the sport.
Guilherme Torres covers Brazilian volleyball for VolleyballMag.com