LONG BEACH, Calif. — Olympic gold-medal beach-volleyball fame?
“We still don’t have a chauffeur,” Laura Ludwig said with a straight face.
“We would like to have a chauffeur.”
And then she and everyone around her — including partner Kira Walkenhorst — simply cracked up.
“I’m not sure what we have to do to get a chauffeur,” she continued, laughing. “And like Kira likes to say, we still have to clean our laundry ourselves.”
No doubt they had to wash their uniforms Friday night, but that’s because they get to wear them again Saturday when they play Brazilians Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca in the World Series of Beach Volleyball Presidents Cup semifinals at 10:30 a.m.. The other semi pits Americans Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes against April Ross and Lauren Fendrick at 10:02 a.m.
Ludwig, 31, and Walkenhorst, 26, ousted Canadians Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson 23-21, 21-16 Friday. It was another big step for a pair that’s been dealing with major surgery in December to the 5-foot-10 Ludwig’s right shoulder.
“It’s taking a long time but it’s getting better, day by day. These last four weeks it feels like it belongs to me again, so I don’t have to think that much about it.”
She certainly seems healthy in this tournament, showing her remarkable quickness and athleticism as one of the best defenders in the world.
“Really?” the 6-foot Walkenhorst deadpanned. “Sometimes.
“I always have to move a lot to get the ball.”
And so it goes for a team that surely enjoys teasing hard and playing harder.
“I remember four years ago when I first started playing with Laura there were a lot of big teams and I was really excited to play against them and show my best and try to win against them,” Walkenhorst said. “So for sure now there are teams that want to do that against the Olympic champions.”
Ross, one of those players from four years ago, talked about Ludwig, who is from Berlin.
“She’s amazing. She’s one of my favorite people on the planet,” Ross said. “She’s great. She’s super humble, down to earth, and super funny.”
However, when she teamed with Walkenhorst, who is from the western German city of Essen, Ross wasn’t so sure about the move.
“I remember when Kira was first on tour and I didn’t think much of her,” Ross admitted. “And then Laura picked her up for her partner and I was kind of like, why would Laura pick up Kira? And then just a couple of years later she’s just a beast. And now I see what Laura saw in her.”
“Yeah, I was surprised when they got together, but obviously Laura knows how to pick ‘em.”
Ludwig said Walkenhorst was “the best young up and coming star. She was playing really good ball and she was young and a good competitor and tall and a good blocker and I definitely wanted to give it a try. It worked really well from the beginning on.”
That wasn’t lost on Fendrick: “I think it says a lot about Laura that she can bring out the best in people and then create team chemistry,” Fendrick said. “They’ve been working with really good people and seem to have a really solid team around them with a real specific goal. Not that everybody doesn’t focus on the Olympics, but they did it really well. Obviously.”
Both Germans give a lot of credit to their coach, Jürgen Wagner. His plan deals with not only the short term but spacing things out this season.
In preparation for this season, they spent 16 days practicing at Manhattan Beach with, among others, Ross and former partner Kerri Walsh Jennings.
“It’s always tough to practice with them,” Ludwig said. “They’re 100-percent focused and it’s really good stuff.”
But Ludwig knew they needed it.
“We feel it. Everybody wants to beat us,” she said.
Ludwig and Walkenhorst have played a limited schedule, largely based on Ludwig’s shoulder, starting in May at FIVB Rio and for that matter won’t play again after this tournament until the FIVB World Championships in Vienna, Austria, July 28-August 6.
“Before I started to play with her she already did amazing things,” Walkenhorst said. “She was, I don’t know the word in English …”
“Legend?” Ludwig offered with another hearty laugh.
“It really was an honor,” Walkenhorst continued, shaking her off. “Because four years ago she already was a good player.”
Walkenhorst battled a serious illness in 2014 and then a knee injury in 2015, but the ultimate payoff was the Olympic gold-medal victory over Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas on their home court 21-18, 21-14.
“Right after the Olympics we had a lot of people talk to us and there were a lot of invites to some big events,” Walkenhorst said. “And some people who watched us and recognized us on the streets and gave congratulations.
“Now after some time, that’s happening a little less. But to be recognized was really nice, to be recognized for our hard work.”
They were the first German beach gold-medalists, but more might follow.
“It was so cool and an honor,” Ludwig said. “And it’s nice to be recognized by our sport, beach volleyball, and to hear people say, ‘I started playing beach volleyball because of you guys.’ That’s really cool.”
And who knows, one of them might apply for the job of being their chauffeur.
In the other women’s quarterfinals Friday, Ross and Fendrick beat Brooke Sweat and Summer Ross 24-22, 21-13, Claes and Hughes beat Kim DiCello and Emily Stockman 21-14, 13-21, 15-12, and Antunes and Franca beat Germans Chantal Laboureur and Julia Sude 21-14, 21-16.
Earlier Friday Ross, battling a broken right big toe, and Fendrick forfeited their last match of pool play to Claes and Hughes. And in that same pool Walsh Jennings and Branagh beat Betsi Flint and Kelley Larsen 21-14, 24-22. Jennings and Branagh failed to advance and Flint and Larsen, coming off their AVP San Francisco victory, went 0-3.
The men completed pool play Friday as well, and in the quarterfinals Americans Theo Brunner and Casey Patterson knocked out Ryan Doherty and John Hyden 26-24, 19-21, 15-12. In the other American quarterfinal Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena played Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb.
In the foreign quarters, Canada’s Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter beat Spain’s Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira 21-15, 21-14 . The other quarterfinal had Piotr Kantor and Bartosz Losiak facing Alex Ranghieri and Marco Caminati of Italy.
For the schedule and all the results, you can click here for the WSOBV website.