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25/06/2017 18:05
Koekelkoren and van Walle claim historic gold for Belgium at Baden Masters
2017 CEV Beach Volleyball European Championship - Baden Masters

Baden, Austria, June 25, 2017. The last competition day at the Baden Masters lasted for longer than initially planned since heavy rain and lightning resulted in the postponement of the gold medal match by half an hour. However, the brave Austrian fans who did not leave the venue at the Strandbad soon realised they had stayed on for a good reason. The ‘grand finale’, the climax of two weeks packed with elite Beach Volleyball could not be any more dramatic – but it did not feature the happy end the Austrian crowd was hoping for since Belgium’s Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle claimed a historic gold for their country after edging Clemens Doppler/Alexander Horst 2-1 (17-21, 21-13, 16-14).

Doppler and Horst caught a flying start to the match and everything they tried seemed to be working just fine – much to the delight of the local crowd. However, the course of the match changed quite suddenly in the second set with Tom van Walle’s service game making the difference for the Belgians. “We played them many times before and we know they are a very experienced team and a few times they had the upper hand against us. Today we changed tactics a bit and we put a lot of pressure with the serve, and it worked just fine,” van Walle acknowledged afterwards.

Doppler/Horst claimed an 8-6 lead in the all-deciding tiebreak and even had match ball at 14-13, but the Belgians cancelled it at the end of one of the longest, most exciting rallies of the game. Van Walle propelled his side to a 15-14 lead with yet another ace and another powerful serve paved the way towards the eventual 16-14 win for Dries and Tom. This victory coincides with a truly historic gold medal for Belgium in men’s Beach Volleyball – especially at this level, a CEV Masters. Only Liesbeth Mouha and Liesbet Van Breedam achieved a similar feat before, when they stood on top of the podium of a CEV women’s Masters at Blackpool, England in 2009. Van Walle previously won a bronze medal with former partner Ward Coucke at the 2011 CEV Masters in Novi Sad, Serbia.

As for Doppler and Horst, they failed to claim their second gold medal at Baden after they finished at the CEV Satellite held at the Strandbad in 2012. The last Austrian success on home sand dates back to 2014, when siblings Stefanie and Doris Schwaiger won the women’s competition before Doris announced her retirement from competitive sport.

Earlier in the day

Home heroes claim big win in ‘hot’ semi-final with Russian top team

The sell-out crowd in attendance at Strandbad could not ask for a more exciting show to start their day with as Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst took to the court on Sunday at noon to play the second seed of the tournament, Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Nikita Liamin of Russia, probably the ‘hottest’ tandem on the tour right now. It soon became clear that Horst and Doppler were attempting at using the home-court advantage and delighting the fans as they caught a promising start to the match. However, they had to work a lot harder in the second set – where the Austrians trailed most of the time but that was only going to spark even more excitement among the crowd in attendance. Doppler and Horst fought their way back and cancelled a set ball for the Russians before more drama followed. The Austrians used ‘only’ their fourth match ball to secure a 2-0 victory (21-17, 25-23) and with it a spot in the ’grand finale’ of the tournament.

After their thrilling game, Horst and Doppler paid tribute to the fans: “It is a truly special feeling to play at the Baden Masters before this crowd, the people are much louder and passionate than the thousands of fans we played before at the Olympics in London and Rio,” they agreed. “The atmosphere is just terrific, also because the stadium is so compact, and anytime you go to serve, you feel the crowd right behind you and it definitely gives you an extra push. We would like to thank everyone for their support, we appreciate that very much.”

The real sensation of the Baden Masters, Germany’s Julius Thole and Lorenz Schümann, failed to add another chapter to their fairy tale – somehow drained, probably more emotionally than physically after Saturday’s victory over top-seeded Janis Smedins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs, they clearly lost their semi-final match to Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle of Belgium. The left-handed van Walle put a lot of pressure with his jump serve and Koekelkoren played with much consistency as well to rally to a 21-15, 21-18 win as the 206 cm tall Thole failed to produce the same monster blocks he had displayed on Saturday when playing the Latvian superstars.  

Bronze for German sensation following Russia’s withdrawal

Thole and Schümann could nevertheless be happy with the bronze medal – which they won without contesting the ‘small final’ following the withdrawal of their opponents, Liamin and Krasilnikov. This bronze medal accounts for their best result on the international stage and comes after they started their campaign on Thursday in the qualification round where they beat the newly crowned U22 European champions Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Artem Yarzutkin of Russia. Last year Thole/Schümann won one gold and one silver medal at zonal events in Barcelona and Senigallia (Italy) but with their third place finish at Baden they have truly made it to the next level.

“I do not think it was difficult to refocus after yesterday’s game,” Julius Thole said. “It’s a semi-final game of a CEV Masters, so we were extremely motivated. It has been a lot of fun to play here and we enjoyed it. We have to admit that the Belgian team was much better than us today and they read our game well. We did not have a chance of breaking their rhythm or scoring a few points in a row.”

“It feels good to win this medal, but at this stage, it does not feel that good actually. We would have loved to play this game and to win this medal on the court. We are of course very happy with our first medal from a Masters. In a few weeks, when we get home, we will look at the medal and we will be satisfied,” Lorenz Schümann commented.

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