2017-11-25 10:00:00 CET
Master and the apprentice
Despite a 15-year age gap, Brazilian team Agatha and Duda are using their youth and experience in different ways in their bid for world beach volleyball domination.
“It’s like I have a young sister,” smiles 2016 Olympic beach volleyball silver medalist Agatha Bednarczuk.
The 34-year-old Brazilian is referring to Eduarda Santos Lisboa – more commonly known as Duda – her 19-year-old teammate and the player widely considered to be the future of Brazilian beach volleyball.
The duo joined forces after the Rio Olympics. Duda was engrossed in the drama on the Copacabana, watching her future partner’s every dig and dive – and learning. She has dreams of winning gold with Agatha at the next Games, in Tokyo in 2020.
If Duda’s first season as a professional is anything to go by, the teenager and her partner – 15 years her senior – stand a very realistic chance of realizing their common goal of glory in Japan in three years’ time.
In the team’s first tournament on the World Tour, they won silver at the Fort Lauderdale Major in February but followed that up by going one better with gold – Duda’s first ever on the senior tour – in their home tournament in Rio. Three bronze medals followed through the busy summer season before they ended their campaign with another silver, at the prestigious World Tour Finals in Hamburg.
It’s fair to say it’s been a solid start for this new, unique, team.
“Our relationship is awesome on and off the court,” Duda enthusiastically tells us. “Even though Agatha is 15 years older than me she has helped me with everything I need as a professional beach volleyball player – and as a person.”
Together the duo are embracing the age difference and learning from each other. It’s the perfect blend, utilizing Duda’s youth and exuberance and Agatha’s experience and know-how.
“I knew even though she was young I could help her even more,” explains Agatha, who with previous partner Barbara Seixas won the World Championships in the Netherlands in 2015. “Although this has been her first season she is learning every day. She has great potential as an athlete. The age difference is cool – she brings the youth and personality and I come with experience. It’s a pretty cool mix.”
Agatha’s long list of achievements on the beach would be a major attraction for any young and ambitious player, let alone a rising star as talented as Duda. Not only is Agatha a former world champ and Olympic silver medalist, she has an impressive haul of 24 international medals to her name in a glittering career spanning over 100 tournaments around the globe.
“Agatha has been playing for a long time,” Duda acknowledges. “Being able to learn from her is very special and that experience I’ve had playing on the tour has added a lot of value. I admire her very much and this is very important for our relationship inside and outside of the court.”
Over the past four seasons Duda has built a glowing reputation as the next Brazilian beach volleyball sensation. Named by the sport’s governing body, the FIVB, as the Top Rookie in 2016, the teenager has won everything there is to win at junior level. She scooped the Under-19 World Championships in 2013 a month before her 16th birthday. That was the first of three Under-19 world titles. In 2016 and 2017 she also won the Under-21 World Championships. Duda was just 17 when she won her first senior medal on the World Tour with Elize Maia on home sand in Maceio – beating opposition twice her age.
Despite a fantastic first season together, the pair are keeping their feet firmly on the court. Like many beach volleyball constellations, they are focusing on achieving their shared dream of success. Not since the first Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta have Brazilian women won the gold medal. First they have to get there…
“We talk a lot and we are both focused on the main goal of reaching Tokyo,” explains Agatha. “With this goal in our sights we want to improve every day.”
Duda, belying her tender years, answers like a seasoned pro. “Our willingness of being together and aiming for one goal – Tokyo,” she says. “That’s what keeps us learning from each other on a daily basis.”
For Agatha she is acutely aware that she has a responsibility to help nurture one of Brazil’s most precocious and talked-about talents. But that goes beyond beach volleyball – and that’s what makes this particular team dynamic so special.
“I am very happy and I am pleased to see Duda’s evolution as a human being,” she says. “I will see this passage of her life, from girl to woman.
“When we finish the cycle, she will be another Duda. I love contributing to her because I have the pleasure to do so.
“Our partnership has to work both inside and out, I love socializing with her, and having her with me day by day because we do understand each other and we do have a lot of friendship off the court despite our age.”
Together they are proving that age is just a number – and hoping that their figures add up to even more success in 2018 and beyond.