2019-04-23 17:17:00 CEST

Time for Xiamen!

Beach elite head to China for crucial four-star action

Reigning World and Olympic champion Laura Ludwig makes her first return to beach volleyball in 20 months in XiamenReigning World and Olympic champion Laura Ludwig makes her first return to beach volleyball in 20 months in Xiamen

What’s the deal?

Beginning on Wednesday and ending on Sunday, the 300,000 US Dollar four star Xiamen event will feature a number of the world’s best beach volleyball athletes. As is the standard, 32 teams will contest the main draw, which will kick-off on Thursday. 24 teams have already assured themselves a spot in the pool play and will be joined by eight teams who successfully negotiate the qualification round.

Eyes on qualification

It’s not often you see former Olympic and World champions needing to qualify, but that’s exactly what will happen in both the men’s and women’s qualification stage in Xiamen.

In the men’s division, Olympic hero of 2016 Alison Cerutti and new partner Álvaro Filho and André Loyola, the 2017 World Champ, and his new teammate George Wanderely both line-up in the qualification stage, needing two wins to make it through to pool play. The men’s section looks especially tough, with Americans Stafford Slick/Billy Allen and John Hyden/Ryan Doherty also in the mix, alongside Swiss pair Nico Beeler/Marco Krattiger and Dutch duo Christiaan Varenhorst and Steven van de Velde.

On the women’s side three-time Olympic and World champ Kerri Walsh Jennings line-up with Brooke Sweat in the quali, alongside the likes of Liliana Fernandez/Elsa Baquerizo of Spain and Talita Antunes and Taiana Lima of Brazil. Also in qualification are young guns Ana Patricia and Rebecca Silva of Brazil – who have won two of their last four World Tour tournaments.

Familiar faces

The tournament has attracted almost every top team on the planet so competition will be tough. The top men’s seeds are Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sørum, while Czech pair Barbora Hermannová and Marketa Sluková head the women’s main draw.

Want to know if your favorite teams are in action? Click here to view the full men’s list, and here for the full list of women’s entrants.

Ludwig makes comeback

The tournament’s most significant piece of news is the return of reigning Olympic and World champion Laura Ludwig. The 33-year-old has not appeared on the World Tour since winning the World Tour Finals in Hamburg with Kira Walkenhorst. Alongside new teammate Maggie Kozuch, the defender will be making her first competitive appearance on the sand in 20 months.

Anders Mol (left) returns to partner Christian Sørum having missed Doha through injuryAnders Mol (left) returns to partner Christian Sørum having missed Doha through injury

Ones to watch

Given the talent on show, you would be hard pressed to pick a winner before a ball is served. However, there are some interesting new partnerships debuting in China, including German team Chantal Laboureur/Sandra Ittlinger – one of four teams from the European nation in the women’s main draw.

Of the men, Chilean cousins Esteban and Marco Grimalt will be eyeing a third successive World Tour gold medal having won their last two. Seven of the top eight seeded teams are all European, while the seventh seeded tandem are Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan of Qatar. After winning silver in Australia in early March, Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi are wildcards.

It’s also worth re-reading the qualification section – given the big names in with a chance of making the main draw.

Double-bubble

It’s a World Championship year and an Olympic qualification cycle so every point really does matter in Xiamen this week. For many teams this could be the final opportunity to rubber-stamp their ticket to Hamburg later this year. The final tournament to count towards World Championship qualification will come next week at the three-star event in Kuala Lumpur.

And if you know your history…

This will be the seventh World Tour tournament held in Xiamen since the first took place in 2013.

Last season Russia’s Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Igor Velichko won gold, beating compatriots Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Nikita Liamin – those teams have now swapped partners. In the women’s event, Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan topped the podium.

No team or individual has ever won gold more than once. However, Swiss women won consecutive tournaments in Xiamen; Joana Heidrich and Nadine Zumkehr winning in 2015 before Isabelle Forrer and Anouk Vergé-Dépré won a year later.

Where can I watch it?

The FIVB will be streaming the action live on their YouTube channel from the semifinals onwards. 

We'll have a recap of all the winners on Monday.

And finally... What else can I expect?

Other than top-class beach action, you are most likely to see players' social media accounts full of the delights of Chinese cuisine! 

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