You would have to do some digging inside beach volleyball records to find out the last time an Asian team won the final of a FIVB World Tour event. Almost six years after the Chinese twosome Xu-Wu grabbed the gold at the Marseille Open in 2010, the Qatari Jefferson-Cherif made it all the way to win the inaugural event of 2016 in Iran.
FIVB’s premier beach volleyball circuit visited the Islamic Republic of Iran for the first time. It had arrived to three different locations in the Persian Gulf already, however, with Bahrain’s Manama, Qatar’s Doha, and United Arab Emirates’ Dubai all having been hosts previously. Kish Island is a free trade zone and is touted as a consumer’s paradise, with numerous malls, shopping centers, tourist attractions, and resort hotels. The island was even ranked among the world’s 10 most beautiful islands by The New York Times in 2010. The Open, on the other side, was the first I could remember to finish on Friday, whereas most FIVB events stretch to a weekend in order to attract as many spectators as possible. The main arena was perhaps the smallest to host an official event, but its close proximity to the water, literally a few steps away, made it a charming location for sports.
Doha-born, Jefferson Santos Pereira and Younousse Cherif started their partnership in 2015 and had been quite unknown to the wide beach volleyball audience until the 2015 World Championship in the Netherlands. The Qatari were one of the surprise packages back then and reached a remarkable quarterfinal berth. I emphasized on their performance last year even if it was their only outburst, although, to be fair, we have to say that they took part in very few international events, and now they start this year’s campaign in the best way. First podium on the World Tour and first pair of gold medals for Jefferson-Cherif.
The final match was not an easy ride for the 18th-seeded Qatari. They faced the 11th-seeded Russians Stoyanovskiy-Yarzutkin who also enjoyed their maiden final on a FIVB event. Both 19, Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Artem Yarzutkin had previously shone at the domestic Sochi Open in 2015 where they finished 5th after losing against compatriots Semenov-Koshkarev in the quarterfinals. The young Russians also played great in the group stage of the World Championship where they put the legendary Brazilians Ricardo-Emanuel to the limit, although they lost 16-18 in the tie-break. Stoyanovskiy-Yarzutkin performed their best beach volleyball ever in Iran and entered the final on Friday unbeaten, having previously eliminated countrymen Barsouk-Lyamin in the Last 16, the top-seeded Germans Böckermann-Flüggen in the quarterfinals, and Poland’s Kadziola-Szalankiewicz in the first semifinal.
The finalists were tied at one set apiece when Stoyanovskiy-Yarzutkin, still on the crest of the wave after having dominated in the second part (21-14), took a comfortable lead by 5 points (8-3) in the decider. It looked as if the Russians were about to finish the tournament unbeaten and then the drama happened. The Qatari took a well-needed time-out, cleared their minds and miraculously turned the status quo in their favour. Those were the moments of the 20-year-old Younousse Cherif who made a spectacular series of stuff blocks (watch the video below) and had a significant contribution for the final set score of 15-12.
“Sometimes you have to stop and have a time-out and say ‘let’s start again’,” Jefferson said. “We got back into the game and then they started to make mistakes. It came down to pressure and we put the pressure on them and made them make mistakes.”
It was the fourth time this week when Stoyanovskiy-Yarzutkin came back from a set behind, but unlike the previous three occasions, this time they succumbed to Jefferson-Cherif (13-21, 21-14, 12-15).
Multiple junior and youth world champions, Bartosz Losiak and Piotr Kantor added a bronze medal set to their collection, thus building on their bronze medals from the Sao Paulo Grand Slam in 2014 and the silver medals form the Stavanger Major in 2015. In an all-Polish affair, Losiak-Kantor defeated the 5th-seeded Kadziola-Szalankiewicz in three sets (21-19, 15-21, 15-11). Also multiple junior and youth world champions, Michal Kadziola and Jakub Szalankiewicz reached their first-ever World Tour semifinal, but will have to work harder to grab their first set of accolades.
The 2016 World Tour continues with another Open. The circuit moves to the warm Brazil where Maceio will host an international men’s event for the first time in history. Athletes would cherish the chance to remain longer in Brazil as the Maceio Open will be followed by the Rio de Janeiro Grand Slam and the Vitoria Open, thus forming an almost full month of beach volleyball actions in the South American country. And they won’t be the last ones as at the end of May we will return to Brazil and the city of Fortaleza for another Open, whereas Rio will welcome the world’s supreme sportsmen for the 2016 Olympic Games in August.