Santa Monica and the marvelous state of California are the first place where a two-man beach volleyball game was ever played. Only a few kilometers away, placed on the very same coastline near Los Angeles, Long Beach and its splendid weather hosted the US Grand Slam for a second year in a row.
Officially named Acics World Series of Beach Volleyball, the event was again dominated by Americans. Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal won back-to-back titles in Long Beach, following their last year’s glorious campaign finish against the Spaniards Herrera-Gavira. This year the home favourites had another European rivals in the gold medal match. Grzegorz Fijalek and Mariusz Prudel are one of the teams Dalhausser-Rosenthal do not quite enjoy playing against, especially taking into consideration their previous two encounters. The Poles won the Moscow Grand Slam semifinal and last week beat them in The Hague’s gold medal match, which eventually brought them a world record-breaking beach volleyball net reward. The same monetary contribution was on stake in Long Beach as well, but this time the Americans had the home crowd’s support with them.
The final reminded pretty much of the meeting between USA and Poland from a week ago in The Netherlands. A few mistakes by Rosenthal in the opening set gave a 1-0 advantage to Fijalek-Prudel. Then it was again the Americans’ turn to score an impressive run in the second set that would send the game to a decider. Unlike the drama seven days ago, Dalhausser-Rosenthal took control in the middle of the tie-break to eventually break their Polish curse in three sets (22-24, 21-17 and 15-9).
The bronze medal game prior to the long-awaited spectacle offered another three interesting sets. The two surprising semifinalists did not have the strength to make it all the way, but made a superb impression in California and had to settle eventually for a third-place match. The 25th-seeded Americans Rogers-Brunner met, to me, the most rapidly developing European team this summer, the Germans Walkenhorst-Windscheif. The 25-year old blocker Alexander Walkenhorst had a silver pair of medals already with Lars Flüggen, achieved at the Anapa Open last year, whereas his 26-year old partner Stefan Windscheif won a bronze medal in the company of Sebastian Dollinger back in 2008 at the Manama Open in Bahrain. Walkenhorst-Windscheif‘s only appearance together before 2014 was at the U23 CEV European Championship in Yantarniy, Russia, where the Germans grabbed the title. This season they reached top 10 in most international tournaments they took part in and had to wait till Long Beach for their first semifinal after the disappointing quarterfinal elimination at the European Championship in Cagliari a month ago.
Americans were the winners in the “small” final as well. 21-17, 18-21, 15-12 in an hour was enough for Rogers-Brunner to win their first World Tour distinction as a team. The two US players both have a reason to appreciate what they achieved on home soil. Despite being 40, Todd Rogers is still one of the game’s flagmen and won his first World Tour medal since 2012 when he was still competing alongside Phil Dalhausser. The joy for Theodore Brunner must be special in a bit different, yet enchanting way. The former indoor middle blocker, back then playing professionally for Marmi Lanza Verona in the Italian Serie A1, was just about to be transferred to the German vice-champion Generali Unterhaching when they discovered a problem with his heart, which put an early end to his indoor career. Now, several years later, Brunner seems to be happily enjoying his time on the beach.