24.04.2019 - Xiamen, China.
It’s the moment the women’s beach volleyball elite knew was going to happen eventually. A moment that they had always feared at the back of their collective minds. After months of preparation and training, Laura Ludwig is returning to action after her baby break. And it’s happening this week in China.
The reigning Olympic and World Champion makes her much-anticipated comeback to the sand at the four-star event in Xiamen as she and long-time friend, Maggie Kozuch, make their debut on the World Tour when they meet reigning European champions Madeleine Meppelink and Sanne Keizer in their first match of pool play on Thursday.
With all the practice and training done, all that remains for the pair to do is to get on the sand and show the world they mean business ahead of this year’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships presented by comdirect and ALDI Nord in their homeland.
Yes, there’s a lot of beach volleyball to be played before they take to home sand at the Rothenbaum but Laura is excited at the prospect of getting much-needed game-time, starting against the experience Dutch pair in China.
“The last three months have gone better than we probably expected,” admits the 33-year-old defender. “We’re feeling good and we can’t wait for the tournaments. We’re finding our language on and off the court. It helps that we know each other so well, there’s trust and chemistry in the team so the feeling is good, really good.”
Having last served a beach volleyball 20 months ago when she won the 2017 World Tour Finals in Hamburg with Kira Walkenhorst, Ludwig isn’t expecting immediate miracles when she sets foot on the court in China this week.
But having childhood friend Kozuch – the pair have known each other since they were 14 – alongside will definitely help.
“I’m very grateful to have Maggie by my side,” says Ludwig with a smile. “She’s positive and open to everything we do and she loves it. We’ve known each other for so long and that gives us a good feeling because with every passing day the pressure goes away a little. That enables us to focus on ourselves.
“We know we can play well, the unknown is just we haven’t played in a tournament yet. In terms of technique and athleticm we’re in a good place. We feel we’re heading in the right direction.”
Kozuch, who ended her partnership with Karla Borger after the German women’s teams completed a huge partner-swapping exercise in the wake of Walkenhorst’s retirement, is just as focused as her friend and teammate in the quest for glory this season.
“It’s a process, a huge and intense process,” said the 32-year-old, a late-comer to the beach having enjoyed a hugely successful indoor career. “We’re taking things step by step, from one practice to the next. That’s what we can control. Playing is, of course, another process – this will show up other dynamics that we will have to work on, but they will be things we will also look forward to improving. We just want to get out there and play.”
And play they will.
While it remains to be seen how the pair will fair when it comes to their first competitive outing when they get to work on Thursday, you can be sure these friends will fight for each other – and in beach volleyball, that’s a special chemistry that all the training in the world can’t replicate.