14.06.2019 - Hamburg
This week in Warsaw Anouk Vergé-Dépré and Joana Heidrich had to grind their way through two tough games in qualification to make it to the main draw.
But you won’t find these Swiss stars complaining.
In the nicest possible way, and in their own words, they need the practise.
Twelve months ago the pair won silver at the four-star in Itapema and went into their home Major in Gstaad with high hopes of ending the wait for a Swiss gold medal in the mountains.
But an injury sustained by Joana in their elimination match against Marleen van Iersel and Joy Stubbe shattered that dream.
Only now are the team finding their game again after Heidrich cut short the 2018 season after undergoing surgery.
Individual recovery takes time. As does rekindling the team rhythm and connection. Back-to-back 25th places in Xiamen and Itapema in the early stages of this season were testament to that.
The results meant their points took a hit and they tumbled down the world rankings. Anouk and Joana subsequently found themselves seeded number 32 for this year’s World Championships in Hamburg, which saw them paired in Pool C alongside current world number ones, Canadians Brandie Wilkerson and Heather Bansley.
But despite the struggles over the past year, the 27-year-old duo are making the most of their extra time on the sand as they bid to build on their ninth place finish at the last World Championships in Vienna two years ago.
“It wasn’t easy to stop last year and lose momentum but surgery was the right decision,” admits blocker Joana. “We’ve need some time to find our rhythm again. We went a long time without playing real games, only friendly matches. Since we’ve returned we’re still find that. We’re getting there but I’m happy to be back alongside Anouk on the court.”
And these extra games are already paying off in terms of confidence and fitness. In Warsaw, their second qualification match saw them edge a three-set thriller against Ukraine’s in-form pair Diana Lunina and Maryna Samoday.
On Thursday, Anouk and Joana took down Germany’s Sandra Ittlinger and Chantal Laboureur in pool play to assure themselves a place in the knockout phase. Friday then saw the pair add even more minutes on the sand together, beating Brazilians Taiana and Talita in three sets before losing in the Last 16 clash against Agatha and Duda in another game that went the distance.
“We had a rough start to the season but we needed the game time to find the rhythm on the court that we reached last year,” says Anouk. “We know we have it in us to beat any team on our day.
“Of course after a long break in competition it takes its time and that’s why qualifying for Warsaw, even though it has been a while since we needed to, was a help. We’ll make the best out of any situation and its good preparation for the World Champs.”
Never before has the women’s game been so deep. Six different teams have won three and four star tournament gold medals from the last seven events.
And it’s that kind of statistic that Anouk believes makes for a fascinating 10 days of competition when the Red Bull Beach Arena opens its doors for the World Championships in Hamburg at the end of June.
“Overall the level is really, really tight – a team that can finish 25th can win it,” she says. “With every tournament we’re finding that little bit more. There’s still time until Hamburg so there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic.”
Vienna two years ago was the duo’s first World Championships together but not their first individually.
Both players tasted World Champs experience in 2013 and 2015 with their former teammates; Joana with Nadine Zumkehr and Anouk alongside Isabelle Forrer – two very experienced beach volleyball players with whom they also played together with at the 2016 Olympics.
“Nadine helped me and pushed me to reach a really good level,” explains Heidrich. “I’m thankful for that. Since then I’ve improved my game and my mental strength.”
So with experience behind them and with a fully-fit Joana back on the sand, who’s to say the pair can’t make history and become the first Swiss women’s team to win a World Championship medal.
“Of course we’re heading for Hamburg looking to better Vienna. We’ll probably run into a Brazilian team – we always do [they played three Brazilian teams at 2017 championships, losing to Larissa/Talita in the Last 16],” laughs Anouk.
“But we’ll go there excited, proud to represent Switzerland and confident of making a good result.”