Pressure. What pressure?

17.06.2019 - Hamburg

A new team for 2019, number one seeds from Germany Sandra Ittlinger and Chantal Laboureur are aiming to use home advantage for their benefit as they head to Hamburg for their first World Championship appearance as a team after a hectic start to 2019

It’s 2017, and a week has passed since Chantal Laboureur has reached the quarter-finals in arguably the biggest ever Beach Volleyball World Championships in Vienna. Sandra Ittlinger is out in Liechtenstein and has just posted a ninth-place in a finish in European Satellite event and will share 120 Euros prize money with teammate Sandra Seyfferth.

“I think I can just about remember that,” admits Sandra two years on. We don’t blame her for not expanding further on such an episode. It’s hardly humble bragging territory.

They say a week is a long time in beach volleyball. So two years must seem like a lifetime for Chantal and Sandra as, in under two weeks, the pair head for Hamburg to play together as the number one seeds in the Beach Volleyball World Championships

Six months ago, both players were looking ahead to these forthcoming home world championships with different partners. Teammates with whom they had enjoyed great success with. Teammates they thought would continue that success with.

Yes, a week is indeed a long time in beach volleyball. Many words have been written discussing the politics of beach volleyball team relationships. Now is not the time to dwell over past partner-swapping – Sandra and Chantal have a job to do and a title to win for Germany.

As number one seeds, they stand a fair chance of doing just that in what looks a mouthwateringly wide-open women’s event – just don’t talk to them about pressure. Their smiles in response tell their own story.

“It’s a World Championships at home, how often do you get that in a lifetime?” asks Chantal rhetorically. She remember the spirit of 2017 that helped Austrians Clemens Doppler and Alex Horst win silver in Vienna.

“We want to enjoy this experience, it will be very special. We don’t often get the chance to see our families so hearing a familiar voice from the crowd will help us. To have the whole crowd at your back is worth one or two points – and that can be enough to win a game.

“I was there in Vienna when the Austrians went through the tournament and reached the final. I had goosebumps. It was one of the most spectacular images I’ve had from the last two years. Hopefully it will be like this for us in Hamburg – without the pressure.”

Laboureur, 29, already has experience of two previous world championships, while Ittlinger will be making her debut when she takes to the Rothenbaum for the opening match of the tournament on the Red Bull Beach Arena against Paraguay’s Patricia Caballero and Michelle Valiente on June 28.

The 24-year-old enjoyed a breakout season in 2018 with Kim Behrens before accepting Laboureur’s invitation to form a team in January this year.

And the promising blocker remains excited at the prospect of making her championship bow alongside someone of Chantal’s talent and experience.

“I don’t feel any pressure at all – I’m surprisingly relaxed actually,” says Sandra. “I feel as though the pressure is on a lot of the other teams because they have to prove themselves. We have a key focus on developing ourselves as a team. We know that if we play well then we can have a good tournament.

“As number one seeds it makes things a little easier for us in terms of the draw so we have to make the most of this advantage and playing at home obviously helps.

“But while winning the World Championships or qualifying for the Olympics are of course the goals, they are not the only things that matter. We want to develop as a team. That’s the process.”

Results for the pair in their first four tournaments have been mixed as they strive to arrive in Hamburg in peak form.

Last week the duo finished in 17th place in Warsaw, where they lost to eventual winners Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho.

Like in any new partnership, every passing day is one that helps build a team.

“With every match and every practice session we learn more about each other’s game on the court,” says Ittlinger. “This is what it’s all about. This is the time. We’re still in the beginning and we’re here and we’re ready for Hamburg.”

Chantal agrees. “It’s a special time. It also makes it fun. We’re adapting to each other’s style and day by day we’re learning about each other as people, too, which is nice.

“Sandra already has the experience, she’s not totally new and it’s cool to be behind a blocker like her. Of course it’s common that things take time with a new partner and we’re still working on this. We’re not in this just for Hamburg, we’re in this for the long-run, so let’s see.”

Ittlinger has come a long way in just two years since winning 60 Euro in Liechtenstein. She now has an opportunity to net a share of a prize 1,000 times that when she steps out on the Red Bull Beach Arena for the first match a week on Friday.

“I’m not looking back, all I know is I’m happy to have this chance,” she says. “I’ve had a bit of luck and worked very hard. Sure there’s been a few ‘oh my god, what am I doing?’ moments and every day hasn’t always been smiles and happiness. That’s why I’m looking ahead.

“And one thing’s for sure in Hamburg: we’re going to make it super hard for the other teams.”

Sandra and Chantal’s Pool A opener against Cabellero/Valiente will be live on BeachStream on June 28. Click here to register for free.