26.06.2019 - Hamburg
“Winning it once is hard but winning it a second time is way harder,” says Robert Meeuwsen as we reminisce about one of beach volleyball’s most recent success stories.
And he should know more than most.
Six years ago, nobody expected Robert and his teammate Alexander Brouwer to rock the beach volleyball world like they did.
Before the 2013 Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stare Jabłonki, the young Dutchmen’s best result on the FIVB World Tour was one quarter-final appearance. Their two years together on the sand before their adventure in Poland was nothing to write home about.
But they were steadily improving. The 33rds and 25ths progressed to some 17ths, before a few ninths began to appear.
Then, at the World Championships everything clicked. They beat all before them and the duo lifted the world title. Alexander, just 23, Robert, 25, were all of a sudden the team to watch out for. Had their lives changed? How did it feel to become crowned world champion so soon in their careers?
“It was out of the blue,” continues Robert, who plays as blocker. “When you become champions of the world you start to expect more of yourself. It was not only a boost to us but it was a boost to the sport in the Netherlands. However, it feels a long time ago now.”
Indeed six years have passed since that glorious day in Stare Jabłonki. Yet in the past two World Championships – in 2015 on home sand in The Hague and in Vienna in 2017 – there has been disappointment. Two 17th place finishes. For the former World Champions and 2016 Olympic bronze medalists that’s not good enough.
“It’s been a while since those times and we excelled at a major tournament. We’re hungry for more,” says Alex. “The World Championships comes round once every two years. It’s the biggest tournament in beach volleyball and we want to get our title back. It’s about time.”
They thought they were on the right track in Vienna two years ago. On the Danube Island, all seemed to be going well for the boys in orange. They breezed through the pool play stage. Didn’t drop a set. Saw off Michal Bryl and Grzegorz Fijalek in 37 minutes. Easy.
Then came the knockout stage and it all fell apart. Having taken the first set against Belgians Dries Koekelkoren and Tom van Walle, they threw it away. Their neighbors progressed, and just like they did in The Hague two years before, they were packing their backpacks and heading home.
“We won some great matches on the Center Court and then got our asses kicked,” said Alex. “It was hard. Our expectations were so high. To lose in the manner in which we did, on a side court in a dramatic match, was not how we wanted the tournament to end. That’s beach volleyball. You lose, you’re out and you have to wait another two years for another World Championship opportunity.
“It was a good learning experience for us and now, in Hamburg, I think it’s time we show all the things that we’ve put in our backpacks over the years and show people that we’re able to win a title again.”
Standing in their way are a host of challengers, including Americans Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser, who they face in a tough-looking Pool A.
Also in their sights are the number one seeds from Norway, Anders Mol and Christian Sørum.
However, the Dutchmen are taking heart from the fact they are one of the few teams on the World Tour to have beaten the Vikings, winning four of their six previous meetings.
“There are so many good teams that can win the title but for me they are the favorites,” says Alex. “They’ve been winning so many events, and won so many last year.
“But they will have to hope they don’t meet us in the knockout round as they will have some problems. We seem to be the only team that can beat these guys!”
Time will tell if the Alex and Rob can repeat their 2013 fairytale in Hamburg. But with the experience on their side and a little less expectation resting on their shoulders than usual – it would take a fool to write them off on the Red Bull Beach Arena this time round.