Torquay, in southern Australia, is hosting two Beach Pro Tour tournaments this week and next, making it the beach volleyball capital of the world. Firstly, on Wednesday, the qualifying matches for the Challenge event will begin, filling the remaining eight main draw spots for each gender.
There are a total of 16 women’s doubles teams competing in the qualifiers, led by the new combination of Czech talents Helena Havelkova and Marketa Slukova. Slukova, a three-time Olympian in her 34th year, returned from a hiatus to compete in the Beach Pro Tour’s Cape Town Elite16 earlier this month.
She hadn’t played beach volleyball internationally since the Rio Olympics last summer, when she and Barbora Hermannova were forced to withdraw from competition due to a coronavirus illness. She had already won six gold medals, three silver medals, and two bronze medals on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, as well as two silver medals and a bronze medal at the CEV European Championships. Slukova hooked up with one of the finest Czech indoor volleyball talents of the 21st century to begin preparations for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Havelkova, 34, made her international beach volleyball debut with partner Slukova in Cape Town, where they competed in the main draw from the get-go and ultimately placed ninth. Havelkova has won multiple continental and national trophies and medals with clubs in Italy, Russia, Türkiye, and Poland, as well as the 2012 CEV European League crown with the Czech national team. The new squad’s first qualifying match will be against the Australian duo of Lucy Knight and Bailee Kendall at 14:00 local time (03:00 UTC).
The duo of Havelkova and Slukova is currently ranked first in the qualifying round. The second-seeded Japanese duo of Sakurako Fujii and Megumi Murakami will compete in their second Challenge-level main draw qualifying competition after making it to the main draw of the inaugural Dubai Challenge tournament last month. At 15:00 local time, they’ll face Tarryn Angermeier and Anna Donlan of the United States (04:00 UTC).
The Canadian duo of Amanda Harnett and Marie-Alex Belanger are the third seeds in the qualifying round. They didn’t start playing together until late in the season, but they’ve already won many medals on the NORCECA Tour and are poised to make their debut on the Beach Pro Tour. Their first opponents will be Australians Kasey Hogan and Elizabeth Alchin.
One set of matches will make up the women’s qualifier, with the winners moving on to Thursday’s main draw.
22-year-old Portuguese duo Joao Pedrosa and Hugo Campos are the top seeds in the qualifying round. They have one medal to their name from the Beach Pro Tour so far, a silver from the Cortegaca Futures tournament. While they have experience playing in Challenge level main draws (three total), qualifying for the main draw in Torquay would be their first.
The second-seeded Englishmen Issa Batrane and Frederick Bialokoz are among the favorites to go through the Torquay qualifying round. The pair has won two bronze medals at the Futures level and has main draw experience at both Challenge and Elite16 competitions.
Having just returned to international beach courts after a lengthy layoff due to health issues, three-time Olympian and London 2012 bronze medalist Martins Plavins will try another successful qualifying campaign. He and his new partner, Mihails Samoilovs, made their debut as a duo in the main draw of the inaugural Dubai Challenge, but they failed to advance out of the qualifiers at the second Dubai Challenge and the Sohar Futures in Oman. The Latvians are seeded sixth and will enter the competition on Wednesday at 20:00 local time (09:00 UTC) in the second qualifying round.