EST

It has been two years since Latvian beach volleyball fans were treated to the finest players in the world. As such, it has also been two years since Estonians Mart Tiisaar and Kusti Nolvak have treated Latvian fans to their personal brand of beach volleyball.

On Thursday in Jurmala, host of this weekend’s Elite 16, it seemed Latvia missed the Estonians as much as the Estonians missed Latvia.

“It feels like home,” Nolvak said after an opening loss to Brazilians Andre Loyola and George Wanderley. “It feels like home.”

And for good reason. The Estonians were treated as if they were Latvians themselves, with the crowd loudly cheering for Nolvak and Tiisaar during their first and only match of the day. The memories of those in attendance must be long, for the last time Nolvak and Tiisaar competed in Latvia was in 2019, which was, coincidentally, the first international event Latvia hosted.

They made an impression, winning five straight matches of what was then a three-star event to make it into the finals, where they battled with home favorites Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins, falling 21-23, 14-21. Now they’re back, and the crowd has clearly remembered the pair, who will have an uphill battle to break pool play and advance into the quarterfinals.

“There are some really strong teams, including the Olympic champions, waiting for us,” Tiisaar said. “We need to be really damn good.”

There was, as there always is – and always will be – some very good volleyball on display throughout the day in Jurmala, beginning with an epic clash between Brazil’s Alison and Guto and Qatar’s Ahmed Tijan and Cherif Samba. For the second consecutive time, it was Alison and Guto who emerged with the win, 20-22, 21-18, 15-11, over the reigning Olympic bronze medallists.

Hours later, it would be Austrians Phillipp Waller and Robin Seidl who engineered the biggest upset of the day, if not the season, stunning Ostrava gold medalists Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, 19-21, 21-11, 15-13.

In keeping the theme of upsets, Hendrik Mol and Mathias Berntsen, who emerged from Wednesday’s qualifier to make their first Elite 16 main draw, then topped Alison and Guto, 21-18, 21-19.

Hendrik

Hendrik Mol of Norway in action at the net

Such became the theme on Thursday, as Americans Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, playing in just their fourth international tournament of their careers, qualified on Wednesday and promptly stumped Switzerland’s Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich and Brazil’s Taiana Lima and Hegeile. The wins guarantee they’ll break pool, moving into the weekend’s quarterfinals.

Also a sure bet to move on is the Netherlands’ white hot duo of Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon, who opened the day with a three-set win over Brazilians Andressa Cavalcanti and Vitoria De Souza (21-19, 18-21, 15-12) and closed it with a sweep of Canadians Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan.

Pool A may have featured the most-anticipated matchup on the women’s side, with ninth-seeded Carolina Salgado and Barbara Seixas of Brazil clashing with the home favorites and top-seeded Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka. In front of a packed stadium crowd, it was Barbara and Carol who prevailed, winning 19-21, 21-19, 15-11, using a 5-0 run to begin the third set to seal the victory.

“It’s always nice to play in a great venue with people cheering, even if it’s not for us,” Carol said with a laugh. “It’s more fun to play like this and they are an amazing team. We knew that the crowd would be for them. But I think even like this it’s so good to be on the court and feel this energy.”

For some, you could say that the energy even feels like home.