Anything goes at a loaded field at p1440 Las Vegas
“When Phil Dalhausser used to be in your pool,” Cherif Samba began, before shaking his head and laughing. That, he said at p1440 Las Vegas, was basically that.
Dalhausser would win the pool and probably the tournament, because that’s just how things went in the era of Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, tantamount to how it went with Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, who famously won three consecutive gold medals and posted a winning streak three figures long.
Those days are over. Long over.
Samba acknowledged as much, as did Norwegians Christian Sorum and Anders Mol, this year’s best approximation of Dalhausser-Rogers, the ones who took gold in three consecutive majors.
“You see guys come out of the qualifier,” Sorum said a week ago, “and win a bronze medal.”
Indeed, that was Samba and his partner, Ahmed Tijan, in Vienna, advancing from the qualifier to win a bronze, beating the Netherlands’ Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen for the podium.
Such has been the theme all season on the FIVB: Anybody, on any given weekend, can win. Las Vegas, the four-star event to kick off Olympic qualification, is no different.
The second round of the men’s tournament pitted Mol and Sorum, the world’s current No. 1, against Latvia’s Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs, the world No. 5. Former world No. 1 Brouwer and Meeuwsen went down in three to Ricardo Santos, the most decorated blocker in FIVB history, and Alvaro Filho.
Burno Oscar Schmidt and Pedro Solberg, both of whom have been named the world’s best at their respective positions at one point or another, lost in a white-knuckler to Spaniards Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira.
Three matches down were Samba and Tijan, a lovely upstart from Qatar, two-time bronze medalists in major events this season, and Italians Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo, 2016 Olympic silver medalists.
There’s no breaks. Not in this event. Not in any World Tour event. Not anymore.
“This is as deep as it’s I’ve seen it,” Samba said, a sentiment echoed by Trevor Crabb, who, alongside Tri Bourne, survived a three-setter against Germans Philipp Bergmann and Yannick Harms to earn a quarterfinal berth on Saturday.
“Anybody can win any tournament,” Crabb said. “It’s never been like this.”
The same rule applies to the women and, in particular, for Vegas at least, the American women. Three of the five main draw American women teams were seeded into the same corner of the bracket, meaning two would be knocked out by friendly fire before the weekend even began.
Betsi Flint and Emily Day made the route out of the gauntlet as interesting as possible, beating Walsh-Jennings and Brooke Sweat, in their debut tournament together, 19-21, 21-19, 15-12 before upsetting top-seeded Sara Hughes and Summer Ross 22-20, 14-21, 15-11 on a Friday Night Lights match, the final of the evening.
“It’s already our best finish in a four-star,” Flint said. “We’ve just been battling through qualifiers this year. We were counting the other day, we’re five for five in qualifiers, we just needed to make a move in the main draw.”
They were, however, one of just two teams — Brazil’s Ana Silva and Rebecca Cavalcanti were the other — able to make a move to the quarterfinals of the main draw. With the lighting on stadium and feature courts being too dim to play, the later matches were pushed to Saturday morning, meaning what is sure to be only additional madness, unpredictable upsets.
It’s Vegas, after all.
What else could you expect?
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