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Havelkova & Slukova in Beach Pro Tour action

Torquay is taking over as the beach volleyball capital of the world this week and next as two Beach Pro Tour events take place in southern Australia. First is the Challenge event starting on Wednesday with the qualification matches, which will fill the eight remaining main draw vacancies per gender.

· Watch all matches at the Beach Pro Tour Torquay Challenge event live on Volleyball TV.

The new pairing of Czech stars Helena Havelkova and Marketa Slukova lead the line-up of 16 women’s duos set to engage in the qualifier battles. 34-year-old three-time Olympian Slukova came back from a baby break to make her Beach Pro Tour debut earlier this month at the Cape Town Elite16. She had been absent from international beach volleyball since last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, when she and Barbora Hermannova had to forfeit all their matches because of a coronavirus infection. Before that, she had collected six gold, three silver and two bronze medals on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, in addition to a silver and a bronze at the CEV European Championships. To get on the road to the Paris 2024 Olympics, Slukova teamed up with one of Czechia’s greatest indoor volleyball stars of the 21st century.

34-year-old Havelkova, who has earned a number of continental and national trophies and medals with various club teams in Italy, Russia, Türkiye and Poland, as well as the 2012 CEV European League crown with the Czech national team, made her international beach volleyball debut in Cape Town, where she and Slukova started directly in the main draw and finished with a ninth place. Their game against Australia’s Lucy Knight and Bailee Kendall at 14:00 local time (03:00 UTC) will be the first qualification match for the new team.

Havelkova and Slukova are the top-seeded team in the qualifications. Second-seeded Sakurako Fujii and Megumi Murakami of Japan will try to progress to their second Challenge-level main draw, after their first qualification success last month at the second Dubai Challenge tournament. They will take on USA’s Tarryn Angermeier and Anna Donlan at 15:00 local time (04:00 UTC).

Canada’s Amanda Harnett and Marie-Alex Belanger are seeded third in the qualification bracket. They teamed up late into the season and, after picking up several medals on the NORCECA Tour, are about to appear on the Beach Pro Tour for the first time as a pair. Australia’s Kasey Hogan and Elizabeth Alchin will be their first opponents.

The women’s qualifier will consist of a single round of matches, with all the winners advancing to the main draw action on Thursday.

The men’s qualification line-up consists of 22 teams, who will fill the main draw vacancies after two rounds of play on Wednesday. First serve is at noon local time (01:00 UTC), with an all-Australian clash between Jacob Baird/Timothy Ebbs and Christopher Blake/Jack Gregory opening the centre court for action.

22-year-old Joao Pedrosa and Hugo Campos of Portugal lead the qualification bracket as the number one seedy. So far on the Beach Pro Tour, they have picked up one medal, a Cortegaca Futures silver. They have also played in three Challenge level main draws, but if they make it to the main draw in Torquay, it will be the first time they advance through the qualifiers.

Having already claimed two bronze medals at the Futures level and gained some main draw experience at both Challenge and Elite16 events, second-seeded Englishmen Issa Batrane and Frederick Bialokoz are among the favourites to pass the Torquay qualifier successfully.

Three-time Olympian and London 2012 bronze medallist Martins Plavins will make another attempt at a successful qualification campaign since he returned to the international beach courts after a long health-related absence. He and his new partner Mihails Samoilovs made their team debut directly in the main draw of the first Dubai Challenge, but then they struggled to push their way through the qualifiers at the second Dubai Challenge and the Sohar Futures in Oman. The Latvians are seeded sixth and will start directly from the second qualification round at 20:00 local time (09:00 UTC) on Wednesday.