Younousse, Tijan go down fighting to Brouwer & Meeuwsen in Katara Cup semis

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The lack of experience in handling clutch points at the highest level hurt Qatar’s Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan. The Qatari pair’s dream run was cut short in the semi-finals of the Katara Beach Volleyball Cup by battle-hardened Dutch Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen on Friday but the local duo are still in with a chance to finish with a bronze medal.

At the Katara Amphitheater, a sizeable crowd cheered the eighth seeds Younousse and Tijan, who rallied brilliantly after being five points down in the opening set to gain a set point. However, the Dutch pair, figuring in the 69th event on the FIVB World Tour, knew how to come through and they clinched not only the opener but went on to complete a 22-20, 21-18 win to move into the first final nearly in a year.

Brouwer and Meeuswsen, the 2013 world champions and 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallists, face another rising pair of Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Igor Velichko, who stunned top seeds Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena in straight sets by 21-19 21-16 and set up the final in their very second event as a team.

A fact that underlines the rapid progress of the Russians Stoyanovskiy and Velichko is they are the only unbeaten side left in the $150,000 tournament. Last week, they had lost to the Dutch in the second round of the Fort Lauderdale Major, won by Dalhausser and Lucena.

The 4-Star tournament is not over for Younousse and Tijan yet as they face the Americans in the bronze medal game on the morrow. Should they win, it will be the best finish for the Qatari team. In 2016, Younousse and Jefferson Santos Pereira had bagged the 3-Star Kish Island in Iran.

The Dutch pair, who have posted 23 top-10 finishes on the Tour with three titles and five runners-up spots, have been playing together since January 2011. The last even that they won was the Xiamen Open (3-Star) in April 2017. They quickly shot 6-1 and 7-2 ahead as both Younousse and Tijan made some unforced errors. However, the local duo regained their rhythm and tied the scores at 10.

On several occasions, the two teams were locked. It was Tijan who gained the set point with a sharp smash. However, Brouwer and Meeuwsen, the ninth seeds, negated it with a thrilling retrieve off a service and finished it with a spike. Meeuwsen then foiled Tijan’s smash and put his team ahead. Under pressure, Tijan hit out the next shot to leave the Qataris trailing 0-1.

The second set was more even till 16-16. Using his experience, Meeuwsen got a touch-out and Tijan went for the kill but the shot landed out of the bounds (18-16). The Qatar team reduced the gap by a point with a neat drop but Meeuwsen reeled off two successive points to take the Dutch to the match point. Tijan saved once but off the next one, he smacked the ball long to lose the match in 32 minutes.

Brouwer said after the match, “It was not an easy match at all. The Qatari guys have been playing very well in this tournament and have beaten a lot of good teams. I had earlier seen Younousse but not Tijan. They are doing well and hope to see more of them on the Tour.

“First we were up and then they had a set point. But the key was that we stayed calm during the tight situations and we just kept playing and hoping to get the chances. We eventually got it and the first set was quite important for us. It was a very close game. We’re happy that we won it and moved into the final,” Brouwer said.

“We prepared really well for this match, especially after having to play three matches yesterday. It was quite exhausting for us but we managed to get through.”

Talking about the final, he said, “We had played the Russians last week (Fort Lauderdale Major) and beaten them. We kind of know them. They are also a new and young team. We’re happy that we just had one match today. Hopefully, we can relax, get ready for the final and beat them for the gold medal.”

Younousse said, “We’re happy with the progress in the tournament so far. But still the tournament is not over for us. We aim to reach the podium and make the beach volleyball fans here proud of us.

“We played against the experienced players, the world champions and Olympic medallists. So we had nothing to lose. Their experience was indeed the big difference but the way we rallied back, we have hopes that if we meet them next time, there might be a different result,” he added.

“We’ll go back to the coach and discuss about our mistakes. We’ll try to rectify them so that we can improve. Also we were a bit tired after having to play three tough matches in the heat yesterday. We’ll see how we can cope up with this next time,” Younousse added.

Tijan said, “It has been a good tournament for us. We expected to play tough and not to lose to them. But this is how beach volleyball is. On Saturday, we have the bronze medal game and by God’s grace, we’ll try our best to grab it.”

The first set between the top seeds and the Russians was quite tight with both going neck and neck. At 19-all, Velichko managed a subtle drop and then he fired an overhead smash on the sidelines to put his team 1-0.

Mixing smashes and drops, Stoyanovskiy and Velichko raced to a big 9-5 lead. It was too difficult for the Americans to bridge it. Lucena’s serve went out to hand the rivals the first match point (15-20). Lucena secured a point with a drop but off the next one, but the tall Stoyanovskiy pushed the net ball for a winner to seal a place in the final.

Stoyanovskiy, “We’re very happy to reach the first final. It feels good to beat such a top team like the Americans. We’ve made a huge progress as a team.”

“Nobody would like to lose the final of such a wonderful tournament and we’ll try our best tomorrow,” added Stoyanovskiy.

Results

Semi-finals

Alexander Brouwer / Robert Meeuwsen (Netherlands) (9) def. Cherif Younousse / Ahmed Tijan (Qatar) (8) 22-20, 21-18 (0:32)

Oleg Stoyanovskiy / Igor Velichko (Russia) (15) def. Phil Dalhausser / Nick Lucena (United States) (1) 21-19, 21-16 (0:34)

Saturday’s fixtures

Bronze Medal

2.30 pm – Cherif Younousse / Ahmed Tijan (Qatar) (8) vs. Phil Dalhausser / Nick Lucena (United States) (1)

Gold Medal

3.30 pm – Alexander Brouwer / Robert Meeuwsen (Netherlands) (9) vs. Oleg Stoyanovskiy / Igor Velichko (Russia) (15)