TOKYO — April Ross and Alix Klineman put away a Cuban team they had never played before.
Next up for the Americans is one of the most familiar faces in all of beach volleyball: Four-time Olympian — and defending gold medalist — Laura Ludwig.
Ross and Klineman beat Cuba in straight sets, 21-17, 21-15 in their knockout round opener on Monday to reach the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics beach volleyball tournament, where they will meet the German and her current partner Maggie Kozuch.
Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst won it all in Rio de Janeiro, where Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings took bronze.
“We have a lot of respect for them and, obviously, Laura’s success,” said Klineman, who also played against Kozuch on the Italian indoor volleyball tour. “We know they’re going to come out motivated. As are we.”
Asked how many times she had played against the 35-year-old Ludwig over the years, Ross said “a lot. A lot.” According to the Beach Volleyball Database, Ross and her partners are 20-8 over the years against Ludwig and hers; they did not meet in London or Rio.
One day after two U.S. teams were eliminated in the round of 16, Ross and Klineman beat Lidy Echeverria and Leila Martinez to keep the Americans’ best medal hopes alive.
After losing the first set, Cuba scored the first four points of the second and still led 9-5 when the Americans cut the deficit to two. Then, at 9-7, Echeverria landed under the net after chasing a ball, and Klineman landed on top of her.
Cuba was initially awarded the point, but the Americans complained to chair referee Rui Carvalho that there was interference; he conferred with second referee Mariko Satomi, and they gave the point to the Americans.
“It’s just people going for the ball, and she came under,” Klineman said. “We got the point, and I got a little fired up and we used that for some momentum going forward. But, you know, no hard feelings. I think we’re both just trying to make a play.”
Instead of a 10-7 Cuban lead, it was 9-8.
And Echeverria was slow to get up. After a few minutes on the sand with her partner tending to her, she got up and tested her knee.
“Once we knew that she was a little bit hurt, we were trying to allow her to gather herself,” Ross said.
The match continued, but not for much longer.
“Obviously, I don’t want to see anybody injured,” Klineman said, “especially at the Olympics.”
In other matches Monday, No. 1 seed Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes of Canada beat Spain in straight sets.
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