England’s Zara Dampney and Lucy Boulton stormed their way through qualification at the Fuzhou Open, the first beach volleyball event of the season, but have found progress halted since then.
The pair, teaming up for the first time since 2008, eased past Colombians Andrea and Claudia Galindo in straight sets (21-16 21-15) before being thrown into a tough match against top-seeded Brazil. Surprisingly, and against the odds, the English team went on to 21-16 21-19.
“Feel really good just buzzing really, obviously the top seed in the qualifier, we knew it was a tough draw when we got it last night,” Boulton told the FIVB. “But we’ve been working really hard in this pre-season and we’re a new team so there’s always stuff to work on and we really delivered today so we’re really pleased.”
Unfortunately, moving on to the main draw brought new challenges. Placed in Pool A as the lowest ranked partnership, Dampney and Boulton were faced with an opening match against home favourites Chen Xue and Zhang Xi. As expected, the Chinese pair dominated proceedings, opening up a 21-10 win in the first set. Olympian Dampney, who teamed up with Shauna Mullin for London 2012, and Boulton put up a stronger fight in the second, but still succumbed to a straight sets defeat.
Matters didn’t improve that evening, with another whitewash, this time to 16th seeds Evgenia Ukolova and Svetlana Popova. Lying bottom of the pool with just one game to go – against another Russian pair, Ekaterina Khomyakova and Maria Propopeva – and no chance of reaching the top two, England’s participation in the Fuzhou Open is all but over.
Even so, it’s a reassuring start to the season. Dampney and Boulton will return as wildcards in the Shanghai Grand Prix as wildcards in the main draw.