Cherif and Ahmed defeat back to back American teams en route to a semifinal bout with David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig
Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan have not played an event on the AVP, the domestic beach volleyball tour in the United States. But Saturday provided a small glimpse into what it might look like should they ever get a wild card or the proper visa to do so. Twice on Saturday at the Maldives Challenge did the Qataris match up with an American team, and twice did they sweep the young Americans, beginning with a 21-15, 21-13 victory over Beach Pro Tour rookies Logan Webber and Evan Cory, and finishing with a hard-fought 22-20, 22-20 win over Andy Benesh and yet another rookie in 20-year-old Miles Partain.
The consecutive wins on Saturday put Qatar back into the medal rounds for the first time since early June, when they won a silver medal at the Jurmala Elite16. For most, going just three events without a semifinal appearance – they finished ninth in Rome and Gstaad and fifth in Paris – isn’t much of a drought, but for Cherif and Ahmed, who rose to No. 1 in the world during the 2021 season, it has felt uncharacteristically long. The last time the two went three or more events without a medal was three years ago, after winning bronze at the Xiamen four-star. After breaking that streak in 2021, with their first gold medal as a team at home in Doha, only once did they compete in more than two events without a medal. That has been the remarkable consistency of this Qatari team, even in an era where the international circuit is nearly unanimously considered amongst players as the deepest in history.
They are not guaranteed a medal, of course, not least of all because of the opponent they’ll see in Sunday morning’s semifinal: Sweden’s David Ahman and Jonatan Hellvig.
The Swedish Jump Setters, as they have come to be known – if you don’t yet know why, tune into Volleyball TV and enjoy the show – have had a breakout season in 2022, winning the Kusadasi Challenge in May, the U22 World Championships in June, and the European Championships in August. They entered this weekend’s Challenge as the No. 2 seed, behind only Ahmed and Cherif, and they’ve left a trail of four sweeps in their wake, dismissing Austria, America, Switzerland and Brazil by an average set score of 21-15. Only Chase Budinger and Troy Field, and Evandro and Vinicius have been able to draw within two of the young Swedes, who are improving at an alarming clip.
The semifinal between Qatar and Sweden will be absolute must-watch theater in the first meeting of the two teams.
Likewise, the second semifinal, between Field and Budinger, and Ukraine’s Eduard Reznik and Sergiy Popov, is the first meeting of the two teams. Like Sweden, Popov and Reznik enter their semifinal undefeated, with only a single set dropped, to Switzerland’s Quentin Metral and Yves Haussener. Other than that, it has been an impressive week in the Maldives for Ukraine, with victories over Thailand, Brazil, and, in the quarterfinals, Italy’s Alex Ranghieri and Marco Viscovich.
The only loss on the ledger for Field and Budinger, meanwhile, came to Sweden, and after a thriller of a quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic’s Tomas Semerad and Jakub Sepka, 17-21, 30-28, 15-8, they find themselves competing for their first medal of the season.
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