Canberra, Australia, May 25, 2015 – The past few months for Australian World Under 23 beach volleyball champion Nikki Laird have been pretty tough to take.
Riding on the crest of the wave of sporting success after 2014, the Manly Beach 22-year-old finally succumbed early this year to ankle problems that had dogged her career.
While she sat on the sidelines, World U23 partner Mariafe Artacho del Solar teamed up with London Olympian Becchara Palmer and won a domestic title in Perth and medals in Asia.
But this week Laird and del Solar are back together for the first time since January, and ready to tackle the first beach volleyball Grand Slam of the year in Moscow.
“I’ve been prepping for a long time now, so I’m physically and mentally ready to go,” Laird said from Moscow.
“It was hard because I always want to be playing. But I knew what I needed to do to get back out there playing with Mariafe, so it was just a matter of patience.
“It was good to be able to watch her train hard and improve heaps.”
Most of the teams Laird and del Solar will come up against this week have already had a handful of minor tournaments to prepare for Moscow.
But Laird doesn’t think she and del Solar will be at a disadvantage.
“I don’t think we’ve lost much ground,” she said.
“We’ve both been doing what we need to over the last few months to get ourselves individually to where we need to be.
“Now we’ve been able to meet at a point and start tracking forwards as a team again. It’s been good for us.”
Joining the World U23 champions in Moscow will be Australia’s number one men and women’s teams.
Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy had an outstanding start to the international season, finishing fifth at the Fuzhou Open in China and claiming several big scalps along the way.
It was a different story for Chris McHugh and Isaac Kapa. Their first tournament back together after Kapa’s summer shoulder surgery ended with just one win.
Like Laird and del Solar, Kapa and McHugh will need to win their way through qualifying in Moscow, while Bawden and Clancy go straight into the main draw as the 19th seeds.
The Moscow Grand Slam begins on Tuesday night, Australian time, and runs through until Sunday.