Moscow, Russia, May 30, 2017 - Christopher McHugh looked very relaxed here Tuesday morning at the host hotel for this week's $150,000 FIVB World Tour event in the Russian capital, much more at ease as compared to almost two weeks ago for an international beach volleyball stop in Rio de Janeiro.
On an outside court at the tennis center in the Olympic Park at Barra da Tijuca, the 27-year old McHugh and fellow Australian Damien Schumann dropped a 2-0 (21-19, 21-17) Rio Open qualifying match to Brazilians Oscar Brandao and Hevaldo Moreira to place 33rd in the competition and out of the money in the sixth FIVB World Tour stop for men this season.
Damien Schumann (left) stretches for Mikasa in the Rio Open qualifier
Fast-forward to this week in Moscow and in another two weeks at a World Tour stop in the Netherlands, McHugh and the 29-year old Schumann do not have the "pressure" of qualifying for the Main Draw after gaining one of the 24 spots in the men's "money" rounds due to their FIVB entry points.
Aiding McHugh and Schumann's entry total were quality placements earlier this season by winning a FIVB World Tour stop in Shepparton, Australia, during the first week in March followed by a ninth-place finish near the end of April event in Xiamen, China. In between the two events, the two Aussies posted podium placing finishes as Asian Tour stops in Thailand along with silver medal at the Qatar Masters 10 days before McHugh and Schumann's appearance in Rio.
"Playing in the qualifiers is extremely tough as they are single-elimination," said McHugh, who has been a regular on the FIVB World Tour since 2008 highlighted by a bronze medal at the prestigious Klagenfurt Grand Slam in 2014 when they posted a 3-2 mark against pairs that competed in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
"Rio was disappointing as we traveled a long way only to play an experienced host country Brazilian team in the first-round of qualifying," McHugh added. "The Brazilians were on top of their game and extended the Rio Olympic bronze medal team (Alexander Brouwer/Robert Meeuwsen of The Netherlands) to three sets in their first Main Draw match."
"Travel" on the FIVB World Tour is always demanding for Australian teams as the "down-under" pairs do not have the luxury of returning home after events like the European teams. With only one back-to-back event on the European portion of the international schedule this season, pairs from the North and South American can return home in a day while the Australians face a two-to-three-day trek.
With atleast four breaks in the schedule between this week's Moscow stop and the 2017 FIVB World Championships at the end of July in Vienna, McHugh and Schumann are currently headquartered in the Netherlands for the next two months along with three women's pairs from the "island" continent - Louise Bawden/Taliqua Clancy, Phoebe Bell/Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho/Jessyka Ngauamo. The eight players are also supported by a five-person staff, including head coach Victor Anfilloff.
"Easier to settle into one spot between tournaments instead of moving around," said McHugh. "After Rio, we settled into our living arrangements in The Hague and had a great week of practice. Next week we'll be back training for the FIVB World Tour stop in The Hague (June 15-18). And we are in the Main Draw there, so we do not have to worry about playing in another qualifier."
Settling into The Hague for three months means the Australians will only have to travel 2198 km (1,366 miles) back to their Dutch centre instead of a 13,808 km (8,580 miles) to their home base in Adelaide with at least one-to-two stops at airports in Asia.
Although McHugh and Schumann will be "at ease and more relaxed" the next two days, the Aussies will be "feeling the pressure" when Moscow Main Draw play starts Thursday following Wednesday's qualifier where eight men's and women's teams will advance to the "money" rounds.
"We still have to perform well this week as we want to avoid the qualifier at the SWATCH Major Series stops in Croatia (Porec, June 27-July 2) and Switzerland (Gstaad, July 4-9)," said McHugh. "All the great teams in the world are here, so there are no easy matches. Our focus is to win at least one of our two pool matches to advance to the elimination rounds."
Following Wednesday's qualifier at the Vodny Stadium Beach Sports Centre, the “money” rounds will begin Thursday with “modified” pool play. The elimination rounds will be played Friday and Saturday to set the lineup for Sunday's medal matches. The winning duos in each gender’s competition will share the $10,000 first-place prizes in the sixth double gender stops on the 2017 FIVB World Tour calendar.
Highlighting the 2017 international calendar for men and women Beach Volleyball players will be the $1-million FIVB World Championships July 28 through August 6 in Vienna, Austria and the $800,000 SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals August 23-27 in Hamburg, Germany. Overall, there are 15 men’s and 19 women’s events on the $5.335-million FIVB World Tour schedule.