Fort Lauderdale, USA, February 8, 2017 - When Casey Patterson and Theo Brunner learned that they would start their partnership on the court against the reigning Olympic gold medal winners, the reigning world champions and the two-time World Tour Finals champions, it would have been easy to cringe at their fortune.
That was not quite the case when they discovered their first opponent in the Fort Lauderdale Major was the Brazilian team of Bruno Oscar Schmidt and Alison Cerutti.
“It was exciting,” Patterson said, his smile lighting up. “The chance you get to start off a season and a partnership against the best team in the world for the last four years, probably, is such a huge honour. I couldn’t have asked for a better draw that first match because it’s just fun. You get to see, ‘OK, where are we at? Where are we going to be?’
“They put you in that position where you have to play that way to win so you get to see where you are. It’s awesome.”
They must be on to something, because Patterson and Brunner scored a 2-0 (21-14, 22-20) win over the Brazilians, with Brunner coming up with a stunning 10 blocks to lead the way in the Pool C match.
The USA duo was naturally fired up with the victory, but they still had to temper their emotions because looming for them was another Olympic opponent, Markus Bockermann and Lars Fluggen of Germany.
“Step one, see how you do under pressure in long games, then it’s how you recover from a win that you’re excited about winning,” Patterson said. “It’s almost a euphoric state, but it’s all about clipping that and getting back to maybe watching yourself get smacked by them. Hit delete, reset, turn the computer back on. It’s like changing another diaper for me.”
Things almost got a little messy, so to speak. Bockermann and Fluggen took a 10-7 lead in the third set before Patterson and Brunner composed themselves and walked off center court with a 2-1 (18-21, 21-19, 17-15) victory.
“I know it’s still early in our partnership,” Brunner said. “We feel like there’s a little variation in our game and if we’re playing well and I’m blocking well and if our ‘D’ is on, we can definitely beat anyone so we’re not surprised.”
It was a rare setback for Bruno/Alison, who later righted their ship with a 2-0 (21-14, 21-19) win over German twins Bennet and David Poniewaz.
Patterson and Brunner admitted that their new partnership might have thrown Alison and Brunner off, and Patterson was playing on the right side of a pairing for the first time in five years.
Up in the air ... Brazil's Alison Cerutti (left) with USA's Theo Brunner
“That’s kind of the high end of the spectrum,” Brunner said of his 10 blocks. “I got in a zone a little bit with the reads and maybe they came out a little slow because of the travel from Brazil, but whatever it was, I’ll take that any match.”
Patterson and Brunner led the entire first set before the Brazilians took a 12-9 lead in the second. The Americans crept back into it but Alison and Bruno took a 19-18 lead before Brunner changed the match with consecutive blocks.
“We gave them a lot of free points. We didn’t put any pressure on so it’s easy when you play like this,” Bruno said. “We gave them a lot of mistakes. We can’t say much about their team because we gave them so many free points. On the World Tour we can’t be successful playing like that.
“We weren’t thinking about starting this way but it just happened and we need to defeat this. We need to get better, to try to stand up again and do it over. We just want to put in our mind that once we get up again, I know we’re going to be tough and we’re going to have an excellent tournament.”
Pool play will conclude on Thursday and the first elimination round on the men’s side will be held. With a lock on their pool, Patterson and Brunner will avoid the first elimination round and head to the round of 16, which begins Friday.