In the following 10 years though the livewire German has won Olympic gold, claimed every major title and is still chasing more.
The 35-year-old, who celebrates her birthday on this day, is one of the most popular players on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour where her exuberant performances have won her fans around the globe, as well as help drive her on to win a sack full of medals.
She is now paired with Margareta ‘Maggie’ Kozuch and true to form their most recent World Tour appearance ended with Ludwig adding another medal to her collection when they won gold at the Rome 2019 FIVB World Tour Finals.
It marked a successful comeback and first World Tour medal for Ludwig who missed the whole of 2018 after giving birth to her first child, a son Theo, and was a sign that her partnership with Kozuch who won 336 volleyball caps for Germany, is likely to garner further laurels.
“The entire season was a massive test for us,” Ludwig said following their win. “We were kept in check all the time and had to remain patient and work on the things we really believed.
“It is great to see the work pay off at the end of the season because it shows we’re on the right path and keeps us motivated to the next one. We communicated a lot and played really, really well.”
Ludwig’s next target is securing a place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Victory in Rome pushed them up to 15th in the provisional FIVB Olympic Rankings and en route for a place at Tokyo 2020, so long as they are among the two highest German women’s teams when the Olympic qualification window closes on June 13, 2021.
If they make it there, Ludwig will be playing in her fourth Olympic Games and for the first time will start as defending champion following her victory at Rio de Janeiro 2016 alongside Kira Walkenhorst.
When they triumphed, they became the first European women’s team to win Olympic gold, defeating Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas in front of 12,500 fans at Copacabana.
Ludwig’s success at Rio 2016 was the obvious high point of the five years she was with Walkenhorst.
The partnership took time to find its rhythm and it was not until the start of their second year in tandem that they won their first World Tour gold, at the Shanghai Grand slam.
They found form in 2015 and finished the year with two World Tour golds, silver from the Fort Lauderdale 2015 World Tour Finals, and their first European title.
The next year was their year of years. They went into Rio 2016 in red-hot form having won four World Tour golds and a second European Championships and did not disappoint on Brazil’s Atlantic Coast.
Ludwig was a whirlwind of energy at the back of the court, while Walkenhorst was a powerhouse at the net. After they topped their pool, they did not drop a set in four knockout matches.
“It is just incredible,” Ludwig said post-match. “I’m speechless and I can say we definitely deserved to win. I think I can say that after this tournament. We played game to game and we had a strong team behind us who kept us strong and knowing how to be self-confident with this crowd, because the Brazilian crowd were very loud.
“We served very well and there was a storm coming and we thought we’d take it and make our own storm.”
Winning it all
Despite enjoying the ultimate success, within the month they were back on court and rounding off their year in spectacular fashion by winning the Toronto 2016 World Tour Finals.
In 2017, which turned out to be their final year together, they added the one missing major medal to their collection by winning gold at the Vienna 2017 World Championships. For good measure they retained their World Tour Finals title, this time in front of their home crowd in Hamburg.
Ludwig’s year off was her first since she made her World Tour debut alongside Sara Goller (now Sara Niedrig) at the 2005 Milan Open.
Together they won two European Championships, played at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games, and finished on the World Tour podium 12 times. However, they were unable to land a gold and while Goller retired following London 2012, Ludwig carried on to greater glory.
By the end of 2018 Ludwig was a mother and ready to return to action, but by then injuries had caught up with Walkenhorst and she was forced to retire.
It led to the call to Kozuch, a player she had played alongside on one occasion, at the 2017 Porec 5-Star in Croatia.
They began their full-time partnership together in Xiamen in April 2019, and while they failed to win a medal there, their success at the end of the year showed that Ludwig’s confidence in their pairing was not misplaced.
“Maggie has everything you need,” Ludwig said. “She's incredibly athletic, she has insane ball control, she's a real fighter, she's ready to invest a lot and she wants to go full throttle with our team, and we're all looking forward to our project.”
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