Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka will certainly not forget 2019 in a hurry, nor will their rivals who finished the year knowing full well who the Latvian pair are.
The duo began 2019 having only played one year as regulars on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, though they had won gold and silver at CEV European U22 Beach Volleyball Championships having played together since 2013.
By the end of the year Graudina and Kravcenoka had claimed a berth at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, become European champions for the first time and competed at the Rome 2019 FIVB World Tour Finals.
To round off a fine 12 months they were named Most Improved Team, a mark of the respect in which they are now held by their on-court rivals.
Graudina and Kravcenoka claimed a place for Latvia at Tokyo 2020 when they defeated the Czech Republic’s Barbora Hermannova and Marketa Slukova 2-1 (21-17, 15-21, 17-15) in their deciding match at the FIVB Tokyo Beach Volleyball Qualification tournament which took place at Golden Beach in Haiyang, China in September.
“This is such an emotional moment for us," said Kravcenoka. “We hung together despite being down 12-7 in the deciding set. Obviously, this ranks as our greatest moment as beach volleyball players.”
Earlier in the summer they enjoyed another career highlight when they topped the podium at the Moscow 2019 CEV European Championships.
They defeated Poland’s Katarzyna Kociolek and Kinga Wojtasik 2-0 (22-20, 21-19) in the gold medal match, which was some turnaround from the 2018 edition when they had failed to progress from their pool.
“We weren’t specifically going for the gold,” Graudina said. “We kind of knew that we could do it, but it was never like a clear picture in our heads that that’s what we were going for.”
In Rome Graudina and Kravcenoka progressed to the second round where they lost to Switzerland’s Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich, but a week later they travelled to China where they became the first women’s team to qualify Latvia for an Olympic Games.
“Winning the European championships was special and unexpected, but this win today ranks as a great achievement as we become the first women's team from our country to earn a place at the beach volleyball competition at the Olympics,” Graudina said after they’d booked their place at Tokyo 2020.
“I am so proud of Anastasija as her serving got us back to even (12-12) in the third set. And yes, like the European Championships, this win was also unexpected.”
FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020