They shocked the beach volleyball world by winning King of the Court 2020 in Utrecht as a new duo. Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer had the right mindset. They went all-in, focus was key and they beat all the top teams in the world. “In the end there was no stadium anymore. There were just us and the ball.”
Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer had just started as a new beach volleyball team. They had played only two tournaments in 2019 and they were set to play in Gold Coast Australia from March 18-22, 2020 when Covid hit the World Tour. “We were ready to play, but the event got canceled the Sunday before it would start”, Marco explains. “That was a big shock. We flew right home and then there was a lockdown in Switzerland.”
“We had a break of one or two months”, Florian adds. After that they could only practice. Florian played with his brothers in the backyard, Marco just had one kettle bell and a few sandbags to keep himself busy. And his girlfriend was there to keep him motivated throughout that period, who helped him do outdoor workouts. Being able to travel again to a tournament like King of the Court in Utrecht was a big change, a very welcome one.
Seeing the ‘family’ again
“It was kind of weird”, Marco mentions. “It was the first time we got to be with international players again we hadn’t seen for a long time. Who are kind of our friends or almost our family. Nobody knew how to behave, how much distance is there? But then I felt really safe when everyone tested negative. The hotel was so close to the stadium, we could just walk there. Everybody was wearing masks. Also during the games I felt safe, because everything was distanced, so we had no contact with anyone actually.”
“Almost couldn’t handle it”
The specially designed corona proof stadium on the Jaarbeurs square in Utrecht wasn’t anything they had ever experienced. “When we got into the Centre Court it was just kind of not real. We came in, the stands were so high, like you are in a colosseum. It wasn’t feeling real, it was so big for us. When we started playing there was music and lights, to me it was a bit too much at first. I couldn’t handle it, I wasn’t used to it anymore”, Marco says.
It reminded Florian of playing in the Swiss Tour. “Sometimes you have a really nice stadium with lots of people, a big crowd. And we also had night matches, so we played when it was dark. So, for me it was a little bit like that. But much bigger. Music, people cheering, it was nice. I was excited to play.”
“Having fun, going all-in”
Looking back at the tournament in Utrecht they now know what helped them become the Kings of 2020. Florian: “I think we didn’t have expectations before the tournament. We just wanted to go there and play against the best teams in the world. We were just playing, having fun, going in full the whole time. We weren’t afraid of making mistakes or do shitty stuff. Maybe the format was quite good for us, because we were a new team, and the other teams didn’t know us beforehand.”
Marco: “For me a lot was Flo’s serve in the final. And drawing the King was very good. I think it was the focus and confidence we built up during the tournament. It was there and we said: we’ll go all in. We don’t care what’s happening. we just go all in and try to focus.”
The focus was one of the things that helped Marco and Florian most. It is completely different that in a regular beach volleyball match. “At King of the Court you don’t deal with your opponents before the game, because there are four opponents”, Florian explains. “So, you don’t care about them, you just care about what you can do good yourself. Which is serving, serving is the beginning. And you just play your best balls. It’s a little different, you don’t have to make a tactic like you do before a normal game.”
Marco thinks the concept helps him a lot. “For me it kind of helps me to learn something about that focus also for my regular beach volleyball game. Normally I’m kind of struggling with my focus, because I try to focus on too many things. In King of the Court there was music, lights, spectators. I hád to focus on the beach volleyball that’s coming towards me, and only on that. In the end there was no stadium anymore. There were just us and the ball.”
After King of the Court they played the European Championships in regular beach volleyball in Latvia, where they reached the quarterfinals. In the round before they beat Dutchmen Christiaan Varenhorst and Steven van de Velde in a very tight match. Their experience in Utrecht helped them win that match. Marco: “The game was really tight and maybe we were going to lose. But we weren’t scared of it, we just kept doing our thing till the referee whistled for the last time.”
Florian: “That game was a good example for having the same attitude as in King of the Court. As Marco said, we were never afraid. We were just doing our stuff, we can’t do more than our best.”
Marco and Florian had to play five matches of King of the Court in three days, on the final day they played three. Fitness has to be a great factor in playing so many matches. Florian tells it’s only a problem when you reach the final round. “The first fifteen minutes can be easy, if you’re not allowed on the king’s side and you don’t have to play a lot of side-outs. You’re not touching a lot of balls. But when you make it to the final three teams you just side-out or you miss it and you run to the other side and serve again. Then it’s really exhausting. On the final day we had three games, it was a lot. But we were just so pumped and full of adrenaline, it wasn’t a problem at all.”
“Playing King of the Court is also so different, because you can’t delay the game”, Marco adds. “You can’t take a time-out, you can’t wipe your glasses. You just go back and the next serve comes right at you. It doesn’t give you any space. It’s really fun to see that even experienced players like Pablo Herrera get nervous. I was watching him and on his face you could see that he was nervous. He has been on tour for such a long time, I never saw him nervous.”
Winning King of the Court in Utrecht spiked the confidence of Marco and Florian. “It showed us that we can compete against the best in the world at a good level. We are able to beat a good team”, Florian says. Marco: “For me it’s the same. And I also learnt that I can demand some service pressure from Flo.” Florian laughs: “Now I’m under pressure, a lot of people expect me to do that in every game.”
He does think he might be able to deliver, but he needs some incentives. “I think I need the music.” Marco: “Also the smoke machine that comes on.” Florian reacts: “I’m better at serving an ace right when the beat drops”, he says with a big smile on his face.