Friday, 22 September 2023

International Volleyball

Klasnic’s skyballs, men’s upsets spice start of AVP Chicago Open

Klasnic's skyballs, men's upsets spice start of AVP Chicago Open

Djordje Klasnic/Rick Atwood

CHICAGO — Djordje Klasnic was all but unknown to even heavily invested Windy City AVP fans Friday when he stepped on Oak Street Beach. But with the first skyball he sent soaring into the warm morning air, heads started to turn.

Klasnic’s skyball looked as if it might reach the level of seventh- or eighth-floor balconies of high-rises on Lake Shore Drive that serve as a stunning urban backdrop to the strip of sand on Lake Michigan.

The buzz continued to grow on the outer courts as Klasnic kept launching Wilson AVP Optx volleyballs seemingly into near-earth orbit. Fans constantly chant, “Skyball, skyball, skyball,” at pro-beach players, but almost never do you see it in games, other than as a lark at the tail end of a lopsided match.

Klasnic used it as his regular serve, much to the delight of a growing crowd ringing Court 1 for the first-round match between the 28-year-old Serbian national and partner Sililia Tucker, seeded 14th in the 16-team men’s draw of the AVP Chicago Gold Series Open, and third-seeded Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander.

The Taylors were the freshly minted champions of the storied Manhattan Beach Open, the grandaddy of beach-volleyball tournaments. But Klasnic and Tucker unorthodox-ed Crabb and Sander off the court in a 21-18, 21-19 stunner that vividly displayed the value of tactics out of the ordinary.

If the love “ The Serbian Skyball Machine” received from fans at Oak Street is any indication — and if Klasnic can continue to climb up the seeding ladder — Djordje promises to become hugely popular in a hurry.

Although his Cinderella story took a left turn at Division later in the day when the underdogs were beaten in the second round, even that wasn’t a “bad loss.” Beach legend Phil Dalhausser, who has represented the USA in the last four Olympicss, and partner Avery Drost, the tourney’s No. 6 seeds, were pushed to three sets before prevailing 21-16, 18-29, 15-12 in 1 hour, 10 minutes.

And the fans at Oak will have at least one more opportunity to ooh and aah at Djordje’s majestic skyballs when he and Cook play on Saturday in the contenders bracket of the double-elimination event.

“I know people love that skyball. I love the skyball,” Klasnic said after knocking off the Taylors. “When I was a kid, I was serving the skyball for fun and all my friends were like, ‘You know, stop. You’re missing so many. You’re making fun of opponents.’ I was…

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