April Ross, Alix Klineman win in first international beach volleyball event since 2019

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April Ross and Alix Klineman took the title in their first international beach volleyball tournament since 2019, furthering the argument that they are the Olympic favorites.

In Friday’s final in Doha, the Americans swept world champions Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan of Canada 22-20, 21-18, running their win streak to 18 matches since returning to competition during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We still feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Ross said.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman, her new partner for this Olympic cycle, dropped one set in six matches this week.

They have beaten Humana-Paredes and Pavan, the only team ranked ahead of them when sports halted last March, in all three head-to-heads since tournaments resumed last summer with domestic AVP events.

Internationally, Ross and Klineman won four of their five meetings with the Canadians since the start of 2019 — the only defeat coming in the biggest event, the 2019 World Championships final — according to BVBInfo.com.

Ross and Klineman have all but wrapped up one of the two U.S. Olympic women’s beach volleyball spots.

Triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat lead the standings for the second and final spot, which could be up for grabs into June before the Olympic qualifying deadline.

Walsh Jennings, a 42-year-old who took bronze with Ross in Rio, and Sweat were the only team to take a set off Ross and Klineman this week. But they were upset by countrywomen Kelley Kolinske and Emily Stockman in the round of 16.

Kolinske and Stockman finished fourth in Doha, their best result in an international event of this caliber. The third U.S. team in contention for the last Olympic spot is Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, who lost in the quarterfinals.

U.S. Olympic men’s qualifying remains a three-team fight for two spots among 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, Taylor Crabb and Jake Gibb and Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Taylor Crabb and Gibb beat Dalhausser and Lucena in the third-place match in Doha. Those placements helped both teams in Olympic qualifying. Trevor Crabb and Bourne, now third in U.S. Olympic qualifying, didn’t get into the Doha main draw after losing in a domestic qualifier.

There are five more international tournaments with significant Olympic qualifying points — back-to-back-to-back events in Cancun, Mexico, from April 16-May 2, in Sochi, Russia, from May 26-30 and Ostrava, Czech Republic, from June 2-6.

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April Ross, Alix Klineman win in first international beach volleyball event since 2019 originally appeared on NBCSports.com