RIO DE JANEIRO – It was a marathon third set between Team USA and Italy, as chilly beach winds down Copacabana made many hits an adventure and many serves unable to be returned.
Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena were at match point for the eighth time in the set against Nicolai Paolo and Daniele Lupo in their men’s beach volleyball preliminary finale. Lucena returned the ball towards the net, where everyone assumed Dalhausser would set it up for him. Instead, the towering veteran softly touched the ball over and onto the sand, baffling the Italians and winning the match 2-1 (21-13, 17-21, 24-22).
The third set was the longest final set in the history of Olympic beach volleyball, going back to 1996.
Now, about that hit.
“What do you mean?” asked Lucena. “It was a perfect pass.”
Dalhausser looked back at his partner.
“It wasn’t, first of all,” he said, wryly. “I was going to set it and then I realized that, shoot, this one’s going towards the net. So I was like, ‘I gotta go.’ Thank God he wasn’t expecting it and let it go right by him.”
The ball sailed on that final hit much like it had for most of the match. But that’s the good and bad of the Rio Olympics venue: You get the beauty of Copacabana, and you get the occasionally strong winds of the shore.
“It was a big factor. It’s weird. It’s wrapping around the stadium. A big server like Nikolai on the other side, wind in his face, it’s not fun to pass. He aced a couple of times,” said Dalhausser.
But the end of the long third set, he said was relieved, although not as exhausted as he was in their win against Mexico on a much warmer day.
“I was just over it. I’m sure everyone’s saying I’m out of shape because of the last match, where I was huffing and puffing. But it was hot last match. This match wasn’t so hot,” he said.
The American duo finished pool play undefeated and move on to the Round of 16 having only lost one set.
For Dalhausser, the match was some small measure of revenge. After winning gold in Beijing with previous partner Todd Rogers, they were upset by Paolo and Lupo in the London Round of 16.
“So it’s nice to win that match,” said Dalhausser.
Listen to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski podcast from Rio on GRANDSTANDING, featuring U.S. swimming legend Summer Sanders on Michael Phelps, IOC doping and Donald Trump: