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2017-01-25 10:46:00 CEST

Julia answers Kira’s #FTLMajor call

German Olympic hero Kira Walkenhorst knew exactly who to turn to when looking for a partner in Fort Lauderdale. We caught up with Julia Groβner ahead of the first Major Series tournament of the season…

Julia (left) will partner Kira Walkenhorst at the #FTLMajor in the absence of Laura Ludwig. Photocredit: Daniel Gollner.Julia (left) will partner Kira Walkenhorst at the #FTLMajor in the absence of Laura Ludwig. Photocredit: Daniel Gollner.

It’s not every day you get a phone call and get asked to play in a Major international tournament with an Olympic champion.

But that’s exactly what happened to Germany’s Julia Groβner shortly before Christmas when Kira Walkenhorst told her to prepare herself to join her for the Fort Lauderdale Major in February.

With Copacabana queen Laura Ludwig nursing a shoulder injury, there was no way Kira wanted to begin the season sitting on the sidelines so she turned to a long-time friend: Julia.

“Kira called me and told me that Laura wasn’t fit and wondered whether I’d like to play with her in Fort Lauderdale,” Julia explained to us exclusively. “It wasn’t a case of me agreeing straight away – I needed to think about it. I wanted to talk things through with my coach. It wasn’t the Germany Beach Volleyball Federation’s decision – it was totally up to myself and Kira.

“We all finally agreed and I’m really happy and really glad that it’s going to happen.”

For Julia, who split with long-time teammate Victoria Bieneck this summer, it was an important decision.

But her plan for 2017 and the immediate future lies with 21-year-old Nadja Glenzke.

“We began practicing together in October but we were unsure about how we would qualify for tournaments because we wouldn’t have enough points,” says Julia. “To play with Kira in Fort Lauderdale helps Kira, me and Nadja.

“From my point of view, if Kira and I can obtain a good result in Fort Lauderdale then the better the chances are for myself and Nadja to qualify for tournaments together. It’s a win-win situation for us.”

Kira and Laura celebrate their World Tour Finals victory in Toronto - but they will not be together for the season starter in Florida. Photocredit: Joerg Mitter.Kira and Laura celebrate their World Tour Finals victory in Toronto - but they will not be together for the season starter in Florida. Photocredit: Joerg Mitter.

All eyes will be on Kira and her stand-in partner at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park as the reigning Olympic and Swatch World Tour Finals champion goes in search of gold in the opening tournament of the international season.

Julia is relishing the opportunity – and has no problem with being the center of attention on the sand.

“Sure I’m excited,” she laughs. “I’m not thinking that I’m replacing Laura like that. She’s an awesome player, on another level. Kira and I are friends, we have known each other a long time. The focus is on me and Kira during Fort Lauderdale and after that tournament the attention will be on me and Nadja.

“It’s also good for me to experience playing with Kira in this environment. Long term, I want to be able to transmit what I learn whilst playing with Kira to when I’m playing with Nadja. I think the more situations I can learn from, the better.”

Julia and Nadja not only hope to represent Germany at the World Championships in Vienna in August, but they also want to become regulars on the Swatch Major Series tour in 2017.

However, they know they face stiff competition from a galaxy of German star teams who have stormed to success on the international scene over the past 12 months.

“As a nation we are in a good place at the moment because we have got some real quality teams on the Tour. Kira and Laura are out on their own really – they are just in a different league. But we have Julia Sude and Chantal Laboureur, Maggie Kozuch and Karla Borger and Victoria and Isabel Schneider, too. It’s going to be tough but I certainly think this experience of playing with Kira in Florida will help Nadja and I.

“We want to feature more in the Swatch Major Series this summer and in the Grand Slams and that’s our goal. I’ve played in the World Championships before – one of my best achievements is finishing 17th with Victoria in Poland in 2013 – but for Nadja playing in this competition would be incredible!”

Having taken up beach volleyball as a teenager in her hometown of Erfurt, Julia’s crowning moment of her career so far was a gold on the World Tour with Victoria at the Anapa Open in Russia in 2014.

“That gold was like a dream come true,” she says. “It would be great to be able to win gold again but the focus is one tournament at a time – starting in Fort Lauderdale with Kira.”

Whether Julia can add a second gold to her collection at the Fort Lauderdale Major remains to be seen – but with Kira by her side you wouldn’t bet against it.

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