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April Ross, Lauren Fendrick, after world silver, look to the future

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VIENNA — Lauren Fendrick stood to the left of partner April Ross at a post-match press conference at the world beach volleyball championships.

Fendrick suddenly asked to switch sides, realizing it would put a temporary tattoo of a sponsor’s logo on her right shoulder in view of the cameras. Flipping places also put Ross’ sponsors in a better position for exposure.

“Everything is clicking for us, both on and off the sand,” Fendrick said.

Fendrick and Ross earned the silver medal in Saturday’s final, falling to Olympic champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany in three sets.

The U.S. pair is less than three months into their partnership.

“I have always felt we had this potential,” Ross said. “I am kind of surprised at how much better we got with every single match, but where we got to, I knew we could get to.”

It was the first international medal of any color for Fendrick, 35, who bowed out of the Rio Olympic group stage with Brooke Sweat.

Ross, also 35, won the 2009 World title with Jen Kessy, as well as the 2012 Olympic silver medal with Kessy and the 2016 Olympic bronze medal with Kerri Walsh Jennings.

“This shows you what kind of leader April is,” said 2000 Olympic champion Dain Blanton, who was in Vienna as a TV analyst. “April went from a secondary role, playing with Kerri Walsh, to assuming a role that whoever she plays with, they bring their game up. April helped Lauren get to another level.”

Fendrick and Ross first met in high school, when they competed for rival club teams. The rivalry continued in college, with Fendrick playing indoor volleyball for UCLA and Ross representing USC.

They occasionally played together in the past, most notably finishing fifth at the 2015 World Tour Finals, but only debuted as full-time partners in June.

Fendrick received a call from Ross, who had recently split with Walsh Jennings, while attending the Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Championships in Tucson, Ariz. in late April.

“It was surprising for sure,” Fendrick said. “April is one of the best players in the world.”

Ross picked Fendrick because of her work ethic and blocking ability. No player has more career blocks at the world championships than the 6-foot-1 Fendrick, who is nicknamed “The Long Arm of the Law” because she earned her law degree from USC.

“Nobody knows just how good of blocker she is better than I do,” Ross said. “I’ve seen it from both sides of the net.”

The mid-season partnership change required patience. They finished no better than ninth in their first three international tournaments, as Fendrick had to adjust to playing on the right side for the first time. Even their high-five routine required coordination.

“The more we play, the more we are meshing and finding our rhythm,” Ross said. “The chemistry has a lot to do with our long-term relationship and getting along so well.”

The pair will play in two upcoming domestic AVP tournaments. They are also hoping for a wild-card invitation to the World Tour Finals in Hamburg beginning Aug. 22.

They will then reevaluate their partnership at the end of the season.

“We are really good together, but we have to see what the future holds,” Ross said.

Ross’ main goal is making her third Olympic team in 2020.

“If I make that,” she said, “I can’t imagine not going for 2024.”

Ross was hoping Los Angeles would host the Olympics in 2024, when she will be 42. She grew up in Costa Mesa, Calif., and serves on the Athletes’ Advisory Commission for the Los Angeles bid committee.

But now it is expected that Paris will host the 2024 Games, while Los Angeles will wait until 2028.  Beach volleyball will be played near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, while Santa Monica Beach, which is considered the birthplace of sport, will be the setting in Los Angeles.

“I’ve had to change my mindset about it,” Ross said. “At first I was disappointed, because I wanted to play in Los Angeles [in 2024]. Now I realize I can still be involved in other ways.”

Ross expressed an interest in a future in broadcasting. She filmed a video interview with IOC President Thomas Bach and FIVB President Ary Graca in Vienna, and recently taught NBA players Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell how to play beach volleyball in a video for Gatorade.

“I love journalism,” she said. “It felt natural.”

She would also be open to other opportunities to help grow the sport, as well as make the experience better for the competitors.

“Beach volleyball is going to be epic in Santa Monica,” Ross said. “It’s going to be the place to be in 2028.”

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MORE: The beach volleyball player who turned down Kerri Walsh Jennings

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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