HAMBURG, Germany — Rio Olympic champions Bruno Schmidt and Alison Cerutti are no longer partners.
But that is not necessarily good news for the competition.
“The teams they are with now make a lot of sense,” said NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong, “and they are dangerous.”
The Brazilians split in May 2018 after four years together. Bruno said he and Alison mutually agreed to part in a quick conversation after a morning practice.
“We shocked the world at the time, but it was a smart decision,” Bruno said in an interview at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships. “We couldn’t push each other more.”
They were coming off a 17th-place finish, their worst result in an international tournament since 2015.
“We accomplished everything we could together, so it got to a point where we needed new goals and motivations,” Alison said through a translator. “We decided to go different paths while respecting each other so much.”
Both are now competing with younger players.
Bruno, 32, who is nicknamed the “Magician” for his ability to dig balls that seem destined to hit the sand, joined forces with 28-year-old Evandro Goncalves.
Alison, 33, known as the “Mammoth” with a large tattoo of the animal on his side to prove it, teamed with 28-year-old Alvaro Filho.
“We both knew we needed to get younger to continue to play at a high level,” Bruno said.
Evandro, a reigning world champion, has been named the top server on the international tour every year since 2015.
“When Evandro serves, it’s like somebody is spiking down at you,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb, “whereas a normal serve has an upward trajectory.”
Evandro said his serve has been clocked as fast as 63 miles per hour, but he is confident that he has served faster in practice.
“There’s been several times where I’ve hit someone in the chest so hard that the ball bounces back over the net, but no bruises from my serve,” Evandro said through a translator. “That just happens when I attack the ball.”
Playing with a defender as talented as the “Magician,” who was named the international tour’s top defender four times, Evandro has had to adjust to blocking full time. Meaning after he unleashes a serve, he must run to the net to block, rather than remain in the back half of the sand to play defense.
The 6-foot-11 Evandro, the co-tallest player on the international tour, has the height to be an elite blocker.
His size also earned him a pair of NBA nicknames. U.S. Olympian Casey Patterson nicknamed Evandro the “Black Mamba,” a nod to Kobe Bryant. But Bruno, the nephew of the Olympics’ all-time leading basketball scorer Oscar Schmidt, jokingly refers to his lanky teammate as “Kevin Durant.”
To improve his blocking technique, Evandro studies film of Phil Dalhausser, the 2008 U.S. Olympic champion who has been named the international tour’s top blocker seven times.
“Evandro was already a pretty good blocker before, and now if he’s making moves, that’s scary,” Dalhausser said. “He has no holes in his game.”
The partnership between Alison and Alvaro was orchestrated by three-time Olympic medalist Ricardo Santos.
Alvaro was playing with Ricardo, a player he grew up idolizing and even once ditched school to watch practice.
After the duo won the Brazilian national title in April, the 44-year-old Ricardo told Alvaro that he would be better off playing with Alison.
“I’ve never heard of a partner telling a partner to go play with another one,” Alvaro said. “I didn’t know what to say.”
Ricardo even called Alison to recommend Alvaro.
“Now I see why,” Alison said. “[Alvaro’s] such a great player … we are meshing really well.”
Alvaro is nicknamed the “Goat,” although he is quick to point out that the animal is common in his native Brazilian state of Paraiba and he is not actually the “greatest of all time.”
The 6-foot-1 Alvaro was named the international tour’s top rookie in 2013, the same year he finished second at worlds with Ricardo.
“Alvaro is deceptively big,” American Stafford Slick said shortly after losing to the Brazilian duo in three sets at the world championships. Brazilian men’s and women’s pairs won their first 19 pool-play matches in Hamburg, with the knockout rounds starting Tuesday. “If he was walking through the crowd, you wouldn’t think much of him, but that guy flies and has a whip of an arm. He’s tough to block.”
Evandro and Bruno are the top Brazilian pair in the Olympic qualification rankings, followed by Alison and Alvaro. A maximum of two Brazilian teams can go to Tokyo.
Evandro and Bruno won their last tournament before worlds. In the final, they ended the 23-match win streak of the top-ranked team in the world, Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum.
“I am not sure we are in our best shape yet, but we will get there,” Bruno said. “Evandro has pushed me to a level I almost forgot I could get to.”
Guilherme Torres and Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report
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