McHugh Wins Fifth Asian Championship as Thai Women Rule Home Sand

For the fifth time in his career, Australian Chis McHugh is the Champion of Asian Beach Volleyball. It was his first time competing with Paul Burnett, but that didn’t slow the new pair down as they ran through the field without dropping a set, including a semifinal victory over Qatar’s Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan.

In the women’s tournament, Thailand’s Taravadee Naraphornrapat and Worapeerachayakorn Kongphopsarutawadee thrilled the home fans by topping the podium. They entered the tournament as the second team from Thailand, but they finished as the best on the Asian continent.

Taravadee & Worapeerachayakorn’s path to glory

The women’s gold medalists battled hard in a competitive final against Japan’s Miki Ishii and Sayaka Mizoe. The final score of 29-27, 21-19 shows just how close this one was. Unfortunately, the Asian Volleyball Confederation missed the opportunity to showcase this great event and the beautiful beach in Phuket, Thailand by not showing the final matches of the tournament on their YouTube Channel.

Taravadee Naraphornrapat and Worapeerachayakorn Kongphopsarutawadee celebrate a big point at the Asian Championships. Photo by AVC.

Taravadee & Worapeerachayakorn had never won an international event and were playing together for the first time, so their win was a big surprise. They started the championship strong, by winning their pool, and they never slowed down. Taravadee played defense and sided out very well while Worapeerachayakorn was an imposing blocker at the net. They took out Australian teams in the quarterfinals and semifinals, so they got through the biggest nations present to win their gold. This was a return to the top of Asian beach volleyball for Thailand, having last won in 2008.

Japan has gone through a bit of a partner reshuffle following the Tokyo Olympics. Miki Ishii played in the Olympics, representing the host nation, but makes a fresh start with Sayaka Mizoe. Miki won bronze at last year’s Asian Championships and Sayaka finished fourth.

Phoebe Bell & Georgia Johnson of Australia got past Oceanic rivals Shaunna Polley & Alice Zeimann of New Zealand (21-17, 22-20) to claim the bronze.

Usual suspects top Asian men’s podium

The six men that medaled in Phuket had been on the Asian Championship podium a total of 11 times before the 2021 edition. McHugh had won four times before to go with one bronze medal. Iranian silver medalist Bahman Salemi won the tournament in 2017 and took silver in 2018. Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan were the champs in 2018 and 2019.

Chris McHugh and Paul Burnett are the kings of Asian beach volleyball. Photo by AVC.

It will be interesting to see how the McHugh and Burnett partnership translates from continental to international tournaments. The Australians didn’t enter many events this year due to the travel restrictions imposed there. If they get a chance to compete in the new Pro Beach Tour, they could be a team to watch.

Salemi and Abolhassan Khakizadeh are also new partners and had a very impressive silver medal showing in Phuket. They lost in pool play to Australians Maximilian Guehrer & Mark Nicolaidis but in the knockout stage they fought through a couple of three-setters to make the semifinals. They hit their stride in the final four, beating Sergey Bogatu & Dmitriy Yakovlev of Kazakhstan 21-12, 21-14.

Ahmed and Cherif looked untouchable until they ran into Australia in the semifinals. They threw down a few 21-9 scores as they bulldozed their way through the field. As expected in the tournament preview, the only team that could give them problems was McHugh and Burnett. In the semifinal they allowed McHugh and Burnett to get off to a fast start and never recovered, dropping the match 21-16, 21-19.