Betschart and Huberli

Nina Brunner and Tanja Hüberli of Switzerland

One of the more popular questions to players is about their favourite stop on the international tour. Where, if they could only play one event, would they play?

Often the answer is the same. They would play in Gstaad.

Even if you’ve never been to Switzerland, never marveled at those lush, green hills, never taken a deep inhale of the crisp air, never sipped coffee in full view of glassy lakes reflecting snowcapped mountains, it is not difficult to see why it’s a favourite. It’s breathtaking, truly, the venue. And Switzerland as a whole has been home to one of the world’s most loyal fanbases since Gstaad began hosting major events at the turn of the century, when the Laciga brothers were making their run up the rankings.

Martin and Paul Laciga are long since retired, but Switzerland is, as Anouk Verge-Depre said in the moment after winning her country’s first women's Olympic medal, a bronze in Tokyo with Joana Heidrich, a volleyball country. What’s fascinating, however, given Switzerland’s recent successes, is that the home country hasn’t won a gold in Gstaad since Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel did so in 2004, winning over Germans Markus Dieckmann and Jonas Reckermann, and bronze since Nadine Zumkehr and Simone Kuhn in 2012.

Could this be the season to break that drought?

Three men’s teams will try their hand at it, led by Marco Krattiger and Florian Breer, who played such a momentous role in pushing countrymen Mirco Gerson and Adrian Heidrich into the Tokyo Olympics via the European Continental Cup. It has, however, been a slow start to the year for Switzerland’s No. 1 men’s team. Since taking a ninth in the Tlaxcala Challenger to begin the season, claiming what is, in retrospect, a massive win over Australians Chris McHugh and Paul Burnett, they’ve taken three seventeenths and a nineteenth. They’ve competed well, narrowly losing to Austrians Phillipp Waller and Robin Seidl in the final round of the Ostrava qualifier, but the breakout many may have expected still awaits.

The awaited breakout from Heidrich and his new young partner, 21-year-old Leo Dillier, is still to come as well. They’ve played four events thus far in 2022, qualifying for one main draw, in breezy Kusadasi, Turkey. Now wild-carded into their second main draw, and first Elite16, Heidrich and Dillier will cut their teeth against the world’s best, opening with Qatar’s Cherif Samba and Ahmed Tijan.

The Swiss men’s team with perhaps the most intrigue is young Quentin Metral and Yves Haussener, who have been grinding for years now, slowly building up an impressive resume. They put the world on notice last spring in Cancun, when they qualified by beating Canada’s top pair of Sam Schachter and Sam Pedlow, then stunned Americans Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb and Russia’s Nikita Liamin and Taras Mysgiv to win pool and, eventually, finish ninth. Twice, they’ve won gold this season, both coming in Futures, in Madrid, Spain, where they topped Adrian Gavira and Pablo Herrerra, and Rhodes, Greece, where they felled Americans Miles Evans and Logan Webber. Now in their first Elite16 main, they open with World Champs Anders Mol and Christian Sorum.

But it was, after all, Verge-Depre who declared Switzerland a volleyball country. Fittingly, it has been the women leading the way for the Swiss in terms of success on the beach. Two straight European Championships have been claimed by the Swiss, beginning with Verge-Depre and Heidrich in 2020, then followed by Nina Brunner and Tanja Hüberli in 2021. With Heidrich and Verge-Depre withdrawing from Gstaad due to a shoulder injury suffered by Heidrich in the bronze medal match of the World Championships, it’ll be Brunner and Hüberli leading the Swiss hopes for a medal at home this weekend. They’ve more than proven they can deliver, on any stage. It took, after all, a Swiss team to knock them out of Tokyo, and already in 2022, they’ve medalled twice, both bronze, in the Doha Challenger and Ostrava Elite16. They enter Gstaad the No. 1 seed, and certainly the No. 1 contender to win a Swiss medal at home.

There is, however, the underdog team who could do the same in Zoe Verge-Depre and Esmee Bobner. They’ve been on the cusp of breakthrough this entire season, beginning with a white-hot start in Tlaxcala, where they emerged from the qualifier to take fifth, upsetting 2021 World Tour Finals champs Karla Borger and Julia Sude on the way. They’ve proven capable of beating the best in any given match. The question, then: Can they sustain that play through an entire tournament?

The same question could have been asked, a year ago, of the Netherlands’ Stefan Boermans and Yorick de Groot. They’d never medalled at that point, but had come so tantalizingly close. In Gstaad of 2021, the close calls were over, as they stormed their way, undefeated, to a gold medal, an enormous moment for the young partnership, who would go on to finish second in the 2021 European Championships.

Could we see something similar in Gstaad this weekend?