Matera, Italy, July 29, 2003 - Tuesday's matches saw the beginning of a major shakeout among the world's best women's volleyball teams as they began their serious campaign for the 2003 title at the FIVB $1 million World Grand Prix.
Titleholders Russia surged to the top of the table of this round robin competition after a 3-0 win against a fatigued Netherlands, USA downed a valiant Italy, also 3-0 and China bulldozed Korea 3-0 to underline their membership in the "Big Three" of this tournament. Russia, yet unbeaten in the final round has the edge and is fast becoming favorite to retain their title of the competition which has its traditional roots in Asia, but was rescheduled this year because of the SARS epidemic on that continent.
The fact that Netherlands and Italy had fought a huge two-hour battle the previous day in oppressive heat here in southern Italy showed on Tuesday as their players faced daunting opponents.
"It was a predictable loss," said Netherlands trainer, Italian Angelo Frigoni. "Compared to yesterday, I expected more from this match but Russia was really powerful."
Russia ran off 3-0 (25-22, 25-18-25-15) winners in the match played at Gioia de Colle but top scorer honors went to Dutch player Elles Leferink with 16 points.
Over in Matera, the fans amassed to support Italy in what was a replay of the 2002 World Championship final. The match, much more fierce than the 3-0 score indicated, was also influenced by the exhausting Italy vs, Netherlands meet the previous day.
"The defeat against the Netherlands yesterday influenced us physically and psychologically and today we faced a strong U.S. team," said Italian coach Marco Bonitta.
Although Italy rallied in the third set and almost gained control, the match was copybook for the USA, who were accurate, deadly and obviously enjoying it.
While conceding the skills and the talent of her opponents, USA captain Danielle Scott said: "We were well determined to win today, especially after the last defeat." USA lost to China on Monday night in the first of their final round matches.
The last match of the day was an all-Asian affair with China showing little mercy, opening with a first set victory of 25-17 and immediately running up a five point lead in the second set. They allowed Korea a mere 14 points in the second set. The Koreans rallied in the third but it was too little too late and China left the court winners taking the last set 25-23.
Matches continue on Wednesday with Italy playing China, Russia in a face-off against USA and Korea meeting Netherlands.
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