Matera, Italy, July 30, 2003 – Russia underlined their intention to defend
their World Grand Prix title on Wednesday when they prevailed in a hard fought
battle against the USA to take their match 3-1 and be unbeaten so far in the
final round of this annual elite women’s volleyball tournament.
Meanwhile, at the second location Gioia de Colle, world champions Italy
virtually said goodbye to their chances of a top finish with a resounding 3-1
(25-22, 23-25, 25-15, 25-20) defeat at the hands of China in this round robin
format that winds up at the weekend.
It was Italy’s third defeat in the final round and a bitter disappointment to
their fans in this country that reveres volleyball.
"Russia played excellently," said USA coachToshiaki Yoshida. "We couldn't touch their spiking. Today we just couldn't get near them," he added.
It was clear from the first whistle that the Russia vs. USA meet was going to
be tough and although USA opened with a flurry and retained the edge in
the opening phase, Russia’s heavy artillery, led by captain Euvgenia Artamonova and
Ekaterina Gamova, soon began to play a more decisive role with a range of remarkable
spikes that found their mark. But the Americans, tenacious as terriers, stuck to their heels before a string
of serving errors allowed the Russians the edge at 18-15.
Russian setter Olga Chukanova then delivered one of the most deceptive shots of the
set when she tipped the ball backwards over the net for 19-17 before Artamonova pierced the humid air in the stadium for match point after fending off a long rally by American Keba Phipps. Gamova then delivered the winner
straight into an empty patch on the American court for 25-19 and the title
holders were 1-0 in front.
The Russian captain was in devastating form and well supported
by Gamova and a fearsome triple block ,the Russians ran up a 7-3 lead, then a
series of shots went awry and USA leveled at 7-7. This encouraged the underdogs and the Americans orchestrated several perfect rallies to perfection and took the lead at 10-9.
They moved through the set more confidently and held a three point lead
at 23-20 with Tayyiba Haneef, unfolding her 201cm to deflect some excellent
block points and then went on to close out 25-21 and be back in the match.
Russia made a strong start in the third, but much of the play was erratic with
both sides scrambling for points and the lead drifting from one to another.
Russia pulled away to 23-19 on a spike from Gamova that had her skipping for
joy and it fell to her to shoot the winner for 25-21 and a 2-1 lead for Russia.
Gamova led the charge in the final set, levitating her 204cm to pepper shots
into the opposite court and Russia had a handy 15-10 lead. At 20-15 they were
firing on all cylinders and they went on to take the set 25-17 to seal the match.