China beat Belgium in World Grand Prix Finals opener
• Helene Rousseaux was the top scorer in the match with 23 points. She was the only Belgian player to reach double figures.
• Zeng Chunlei (19 points) and Li Jing (15 points) led China.
• China led in blocking points (10-9) and service points (4-3).
• It was the first meeting between China and Belgium in the World Grand Prix; they have never met in any of the other major tournaments – Olympic Games, World Championships or World Cup.
• China and this year's Final Six hosts Japan are the only two nations to have competed in all 22 editions of the World Grand Prix.
• Belgium won their previous three World Grand Prix matches. They have never won four in a row.
• With 246 points, Lise Van Hecke led all players in scoring in this year's groups but did not take to the court against China.
China took the first set by a large margin, but neither side played great volleyball. After Belgium scored the first point of the match, China picked up the next five, forcing Belgium coach Gert Vande Broek to call a timeout. Helene Rousseaux stopped the rot with a nicely disguised drop shot but China were still four points ahead at the first technical timeout. Liu Xiaotong contributed three kills as China extended their lead to 13-6, when Vande Broek called his second timeout. But a block by Yang Zhou, a crisp spike by China captain Zeng Chunlei and a Belgian error gave China a 10-point lead at the second TTO. China coach Lang Ping called a timeout after Belgium scored three points in a row from 18-7 but they kept a large margin ahead of Belgium and earned nine setpoints when Li Jing delivered a blow down the middle. After Belgium rescued three of them, Lang Ping called her players off court before China took the set when Belgium failed to return another shot by Liu.
The second set started with far more intensity than the first. Rousseaux, Els Vandesteene and Angie Bland all delivered for Belgium, while Zeng sent down a couple of cracking kills for China. Throughout the set there was never more than two points between the two teams. Belgian coach Vande Broek called a timeout with his team two points behind at 22-20 and the Belgians were able to recover. Lang Ping then took her players off court after two Belgian points brought the scores to 23-23. Belgium earned a setpoint when they blocked Li, but China captain Zeng made a nice tipover to level the scores again, prompting Vande Broek to call another timeout. After China earned a setpoint, Liu blew her serve and Belgium earned a second setpoint with a spike by Rousseaux. Frauke Dirickx then sent a serve down that China couldn’t deal with to clinch the set and the match was nicely poised at 1-1.
The third set started in similar fashion to the second but Lang Ping called her players off court at 5-6 after three straight points by Belgium. Rousseaux added to her total with two big hits and Belgium led by one point at the first TTO. Two Belgium errors and a big shot by 17-year-old Yuan Xinyue finally opened up a gap between the two teams as China took a three-point lead at 11-8, prompting another timeout from Vande Broek. Rousseaux came up with a blistering smash and Laura Heyrman made a fine block on Li, but then China dug in and three good points from Zeng saw them lead by six at the second TTO. China stretched their lead to eight points before Belgium recovered to 22-17 and Lang Ping called a timeout. The set ended with a whimper as Charlotte Leys hit successive shots wide of the left-hand line to put China 2-1 up.
Belgium started off-key in the fourth set and four errors allowed China to take a three-point lead at the first TTO. After pulling back to 8-8, Belgium went off the boil again and three good points by Zeng – two kills and a block on Leys – saw Vande Broek calling his players off court with the score at 12-8. China’s six-point run ended when Liu planted a serve into the net, but they were six points up at the second TTO after a good hit by Zeng and a wide shot by Rousseaux. Belgium called a timeout with the score at 18-10, but it was too late to change the course of the set. A thumping serve by Yang Junjing earned matchpoint and a Belgium error finished things off.