Japan beat Russia 3-1 in World Grand Prix Finals
• Russia’s Tatiana Kosheleva was the top scorer in the match with 23 points. Japan were led by Saori Kimura with 17.
• Russia outblocked Japan 14-4; Japan outaced Russia 9-3.
• Japan have now won 10 of 26 matches against Russia in the World Grand Prix.
• Russia defeated Japan 3-1 in this year's group phase.
• Russia had won all four previous meetings with Japan in World Grand Prix Finals (1997, 2001, 2006 and 2009).
• Japan have won their last five matches after losing their first five.
• Russia have won the World Grand Prix three times – 1997, 1999 and 2002.
There was little to choose between the two teams as they found their range in the early stages. Iuliya Podskalnaya got in a couple of good blocks but Yukiko Ebata responded with two spikes to put Japan 8-6 up at the first technical timeout. Saori Kimura started to get her eye in after the break and she helped Japan to a 14-11 lead, when Russia coach Yury Marichev called a timeout. Japan held a two-point advantage at the second TTO but good blocking by Tatiana Kosheleva helped the Russians level at 18, when Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe called a timeout. After a sloppy hit by Kimura allowed Russia to take a two-point lead at 21-19, Manabe had to call his players off again. A neat crosscourt shot from Natalia Malykh stretched Russia’s lead to three points at 22-19 and the same player brought her team three setpoints with a rocket through the Japanese defence. Malykh then put her team 1-0 up with another crisp spike. Russia scored seven blocking points to Japan’s one in the first set.
Lefty Miyu Nagaoka came up with three big kills early in the second set to keep Japan level with Russia and after a long serve by Podskalnaya put Japan 6-5 up, Marichev called his players off for a talk. But Russia committed two more errors and Japan led 8-5 at the first TTO. But not for long as the hosts lost their way and Russia scored the next five points, prompting Manabe to call his team off the court. Alexandra Pasynkova and Malykh kept Russia in front until Japan caught up at 14-14 after a good hit by Risa Shinnabe. A strike by Yuki Ishii gave the home team a one-point advantage at the second TTO. Spikes from Mai Yamaguchi and Ishii followed by an unreturned serve from Kana Ono gave Japan a four-point lead at 19-15 and Russia called a timeout. Manabe did the same as Russia crept back to 21-19 with a block on Kimura, but Japan were helped when Anastasia Bavykina planted a serve into the net on the next point and Pasynkova tipped the ball wide. Haruka Miyashita then won a battle at the net to give Japan five setpoints. Nagaoka scored her 10th point of the match to level the set scores at 1-1.
Two errors helped Japan take an early 5-1 lead in the third set and prompted a Russia timeout. But two more Russia errors and an ace by Kimura saw Japan six points ahead at the first TTO. Another ace by Kimura and three more Russian errors stretched Japan’s lead to 12-2 and brought another Russian timeout. But then Russia tightened up their defence and Japan lost their touch, allowing the Russians to score four straight points before Manabe hauled his players off court. Manabe had to repeat his timeout four points later with Russia having taken 10 straight points. Russia drew level at 12-12 on a good block by Kosheleva but Iana Shcherban then sent a serve long to end their run. Yukiko Ebata and Nagaoka then steadied the Japan ship with some good hits and they led by two at the second TTO. They stretched that to three at 20-17 and four at 23-19 before Hitomi Nakamichi served into the net. A Shinnabe spike brought up setpoint and the same player then thumped the ball through the Russian defence to put Japan 2-1 up.
Kosheleva and Malykh, Russia’s two top scorers in the match, helped their team to a one-point lead at the first TTO in the fourth set but Japan responded with a good hit by Ebata and a nice block by Kimura on Kosheleva to open up a three-point lead. Two glorious smashes by Kimura stretched that to four points at 13-9 and Shinnabe then came up with two smashes to give Japan a five-point advantage at the second TTO. Shinnabe then delivered two serves that Russia couldn’t handle and Japan had a six-point lead at 20-14. Russia called their second timeout after a classy slice shot by Kimura put Japan up 22-15 but Japan were looking good for a win. Miyashita made a super block on Kosheleva moments after replacing Nakamichi to bring up seven matchpoints and Russia failed to return Mizuho Ishida’s next serve to wrap up the win for Japan.