Tokyo, Japan, November 12, 2009 – Japan got back to winning ways on the third day of the FIVB Women's World Grand Champions Cup 2009 at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Thursday, beating Thailand 25-21, 25-18, 25-12. Japan have now won two of three matches, while Thailand suffered their third loss.
Saori Kimura came up with an impressive 20 points for Japan – the next best Japanese player was Mai Yamaguchi with 10 – while Malika Kanthong led Thailand with 12 points.
Thailand held an early advantage against Japan thanks to two spiking errors – Maiko Sakashita and Yamaguchi hitting wide – but were undone by two double hits that levelled the scores at 7-7. The intensity usually associated with Japan's games came into full force when Sakashita made a brilliant dig, Yoshie Takeshita performed a miraculous recovery shot and Kimura smashed the ball over the net to level the scores at 8-8. Thai captain Wilavan Apinyapong was in smashing form and delivered some telling shots from deep, while the Japanese – playing without injured star striker Megumi Kurihara – made some poor errors midway through the set. Things were level at 15 when Apinyapong made a miracle recovery by playing two shots lying on her back before Onuma Sittirak finished off the point. Japan went ahead for good at 17-16 when Sakashita made a tipover and they were soon three points ahead. Kanthong tried hard to keep Thailand in the game, but Japan hit good form towards the end of the set. Kaori Inoue's neat crosscourt spike brought up setpoint and Saori clinched the set with a block on Kanthong.
Sittirak came up with a pair of absolute bombs as the Thais got off to a good start in the second set. She was supported by four good spikes from Kanthong, and although Japan defended brilliantly at times, they were four points down at the first technical timeout. Japan had a bad patch soon after, with Erika Araki completely missing the ball on successive plays and Yamaguchi being blocked superbly by Sittirak. Two big spikes – by Apinyapong and Amporn Hyapha – gave Thailand a 16-11 lead at the second TTO. Saori , who was having a good night, then chipped in with four crucial points – two spikes, a terrific block on Apinyapong and a really intelligent push shot into deep space – as Japan drew level at 17. Things went from bad to worse for the Thais. Saori kept up her torrid pace with another big hit and two blocks, and Japan started to overwhelm the Asian champions, picking up eight of the last nine points. Saori finished of the set with a spike through the Thai block, while the Thais were left wondering how they could go from being 16-11 up to 25-18 down.
Japan, who were seeking revenge for a semi-final loss in the Asian Championship, showed they were in no mood to show mercy at the start of the second set and rushed into a 3-0 lead. Mizuho Ishida contributed a block, a spike and an unreturnable serve as Japan extended that to 8-3. Cracks were starting to show in the Thais' game and a rare service miss by Sittirak symbolised how their form had deserted them – and on their next service opportunity Hyapha did likewise. Kanthong and Sittirak then netted spike attempts to put further pressure on their team; the only Thai player who seemed to be able to get the ball over the net was Apinyapong. But it wasn't enough. The Japanese were playing with a lot of confidence, while the Thais' had disappeared. Japan were 16-9 up at the second TTO. A nice block by Inoue and three more errors by Thailand saw Japan 20-9 up, and there was no way back from that. Inoue brought up matchpoint with a spike and fittingly captain Araki finished the match off with a shot through the heart of the Thai defense.