Osaka, Japan, August 7, 2009: Japan collected their first victory of the 2009 Grand Prix, beating Puerto Rico 3-0 at Osaka on Friday night.
Playing at home for the first time under new head coach Masayoshi Manabe, Japan won 25-22, 25-21, 25-17, the match becoming more straightforward as their spikers loosened up and displayed their full array of shots.
Japan improved to 1-3 for the tournament, while Puerto Rico slipped to 0-4. On many occasions the visitors thought they had produced winners, only to find the ball bounce back from Japan's astonishing ground defence.
Puerto Rico made a confident start and led 8-5 at the first TTO.
Aurea Cruz was prominent in attack and block, and nervous serve-reception by Japan handed an ace to Vilmarie Mojica.
Sarai Alvarez smashed Puerto Rico into the first TTO with a three-point lead.
Japan lacked focus and team work, and really needed to lift their game quickly to match the expectations of the fans.
Newcomer Maiko Sakashita pulled her team round, and new captain Erika Araki followed with a service ace to level the scores 11-11.
Saori Kimura was struggling against the Puerto Rico block, and Mojica denied her in a head-to-head on the Japan left. Karina Ocasio took Puerto Rico into the second TTO ahead 16-14 with a clean winner from the left that silenced the crowd.
A floating serve from setter Yoshie Takeshita brought an unexpected ace, and more poor serve reception from Puerto Rico allowed Japan to pull ahead 17-16 and send their opponents into the first TO of the game.
The Takeshita-Sakashita combo was beginning to find its groove, and Japan's new opposite player found space on the left with a wristy winner up the line.
When poor judgement on the Puerto Rico sideline allowed a Japanese dig to loop over the net and drop inside the line for 20-18, Puerto Rico needed a second TO to refocus.
An acrobatic flying dig from Takeshita brought another unlikely point, and Japan had four set points at 24-20 on a service error. When Japan missed the first two of them they took a TO to settle their nerves, and closed the set on a Puerto Rico drop shot that fell wide, 25-22.
At the start of the second set, both Yarimar Rosa and Alvarez spiked impressively to give their team a strong start, but good work at the net from Araki and an ace from Sakashita pulled Japan level 5-5.
Megumi Kurihara, quiet by her own high standards and with only one point in the first set, tipped one over for 7-7, but a service error gave Puerto Rico a one-point lead at the first TTO.
Rosa, behind an athletic leap, and Sakashita traded lusty blows to 9-9, and the scores stay locked to 13-13.
Japan then scored three straight points for 16-13 at the second TTO, and a back-court sizzler from Kurihara was too hot to handle for the Puerto Rico defence.
Sakashita continued to pound away and took Japan to 18-14, and Kurihara was becoming increasingly influential as the second set progressed.
Aurea Cruz showed Japan they still had some work to do by slicing through the home defence from the left, but Rosa was blocked at the net as she tried to finish off a counter-attack following desperate defence by Puerto Rico.
A Yuki Shoji block on Rosa ended the set 25-21 Japan for 2-0.
Japan jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the third set, despite good work at the net by Alexandra Oquendo and a Rosa block on Kimura.
Kimura jumped high and spiked cleanly on the left for 7-4, and when Rosa's powerful jump-serve flew just long, Japan held a three-point advantage at the first TTO.
Some blistering spikes on the left by Aurea Cruz pulled her team level 9-9, but Kimura and Sakashita prevented the visitors from building any lead of substance.
Sakashita's fierce spiking, accompanied by sound shot placement, and her well-placed serves moved Japan ahead 14-12 and sent Puerto Rico into a TO, and a Kurihara cracker made it 15-13. When a Kimura serve struck the net cord and bobbled over, Japan led by three at the second TTO, 16-13.
Japan's spikers were in full flow now, and the visitors were having to work hard to keep up. Shoji gobbled up Takeshita's short overhead set, and Araki pummelled another winner for 19-15.
Hiroko Okano produced an ace with a long floating serve, and Kurihara used all her guile and craft to push one over and extend the lead to 22-15.
Attack errors pushed Japan closer to victory, which came at 25-17 on a service error.