Tokyo, Japan, August 20, 2009: Russia squandered two match points in the third set but recovered to beat Japan 3-1 in the third match of the second day of the World Grand Prix Final Round at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Thursday.
Russia could have finished it in the third set but slipped up on two occasions, eventually losing the set on Japan’s third set point.
Their eventual victory, by 25-17, 25-23, 27-29, 25-14, improved their win-loss record to 1-1 and dropped Japan to 0-2 in the five-day round-robin with three games to play.
Japan made a terrible start, bungling their serve reception, suffering under Anna Makarova’s block and static on court to allow Russia to win the first four points. Japan came off for a TO and tried to start again.
Makarova was showing no mercy on Japan with some crashing winners up the left, and Russia led 8-3 at the first TTO with a tip-over from Tatiana Kosheleva.
On the restart, Japan felt the enduring quality of Ekaterina Gamova, and the brilliant digging of setter Marina Sheshenina and libero Ekaterina Kabeshova forced Japan into attack errors. When Maiko Kano tried to step it up on the right, Makarova was waiting for her and pulled off a stunning block.
Trailing 13-5 and breathless under the Russian onslaught, Japan staggered off for a second TO with the first set still settling down.
Gamova’s swirling serves were causing all sorts of problems for the Japan defence, and when Megumi Kurihara spiked wide up the left line, the home side was in big trouble at 16-7 at the second TTO.
Yuki Shoji lifted Japan spirits on the resumption with a flashing drive at the net, and then raised the roof with a block on Olga Fateeva. After a tumbling rally, Kurihara finished in style with a languid cross-court swipe from the left.
When Fateeva smashed straight into the block of Mai Yamaguchi, Russia called a TO with a lead of 16-11. The Japanese were right into it now, and Yamaguchi spiked down the right wing to close the gap to 16-12. Russia responded with two more substitutions.
Thanks to the excellent all-round play of Kosheleva, Gamova brought up seven set points at 24-14, and another poor reception allowed Russia to close it 25-17. Gamova recorded three serve points in the first set in her seven-point tally, and Makarova had three blocks in six points.
In the second set, Japan stayed on the pace, with Shoji moving them ahead 5-4 with a drive on the right wing. Saori Kimura then showed her court craft by pushing one into the far corner for 6-4 as Japan started to get moving.
As the second set progressed, Yamaguchi rose to the challenge alongside her more established teammates and continued to trouble the Russian defence, and when Kimura spiked elegantly on the left for 14-11 Japan, Russia called a TO.
Japan’s attack faltered on the restart, and not only against Gamova’s block, but captain Erika Araki was still able to take them into the second TTO with a two-point advantage, 16-14.
Russia stepped up the pace at the business-end of the set to pull level, and Japan hung in through to 20-20. The clean, power spiking of Makarova opened a two-point gap and sent Japan into a TO, only for Russia to crumble under a flat Shoji serve and be hauled in 22-22.
With a strong block, Russia raced to two set points at 24-22, and Makarova’s drive on the second of those received a touch by Japan to end the set, 25-23, 2-0 Russia.
After the 10-minute break, Russia looked in a hurry to end this one and Makarova’s majestic all-round play took them to 4-0, Japan TO. Kosheleva served another ace for 5-0 on poor Japan reception, and a Shoji attack error handed Russia an 8-2 cushion at the first TTO.
The six-point advantage remained to 14-8, and Makarova extended it to seven at 15-8 with another crashing blow. A Fateeva block took Russia into the second TTO in control at 16-9.
Shoji and Araki lifted Japan spirits with a couple of cross-court smashes from the right, but it looked to be a lost cause with Russia in this mood and playing with such consistency and vitality.
A Kurihara jump-serve ace closed the gap to four points, and Russia called a TO leading 20-16. Russia needed a second TO at 22-20 when a Yamaguchi serve crept through, but Makarova’s block appeared to steady the ship. Kimura rallied Japan with an ace, and Kurihara smashed them level 23-23.
In an incredible finish to the third set, Russia missed two match points before Japan took the set on their third set point when Makarova fired long for 29-27.
The Russian block put Japan under pressure at the start of the fourth set, enabling the European team to lead 8-4 at the first TTO. Kurihara responded with a block on Fateeva and Yamaguchi flashed one down the middle as Japan stayed in touch. A Kurihara ace closed the gap to 10-8, before a big Gamova spike sent Japan into a TO down 12-8. Two points later – both won by Russia – the Japanese were off again, now six adrift.
This gap remained at the second TTO, before Kurihara lost her range up the left side and Russia pulled away to 20-12. Russia called a TO at 20-14, and Fateeva showed her athleticism with a left-handed spike when cramped for room in the left corner.
Russia closed it 25-14 on weak serve reception, 3-1.