Macau, China, August 24, 2011 - Eight-time championsBrazil, defending champions the United States, Russia and Serbia claimed opening victories in the final round of the 2011 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix on Wednesday as the climax of the 19th edition of the tournament began.
Finishing top of the preliminary round with a 9-0 win-loss record, the Brazilian women swept former world champions Italy 3-0 in Pool B while the United States beat Japan in straight sets. In Pool A, Russia held off Thailand 3-1 while World Grand Prix newcomers Serbia rallied from one set down on two occasions to edge China in a five-set thriller.
2011 FIVB Volleyball World Grand
Towering middle blocker Thaisa Menezes of Brazil notched up 17 points and Sheilla Castro and Fabiana Claudino added 13 and 12 respectively as the world No.1 trounced Italy 25-16, 25-17 and 25-17.
"I am very happy with my team. We played very well," Brazil coach José Roberto Guimarães said. "Our serves, blocks and defense did a very good job. Tomorrow we have a hard match against Japan. Every day we have one final, and we have to play better and better."
Brazil capitalized on their middle hitting early on as their well-placed attacks dislodged the Italians to set-up their floor defense. It was then followed by a bombardment of attacks from the wings, which the Italians failed to stop.
The Italians made adjustments on their attack strategy and were successful in their attempts to cut down the Brazilian lead to just three points after the first TTO. However, Thaisa Menezes and Fabiana Claudino combined efforts to put Italy's fight back on hold and quickly brought Brazil back into the match to take the first set.
Simona Gioli steered Italy back into the match but Brazil seemed to have answers for all the questions the Italian offense were asking. Brazil found seams on Italy's side of the court and hit on these areas, picking up points with ease. Sheilla Castro joined Fabiana and Thaisa in the Brazilian attacking spree, racking up points for the South American side as they took the second set.
Brazil continued with their excellent blocking and middle hitting game in the third which was key to their win. Their impenetrable back court defense allowed them to set up their play and retaliate against the Italians.
“First of all congratulations to Brazil, today they have given us a lesson in volleyball,” Italy coach Massimo Barbolini said. “We must think about what we need to do next.”
Earlier on in the day USA did all the right things offensively and defensively to see off Japan 25-22, 25-17 and 25-23 in the opening match of the finals. Destinee Hooker led the Americans with 19 points after converting on 16 of her 29 attacking attempts with Jordan Larson producing four aces to add a total of 13 points.
"I like the way USA team played today, I thought we came out and played with good energy," USA coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "In terms of the service line, we were strong so that was good. Japan is always a challenging opponent because of the speed in which they play and the way they battle which was the case today so they are a good team and we are very happy to win over such a very strong opponent."
The Japanese were led by Saori Kimura, who managed 11 kills on 32 attempts for a team high 12 points.
"We played with last year’s champion and we lost a lot of points from their jump serving, so that was very difficult for us," Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe said.
Reigning world champions Russia held off a late surge from Thailand to score an opening 25-18, 25-22, 25-27, 25-17 victory in the eight-team final round. Evgeniya Startseva had 21 smashes, four blocks and an ace to contribute 26 points for Russia with Nataliya Goncharova and Lesya Makhno adding 20 and 18 respectively.
Despite the victory, Russia coach Vladimir Kuzyutkin believed his side still has a lot to improve.
“This match shows there are problems in our game,” he said. “Congratulations to Thailand coach for the good match and for putting up a good fight. I am sure they will continue to fight in the remaining matches just like today.”
Sittirak Onuma spearheaded the Thais with 21 points.
In the last match of the day, the Serbian women rallied past hosts China 20-25, 25-18, 23-25, 25-16 and 18-16 for a good start in their first World Grand Prix finals.
Jovana Brakocevic was Serbia’s top scorer with 22 points while Yang Junjing led the Chinese with 21 points. The Serbian team reaped 17 points from blocking, compared with six for China.
After three days of pool play the top two finishers from each group will advance to Saturday’s semifinals.