World Grand Prix Week 2: Five teams put undefeated records on the line
A particularly difficult task awaits European champions Serbia. The team from the Balkans will face defending champions USA on home soil in Belgrade. Under new star coach Karch Kiraly, the Americans lost 3-1 to Olympic champions Brazil on the opening weekend – a defeat that brought to an end a World Grand Prix record run of 18 consecutive wins.
“We were sad, but this defeat was a lesson for the next matches,” USA captain Kristin Hildebrand said: “We are now even more focused on winning the next matches.” The Olympic silver medallists and world No. 1 have won the last three editions of the World Grand Prix and have their eye on a record fourth-successive title. This time however, eight-time record winners Brazil have set their sights on a shift in the balance of power: having opened with three wins, the world No. 2 are aiming for another three victories in Puerto Rico this weekend – however, they will face another two teams that also have two wins to their name, in the form of the Dominican Republic and Bulgaria.
“Qualifying for the Finals will be really tough. However, we have had good results and we can definitely end the first phase in the top six,” Brazil coach Ze Roberto said. The top five teams after the Preliminary Round are guaranteed to progress to the Finals. Also guaranteed a place at the Finals are the hosts: the World Grand Prix Finals will return to Japan for the first time since 2009 and take place in Sapporo from August 28 to September 1.
Olympic bronze medallists Japan are also among the five undefeated teams after the opening weekend. As such, sixth place in the Preliminary Round, which this year features a record 20 teams, should be sufficient to guarantee a place at the Finals. Current overall leaders Japan will be put to the test in Plock against hosts Poland, Kazakhstan and Germany. Coach Masayoshi Manabe’s team has particular respect for Germany, who have their sights set on gold at the European Championships on their own soil at the start of September. “Our young team will have to concentrate in the match against Germany.”
After opening with two defeats, Germany has almost lost sight of its goal: a ticket for the Finals. Another team in the same predicament is Poland – one of five winless teams after the first week of the World Grand Prix. In contrast, the Chinese, who also have home advantage in Hong Kong this weekend, are yet to suffer a defeat. Their toughest opponents could well be the third-placed team in last year’s World Grand Prix: Turkey. The surprise package of last year’s tournament are well positioned with two wins to their name. China’s new star trainer Lang Ping is expecting a tough duel and is set to make some changes in personnel: “We have to improve in many areas in the upcoming stages of the tournament, especially the coordination of players. We plan to examine a different team formation and to bring back some of the more familiar players such as Hui Ruoqi, Yin Na, Zeng Chunlei, Shan Danna to the line-up. This way, all the players will have an opportunity to train and compete in the tournament.”
The fifth undefeated team, Italy, also have a tough assignment in their pool this weekend. The group in Ekaterinburg, Russia pits them against last year’s outstanding performers Thailand, who recorded their best ever result in 2012 finishing fourth, winless former World Grand Prix winners Cuba, and Russia. The reigning two-time world champions are out for revenge after opening with two unexpected defeats. “We will continue to improve and hope to profit from our home advantage,” Russian coach Iuriy Marichev said.
With 30 matches in five venues around the world, the second week of the Preliminary Round promises more great volleyball action for the many fans packed into the halls and the millions watching on TV and online.
LIVE SCOREBOX | WEEK 2
Top Scoring Performances
41 – Katarzyna Skowronska-Dolata of Poland v Russia (August 4) World Grand Prix record
32 – Zhu Ting of China v Netherlands (August 4)
31 – Tatyana Mudritskaya of Kazakhstan v Argentina (August 4)
28 – Bethania De La Cruz of Dominican Republic v Czech Republic (August 4)25 – Nataliya Goncharova of Russia v Brazil (August 3)
24 – Lucia Fresco of Argentina v Kazakhstan (August 4)
22 – Brankica Mihajlovic of Serbia v Czech Republic (August 3)
22 – Fernanda Rodrigues of Brazil v Russia (August 3)
22 – Brankica Mihajlovic of Serbia v Dominican Republic (August 2)
21 – Carolina Costagrande of Italy v Germany (August 4)
21 – Maren Brinker of Germany v Argentina (August 3)
21 – Tatiana Kosheleva of Russia v Brazil (August 3)
Blocking Performances by Team
17 – Brazil v Poland (August 2)
17 – Kazakhstan v Germany (August 2)
16 – Russia v Poland (August 4)
16 – Serbia v Puerto Rico (August 4)
16 – Dominican Republic v Puerto Rico (August 3)
16 – Brazil v Russia (August 3)
Top Serving Performances
5 – Denise Hanke of Germany v Kazakhstan (August 2)
5 – Sana Jarlagassova of Kazakhstan v Germany (August 2)
Serving Performances by Team
10 – Germany v Argentina (August 3)
10 – Serbia v Czech Republic (August 3)
Scorer by Round
2013 World Grand Prix Tournament page