Thailand score historic victory over Russia in Grand Champions Cup
In their 10 previous meetings, the Russians had won every match.
The win saw Thailand raise their record to 1-4 for four points while Russia dropped to 1-4 and also finished on four points. The result determined the bottom three placings in the World Grand Champions Cup. The Dominican Republic finished sixth with three points, Thailand fifth with four points and Russia fourth, also with four points.
Thailand’s Onuma Sittirak top-scored in the match with 26 points, while captain Wilavan Apinyapong contributed 19. Russia were led by Natalia Malykh with 19 points. Thailand’s Pleumjit Thinkaow had a tournament-high seven blocking points.
Both teams had 14 blocking points, while the Thais had five service points to Russia’s one. Russia committed 12 errors to Thailand’s 22.
Russia’s Natalia Malykh started to punish the Thai defence early on in the match and when the Thai players allowed a slow serve from Iulia Morozova to drop into space – making the score 11-4 – Thailand called a timeout. Onuma Sittirak scored with a couple of hits and then boosted the Thais with some impressive power serves, as Thailand pulled back from 15-7 to 15-11. But while the Thais showed plenty of spirit and guile – exemplified by another trademark reverse tipover by setter Nootsara Tomkom – they still found it hard to match the power of the Russians in the early stages. Victoria Chaplina earned Russia six matchpoints with a spike that the Thais couldn’t return and a block by Morozova on Sittirak put Russia 1-0 ahead.
Sittirak made two early errors in the second set as the Russians pulled into a 3-0 lead, but Malika Kanthong responded with a kill and an excellent block on Chaplina to get Thailand back on track. Russian errors then allowed Thailand to take the lead and after another neat reverse tipover from the classy Tomkom, Thailand were 8-6 ahead at the first technical timeout. But Russia turned the screws again, taking the next four points and bringing a Thai timeout. The Thais regrouped and fought back with two great hits by captain Wilavan Apinyapong and a terrific block by Pleumjit Thinkaow on Alexandra Pasynkova to take the lead at 14-13. A delightful cross plant by Sittirak extended the lead to two points at 18-16, but the two teams were all-square again at 18-18. Russia coach Iury Marichev called a timeout after another rocket serve from Sittirak caused reception problems and allowed the Thais to lead 21-20. But two more meaty serves and sweet hitting by Apinyapong forced the coach to haul his players off again at 23-20. It had an effect as Sittirak netted her next serve. But another spike by Apinyapong brought Thailand three setpoints and when Liubov Shashkova sent a tame shot wide, the match was level at 1-1.
The Thais showed their intelligent style in the first phase of the third set with Tomkom pulling the strings and making some terrific sets and Sittirak planting the ball in holes on the Russian side of the net. Thinkaow landed a shot from a trademark rapid set by Tomkom and added two terrific blocks on Malykh and Shashkova as Thailand moved into a 9-5 lead. At 12-7, Marichev called his players off for a talk. Shashkova then came up with a kill, Anastasia blocked Kanthong on successive plays and Thailand called a timeout. But the Thais were still two points ahead at the second TTO and at times the Russians struggled to catch up with their unpredictable offence. Marichev called a timeout when a block by Kanthon on Malykh put Thailand three points ahead at 22-19. Sittirak followed up with an ace and Apinyapong thundered a shot down the line to give the Thais five setpoints. After dropping two, the Thais called a timeout and Shlyakhovaya did them a favour by sending her next serve out of court, putting Thailand 2-1 up in the match.
Kanthong and Apinyapong earned Thailand’s first points of the fourth set with super blocks on Malykh and the Thais went 3-1 up after the Russians failed to deal with another blockbuster serve from Sittirak. Thinkaow came up with her fifth blocking point of the match to put Thailand 8-4 up at the first TTO, then added two more points with some good blocking, forcing Marichev to haul his players off court again. Shlyakhovaya scored two hits as Russia closed the gap to 10-7 and the Thais called a timeout. Successive blocks by Shlyakhovaya on Sittirak pulled Russia to within a point at 11-10 and when a lobbed shot by Malykh dropped in, the scores were level at 12-12. Another blistering ace by Sittirak gave Thailand a two-point lead and they kept that margin at the second TTO. After the Russians drew level at 16, Apinyapong led a Thai surge that saw them go four points ahead at 20-16, but then the Russians powered their way back to even the scores at 21. At 23-22, Sittirak earned Thailand two matchpoints with a shot down the right line. Chaplina saved one, but Sittirak fired down a final kill to give Thailand a well-deserved victory.