Tokyo, August 3, 2007: Japan showed no mercy on World Grand Prix newcomers Kazakhstan, beating their Asian rivals 3-0 at Ariake Colosseum on Friday evening.
The Japanese were too quick and experienced at this high level for Kazakhstan, and delighted their fans by winning in straight sets, 25-23, 25-21, 25-20.
Kazakhstan showed no nerves on their debut, and if anything started the brighter of the two teams.
Olga Nassedkina was prominent at the net, and Olga Grushko gave the Japanese block plenty of problems on the left.
Japan began to find their attacking rhythm to lead 8-7 at the first TTO, after some forceful play at the net from the dependable Erika Araki, a majestic back-court swoop from Megumi Kurihara and a left-handed winner from setter Yoshie Takeshita which took the Kazakh defence by surprise.
Saori Kimura showed all her grace and athleticism to move Japan further ahead, and Kazakhstan needed a TO when the points difference grew to three, 14-11.
A Kurihara serve unsettled the Kazakh defence, and Kimura capitalised by knocking one over for 16-11 at the second TTO. Japan were looking very smooth and business-like, and the Kazakhs knew they would be in big trouble if they could not close the margin quickly.
Captain Yelena Pavlova lifted her team with a crisp winner on the left, and Nassedkina continued to battle away at the net, but the variety and speed of the Japanese attack led to a communication breakdown on the Kazakh side.
When Olga Karpova began to trouble Japan's defence on the Kazakhstan right and Japan's lead was cut to 23-21, head coach Shoichi Yanagimoto called his first TO. His second came shortly after, when Japan squandered a second set point from 24-21 to 24-23. The talk worked, and Kurihara ended the first frame 25-23 with another fluid winner.
Miyuki Takahashi had been quiet by her own high standards in the first set, but was busier at the start of the second. Kurihara remained the main supply line, though, and Takeshita blocked Yuliya Kutsko for another Japan point.
Although the Kazakhs had improved their ground defence, Japan still managed to take a four-point lead into the first TTO, 8-4.
The Kazakhs were having problems with the setter, preventing them from building up any momentum, whereas Japan were confident and full of ideas to keep the points flowing from all angles. At 16-6 at the second TTO, Japan were well on their way to a resounding victory over a rival which had beaten them in the 2005 Asian Championship semi-finals in China.
When a Yuki Shoji serve got through for 19-8, Kazakhstan called their first TTO of the second set.
The break seemed to upset Japan's rhythm, and several attacking mistakes allowed the Kazakhs to make inroads into their lead. When Natalya Rykova struck to close the gap to 21-14, Yanagimoto was sufficiently concerned to bring his players off for a TO.
The errors persisted, and Japan's lead was down to four at 21-17 when Kimura spiked wide up the left.
The impressive Kurihara brought up set point at 24-20, and Takahashi finished it 25-21 with a pounding winner at the net.
Takahashi kept up the pressure in the third set, following the 10-minute entertainment break, and her powerful serves rocked the Kazakh receivers. Down 6-3, Kazakhstan coach Evgeny Sivkov called a TO to try and tighten up his team.
The visitors were finding it increasingly difficult to pierce Japan's flying ground defence, and Kurihara was producing winners from the most unlikely of situations; 8-3 Japan at the first TTO.
The players were off again soon after, when Sivkov called his first TO of the third set trailing 10-4.
Kumiko Sakino pushed one over for 11-4, but could do nothing to field a Pavlova sizzler that sped past her for a Kazakh point.
Japan led by six at the second TTO, and still looked fresh and hungry to finish it in three. Sakino was now flourishing at the net, leading Japan's attack and blocking well.
Although Kutsko and Rykova broke through the Japanese block, the home team had too many points on the board -- and had Kurihara in match-winning mood.
The Kazakh block prolonged the end, and Japan took a TO despite leading 23-20.
Takahashi brought up match point at 24-20, and and Pavlova spiked long to end it, 25-20 Japan and 3-0.