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Volleyball: Japan, China win openers, Brazil beat holders USA in Sapporo

 

China captain Hui Ruoqi (#12) gets fired up against Serbia. Photos: FIVB.

China captain Hui Ruoqi (#12) gets fired up against Serbia. Photos: FIVB.

August 28, 2013: China beat Serbia 3-1, Olympic champions Brazil trounced title holders USA 3-0 before hosts Japan downed Italy 3-0 on the opening day of the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals in Sapporo.

 

China, who won their sole Grand Prix title in 2003, were the only team to win all nine of their preliminary round matches this year and continued their victory streak by beating Serbia 25-21, 22-25, 25-17, 25-20.

 

Xu Yunli was China’s top scorer with 19 points and the 1.96-metre middle blocker was well supported by fellow blocker Yang Junjing (15), captain and outside hitter Hui Ruoqi (14) and left-handed opposite Zeng Chunlei (11). Setter Shen Jingsi and libero Zhang Xian played all four games, while long-time star Wang Yimei and Ma Yunwen did not play at all.

 

Serbia captain Jovana Brakocevic celebrates.

Serbia captain Jovana Brakocevic celebrates.

China outblocked Serbia 15-9 and outserved them 6-3, while Jovana Brakocevic scored 23 for Serbia, who finished second in the preliminary round standings.

 

China coach Jenny Lang Ping was pleased with the winning start against a team her side narrowly beat just 10 days earlier.

 

“I asked the players to concentrate and get into the game as soon as possible. The Serbia team are very powerful at the net, especially in hitting and blocking. I asked my players to be patient and improve our cover systems, and they did a pretty good job,” said Lang, the former star who inspired China to Olympic gold in 1984.

 

“They served well and did pretty well during the game, but still have some parts where they are inconsistent. When the other team served better, we still faced difficult moments.”

 

Hui, one of several players remaining from last year’s Olympics side, agreed with her coach. “We’re very happy to win as Serbia are a strong team with very tall spikers and strong attackers, but we still have a lot to improve on in the rest of the matches,” the 22-year-old captain said.

 

Brazil then crushed USA 25-19, 25-12, 25-10 in a rematch of last year’s Olympic finalists, as a fantastic blocking and defensive display severely hampered the Americans’ chances of a fourth straight Grand Prix title.

 

Young Brazil star Gabriela Guimaraes, MVP in the 3-0 win against USA.

Young Brazil star Gabriela Guimaraes, MVP in the 3-0 win against USA.

Middle blocker Thaisa Menezes, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, and outside hitter Fernanda Garay, a London 2012 winner, both scored 13 points for Brazil, while 19-year-old Gabriela Guimaraes scored 11 and the MVP of the Match award.

 

Brazil coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes said: “I think we played really good volleyball today and I’m happy about the game, but it’s a difficult tournament, playing five top matches in five days.”

 

Japan, who will play the last match on each of the five days, then delighted the home fans by beating World No. 4 Italy 25-18, 25-19, 25-22.

 

Japan were led by Yukiko Ebata (16 points) and captain Saori Kimura (15), both London 2012 bronze medallists, while Italy’s 2.02-metre Valentina Diouf – only 20 – scored 14 points.

 

Japan claimed nine blocking points to Italy’s seven and eight service points to Italy’s two, with Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe admitting his team’s work since the conclusion of the final pool matches in Sendai had paid off.

 

“I knew the players were nervous because it was our first match so I’m happy for them that we won,” Manabe said. “After the Sendai round, we needed to think about how to improve and we had a week off that gave us plenty of time to think about our game, and things worked out really well.”

 

Japan setter Haruka Miyashita added: “I was really nervous before the matches in Sapporo, but now I feel relieved to have won this match. In the Sendai round, we had good points and bad points, but we had time to discuss these as we had a week off and I felt less nervous than in Sendai.”

 

Risa Shinnabe of Japan spikes against Italy’s 2.02-metre Valentina Diouf.

Risa Shinnabe of Japan spikes against Italy’s 2.02-metre Valentina Diouf.

2013 FIVB World Grand Prix Finals, Sapporo, Japan (local start times)

 

Wednesday, August 28 (13:30): Serbia 1-3 China

Wednesday, August 28 (15:30): Brazil 3-0 USA

Wednesday, August 28 (19:10): Japan 3-0 Italy

 

Thursday, August 29 (13:30): USA v Serbia

Thursday, August 29 (15:30): Italy v China

Thursday, August 29 (19:10): Japan v Brazil

 

Friday, August 30 (13:30): China v USA

Friday, August 30 (15:30): Brazil v Italy

Friday, August 30 (19:10): Serbia v Japan

 

Saturday, August 31 (13:30): Italy v USA

Saturday, August 31 (15:30): Brazil v Serbia

Saturday, August 31 (19:10): Japan v China

 

Sunday, September 1 (13:30): Serbia v Italy

Sunday, September 1 (15:30): China v Brazil

Sunday, September 1 (19:10): USA v Japan

 

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