Serbia spikers’ size proves problematic for Japan at net

FIVB, KYODO

The Serbia volleyball squad defeated Japan 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-19) on the third day of the FIVB Women’s World Grand Prix Finals at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center on Friday

Serbia improved to 2-1 for six points and moved up to third in the standings. Japan fell to 1-2 and dropped to fourth. Serbia has now won its last four matches against Japan.

Milena Rasic was Serbia’s top scorer with 16 points and Brankica Mihajlovic contributed 15. Risa Shinnabe led Japan with 11 points and Saori Kimura notched seven.

Serbia had the advantage in blocking points, 9-6, while both teams had one service point. Japan made 21 errors to Serbia’s 15.

“The blocks and spikes from the Serbians had height and power. We made lots of mistakes and that was the reason we lost,” said Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe.

“We will just have to regroup and do our best against China (on Saturday).”

Mihajlovic was quickly into her spiking rhythm and contributed four points as Serbia took an 8-6 lead at the first technical timeout. Mihajlovic and teammate Milena Rasic continued to try and smash their way through the Japanese defense, but the hosts defend well and stayed with the Serbians at 18-18. Kimura then netted a serve and a dump shot at the net by Rasic opened up a two-point gap. Serbia moved three points ahead at 23-20 after a tipover by Jovana Brakocevic and the set ended with two errant serves, by Yuki Ishii and Aimi Kawashima.

Japan’s first blocking point — Nana Iwasaka on Mihajlovic — brought the scores to 2-2 in the second set, but Japan struggled thereafter, prompting coach Masayoshi Manabe to call a timeout with his team trailing 6-2. Despite another excellent block — this time Kanako Hirai on Mihajlovic — Japan couldn’t change the momentum and started to make errors as Serbia kept the pressure on. Serbia held an eight-point advantage at the second TTO.

Moments later, Mihajlovic came up with a good block and two spikes to bring set point before blasting a rocket to end the set.

Japan came out positively for the third set — Iwasaka blocked Mihajlovic for the first point — and Manabe brought in lefty Miyu Nagaoka to add power to his somewhat soft attack. Japan matched Serbia point after point, and it was 8-8.

But two spiking errors — a problem for Japan on the day — by Nagaoka and a block by Rasic on Saori Kimura opened up a three-point gap at 11-8 and Japan was playing catch-up again. Japan grabbed momentum, tying it at 14-14 and got within a point at 17-16 before Serbia pulled away again, helped by Japan errors.

A netted spike by Nagaoka brought match point and, after a kill by the same player, Kimura sent a serve long to end the match.

“First, I want to congratulate my team because we played really well tonight,” Serbia coach Zoran Terzic said after the match. “I really like to play in Japan, especially against Japan because every time it’s an amazing atmosphere and we always play a very good game. Tonight, it was a little bit easier than we expected. Japan started to make mistakes at the end of the first set and maybe made our job a little easier. But we played really well and we respected our opponents throughout the game.”

Said Kimura: “Today, we made many mistakes, especially when we needed a point. Our timing was off and we couldn’t get into any rhythm.”

In other matches, Olympic champion Brazil whipped Italy 25-16, 26-24, 25-11 and China beat the United States 25-20, 25-23, 25-17.