Barueri, Brazil, May 15, 2018 - Tijana Boskovic overpowered Japan with some fierce attacking intent as Serbia began their VNL campaign in style with a comprehensive 3-0 triumph (25-18, 25-17, 25-22).
Boskovic , who finished an impressive display with 19 points, was the focal point for Zoran Terzic's Rio 2016 silver medallists along with Brankica Mihajlovic (13 points and two blocks), their strength of spike and general energetic display was simply too hot to handle for a Japanese side who battled hard on what was a testing first outing.
Wing spiker Sarina Koga kept the Asian champions in the tie and finished with 10 points yet it wasn’t enough to stop Boskovic who dominated from start to finish.
Japan’s journey to their own Olympic games in 2020 starts here but this was a chastening experience for Kumi Nakada’s team who are currently ranked no6 in the world.
With the reigning European champions locking horns with Asia’a finest, this clash was always going to be entertaining - and so it proved.
In last year’s World Grand Prix meeting, Serbia won 3-0 while in 2016, the Japanese triumphed in straight sets.
Following Brazil’s shock defeat to Germany in the previous match, this was the perfect chance for one of these big guns of the women’s game to take control of Pool Four.
And it was Serbia who set down their marker in the first set, easing into a 19-13 lead
as the Europeans showed just why they’re ranked fourth in the world with some strong attacking intent led by the towering Boskovic, whose spikes were being recorded at over 100 kph.
Japan fought hard to claw their way back in and saved three set points and although some desperate defense kept Serbia at bay, it wasn’t enough and with just 23 minutes on the clock, the Europeans were ahead.
It was more of the same in the second set with the Serbian rearguard , led by Mihajlovic and Stefana Veljkovic ( four blocks) refusing to allow Japan - who had Arisa Inoue and Koga fighting for everything - a way back into the match while Boskovic continued her ruthless finishing.
The opposite spiker, who plays her club volleyball in Istanbul, was the focal point of Serbia’s attacking game and at points, the Japanese employed two players at the net to try and repel her scorching power.
At 17-11, Japan were once again facing an almighty battle to stay in the set. Serbian errors - at that stage the count was 6-1 - were giving their opponents a helping hand but the physicality and brute force of the Serbian spikes were very hard to repel for the Japanese.
Terzic, the coach who led that emotional charge to the Olympic final, would have been delighted with his side’s display from both an attacking and defensive standpoint.
Rallies which really should have been lost were being won while Boskovic continued to be a constant threat.
In a repeat of the first set, Japan repelled two set points but it was left to Boskovic once again to put the Serbs within one set of a strong start to the VNL campaign.
Japan, the London 2012 bronze medallists, needed something special now.
While enjoying huge success in Asian tournaments, competing on the world stage hasn’t been as straightforward despite being crowned world champions three times between 1962 and 1974.
Their last medal at this level came in the form of silver in 2010 yet at least the third set was more competitive and Terzic was forced to bring his team off for a time out and a regroup with the score at 17-13 to Japan.
Middle blocker Haruyo Shimamura was finding her feet and causing a few problems but the Serbians wouldn’t lie down, clawing their way level at 18-18 before eventually running out deserved winners.
Japan will meet Brazil next while the Serbians take on the confident Germans.