Aika Akutagawa on comeback win vs Serbia: We played like Japan should


Aika Akutagawa (#24) scored 14 in the win for Japan

Osaka, Japan, September 27, 2019 – Serbia faced the host Japan team in the late game before a packed house at Maruzen Intec Arena Osaka. The hometown crowd witnessed their side pull off a thrilling comeback, rebounding from two sets down to beat Serbia 3-2 (21-25, 21-25, 25-20, 25-20, 15-6).

Japan coach Kumi Nakada: It was really a tough match today but our players didn't give up, and they played enthusiastically to the end. This win should be made more meaningful by playing hard into tomorrow.

On her pre-match advice to Sato to draw spikers to her rhythm vs the other way around: Still there are many challenges, but she kept setting well and I think winning the match is the most important thing for her now. There are conditioning issues and other challenges for her, but I want her to experience various things through this sort of real match experience. [...] But I told her she shouldn't carry everything on her shoulders alone. She is capable of shouldering the burden, but I told her she should try to bring spikers to her rhythm rather than the other way around.

Regarding Aika Akutagawa and making higher passes: I saw a tendency of not having enough time in long rallies, where we tended to return the first pass lower. My instructions were that in the longer rallies, that we try to return passes higher, so the middle blockers have enough time to get their timing right. The idea was to create time to get our timing right with such longer passes in these long rallies.

What did she think was the main reason for today's win? I think the biggest reason for the change of momentum was our service. We got our digs right, and we could pass better. After digging our opponents' spikes we could get our attack going from there.

Japan player Miya Sato: In today's match in the first and second sets I was still in a bad rhythm from the defeats of the past few days, but my attackers hit well, we had long rallies, and I feel I got my rhythm back. We played well, and I want to be able to play with such rhythm so we can compete well against strong teams. Against Serbia, I wanted to attack quickly. [...] As the match progressed, (Aika) Akutagawa gave me feedback about their blocking position and we adjusted. We had discussions before the match, and this feedback during the match about where the holes are in their blocking. I think this discussion is something we should continue doing.

Japan player Ai Kurogo: Today's match was the first of this Osaka round, and we have two more here. So this was a very important match to lead into the next ones. The team has been in a difficult situation for some time, but we had a strong will to win today and I think that really showed today.

On previously watching her team from the bench: Yes, I had a desire to be on court all this time, but I thought I had to do whatever I could do to help the team win. Today I was on the court, and once I was there, I had a strong desire to score. When I went back to the bench, I couldn't help but feel I wanted more time.

Japan player Aika Akutagawa: Really this match was about tenacity first and foremost. We played like Japan should, and we were able to win because of that. With Sato we've been practicing to get our combinations right. In this competition she has set well. Prior to today we had discussions together, and the first two sets I came to the attack position too early. Later she set well for me and I wanted to respond well to the "ideas" she put in her balls, so I tried to be careful about the run up before spiking. I think our efforts to get combinations right has led to this result. But we have always tried to adjust to each other, and I think that showed today.

Serbia captain Ana Bjelica: I cannot say that I'm happy with this game because we were in front 2-0 and we lost unfortunately. We lost some concentration, and I think that was the reason why we lost. Maybe they started to play with more risks in their serve and attack, and that was how they won today. I think we defended well in this game.

Serbia coach Aleksandar Vladisavliev: We played almost perfect for two sets, but after that they served much stronger, and we had problems in our reception and in our organization. That's the main reason why Japan won today and we lost.