Kou and Liu overcome Japanese resistance in Ulsan to claim first World Tour gold

Ulsan, Korea, July 22, 2018 – Top seeds Nai-Han Kou and Pi Hsin Liu won the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Ulsan Jinha Open on Sunday without dropping a single set in the tournament. Their victory in Ulsan follows silver at the Jinjiang two-star event and bronze at the Daegu one-star earlier this season.

Second-seeded Yukako Suzuki and Kaho Sakaguchi of Japan claimed the Ulsan Jinha Open silver medals. It was their second podium finish on the Tour, after a third place at the Tuan Chau one-star in May.

The bronze went to another Japanese duo, 10th-seeded Shinako Tanaka and Sakurako Fujii. For both 42-year-old Tanaka and 27-year-old Sakurako it was the first ever medal on the World Tour.

Kou and Suzuki in a tough battle at the net in the Ulsan final

After scores levelled at 3-3 in the first set of the final, Kou and Liu broke away with a six-point run. Suzuki and Sakaguchi’s attempt at a comeback only got them to as close as 9-10, after which Kou and Liu ran off again with a 15-9 lead and never looked back. The Japanese took control in the second set to open a 15-11 lead. Even after they had an 18-15 advantage, they were not able to hold on to it however as the team from Chinese Taipei scored five in a row to reach match point. Seconds later, Liu elegantly tipped the ball to shape up the 2-0 (21-12, 21-19) victory.

The all-Japanese bronze medal match was the only three-setter of the day. Five points in a row led 14th-seeded Miyuki Matsumura and Samaa Miyagawa to a comfortable 15-10 advantage in the first set, after which the pair had no problem cruising on to a win. The second set was closely contested and ended up at a minimal margin in favour of Tanaka and Sakurako to prompt a tie-breaker. They went on to take an 8-4 lead in the deciding set before reaching match point at 14-9. Miyuki and Miyagawa kept the pressure on to win the next three rallies, but it was too late for a meaningful comeback. After a time-out, Tanaka closed the match with a precision shot on the line to decide the final at 2-1 (15-21, 21-19, 15-12).

Tanaka and Sakurako started their semifinal match well by opening an early 5-2 gap, but it was immediately closed by their opponents Kou and Liu. After 10-10, the Chinese Taipei players started scoring the break points they needed to gain control of the scoreboard, eventually winning the set by a six-point margin. The early 5-2 lead was in favour of Kou and Liu in the second set. The Japanese pair fought back to catch up at 8-8. This run-and-catch game continued through the rest of the set, which came with an off-the-block shot by Kou placing the ball on the sand for a 2-0 (21-15, 21-19) victory.

The earlier semifinal was an exciting all-Japanese affair. About halfway through each of the sets, the higher seeds, Suzuki and Sakaguchi started asserting their superiority over Miyuki and Miyagawa. Both sets ended with the same result, the first one shaped with a Sakaguchi spike for the last point and the second – with a monster block by Suzuki for the 2-0 (21-16, 21-16) win.


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