Sapporo, Japan, October 3, 2018 – China captain Zhu Ting recovered from a slow start to score 21 points as China fought back to overcome Bulgaria 3-1 (22-25, 25-22, 25-14, 25-17) on the fourth day of action in the FIVB World Championship at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center on Wednesday.
China raised their record to 4-0 and go into a showdown with Italy, also 4-0, on the final day of action in Sapporo on Thursday.
Zhu was supported by Yuan Xinyue (12 points), Gong Xiangyu (11) and Yan Ni (11). Bulgaria were led by Gergana Dimitrova with 18 points.
The match certainly didn’t start as China would have wanted but credit must go to Bulgaria who started hot and caught their opponents sleeping. Gergana Dimitrova got in the groove after the first technical timeout and landed three big kills to push the score to 13-8, when China coach Lang Ping called a timeout. China pulled back to within a point at 14-13, when Bulgaria coach Ivan Petkov called a timeout, and immediately afterward Zhu Ting hit a shot long, one of several misjudged shots by the usually reliable Chinese captain during the set. A blast by Zhang Changning pulled China to within two points at 20-18 and again at 22-20, but Zhu was blocked and then sent a shot wide, handing Bulgaria four setpoints. A brilliant rally that Yan ended with a thumping hit made the score 24-22 but a block by Lora Kitipova on Yan handed China their first set loss of the Championship.
Zhu sent a message with her first shot of the second set, pulverising the ball into the floor to put China in front for the first time in the match. Two more shots by Zhu and a big hit by Gong put China 6-3 ahead. Gergana Dimitrova and Miroslava Paskova responded and the Bulgarians showed they weren’t going to give up easily. Bulgaria were defending and serving brilliantly, forcing China to work hard but also forcing them into making mistakes. Yuan came up with a smash and a beautiful tipover but Gergana Dimitrova kept the scores close with a clever plant and a big smash under pressure. Bulgaria drew level at 18 on a hit by Paskova and went ahead when they blocked Li Yingying. The teams were level at 20 and again at 22 when China “recovered” a point through a successful challenge. Yan then blocked Paskova and a Zhu hit drew China level.
The two teams were level to 5-5 in the third set but setter Ding Xia – who didn’t start the match – started connecting with Yan Ni, while Zhu was starting to find her range. They helped China lead 8-6 at the first TTO and a monster hit by Zhu found China 13-8 up. Lefty Li was also starting to fire down some big hits and a brilliant crosscourt smash by the 18-year-old put China 20-13 up. Zhu Ting delivered a bomb to make it 23-13, Li served an ace and Yuan finished things off to put China 2-1 ahead.
A tight contest doesn’t begin to describe the first half of the fourth set. The teams were never more than a point apart but then Zhu came up with three straight winners to put China 14-12 up. Some brilliant Chinese defence then made that 15-12. China’s lead stretched to four points (19-15) after a huge smash by Zhu and a block by Yan on Mariya Karakasheva and after that, there was no way back for Bulgaria. Blocks by Gong and Zhang helped bring up matchpoint at 24-16 and a sharp smack by Yuan from a slick short set by Ding ended the match.