Using the surprise element to good effect, Tamil Nadu defeated defending champion Kerala 25-18, 25-23, 25-16 and entered the men’s final of the Federation Cup volleyball at the Jimmy George Stadium here on Tuesday.
In the final on Wednesday, Tamil Nadu will meet Services, which jolted national runner-up Uttarakhand 25-19, 18-25, 25-23, 25-23 in the other semifinal.
Uttarakhand had four internationals in Mandeep Singh, Navjit Singh, Lalit Kumar and setter Ranjit Singh but Services, which included eight Kerala-born players, had the last laugh with sparkling performances from Pankaj Sharma and A. Anshad.
National champion Tamil Nadu came up with a very impressive strategy in the opening set. G.R. Vaishnav and Kerala’s Shamji Thomas and M.T. Azeez were in good nick but each time the scores got close, TN moved ahead with a surprise drop.
Captain and India playmaker M. Ukkrapandian turned out to be a master with the tactical ball, pulling off wily drops even while looking the other way.
Inspired by this, blockers Vaishnav and G.S. Akhin also used the drop a few times — there were around six of them in the first set — but despite coming so frequently, it kept catching Kerala by surprise.
TN also kept the Kerala attackers in check with a tall two-man wall with Akhin pairing up with John Christopher, Naveen Raja Jacob and setter Ukkarapandian to thwart Tom and Azeez.Failed strategy
On the other side, Kerala tried to restrict hard hitter Naveen with a two-man soft block but with the backcourt not supporting the blockers, that strategy did not click.
If the first set was a lot about soft touch, the second was all about power and also about errors.
Azeez came up with dummy jumps and former international Tom Joseph targeted the side of the block for his smashes to give Kerala a four-point lead twice, at 13-9 and 15-11.
However, Jerome Vinith and Naveen turned TN’s heroes during this phase.
While Jerome’s crosscourt hits were clear winners, Naveen smashed through the block or found the edge of the wall frequently.
Azeez then messed up, hitting out and netting his serve, to help TN equalise at 16, move to a 20-18 lead and then close out the set.
After losing the second set despite holding a good lead, the Kerala men were under pressure in the next. The loud booing from the crowd only added to their misery.
A couple of changes were made, Abil Krishnan and K. Santosh coming in, but there were none to use the clever lifts by setter V. Manu.
That only made TN’s job easier and as the match wore on, TN just needed single blocks to stop the home spikers.
Men’s semifinal: Tamil Nadu bt Kerala 25-18, 25-23, 25-16; Services bt Uttarakhand 25-19, 18-25, 25-23, 25-23.
Monday’s match (league): Men’s Group A: TN bt Services 25-22, 25-20, 25-20.