LONDON >> Destinee Hooker had 21 points and the United States held off late-charging South Korea 3-1 in their opening match at the London Olympics.
At one point the fans at Earls Court chanted “Des-tin-ee! Des-tin-ee!” as she dominated the 25-19, 25-17, 20-25, 25-21 victory.
The United States, which won the silver medal in Beijing and is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, jumped out to a 17-11 lead in the first set after one of Hooker’s seemingly effortless spikes, and the tone of the match appeared set.
Kim Yeon-koung had 29 points for South Korea, which rallied in the third set but ultimately fell short.
“We’re thrilled. We got the win,” U.S. captain Lindsey Berg said. “One down.”
The South Koreans are hoping they’ll be able to rebound in London from recent struggles. At the FIVB World Grand Prix tournament in June, the team won only one of nine matches.
South Korea finished fifth at the Athens Games, but failed to qualify for Beijing. Their best Olympic finish was a bronze medal in 1976.
The United States is vying for its first Olympic gold medal.
South Korea appeared to gain some late momentum in the third set when they pulled ahead 14-11. The crowd went wild for the underdogs, who appeared to thrive off the support.
“As you could see, once they got going, they’re a tough team,” U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
The United States responded by taking a 23-17 lead in the fourth set. South Korea scored three straight to pull closer but Jordan Larson’s block for match point won it.
Larson finished with 16 points in the win.
“I think the Korean team worked very hard, and I think for the next match against Serbia they will be more comfortable,” South Korea coach Kim Hyung-sil said.
In the first match of the competition Saturday morning, Japan swept Algeria 25-15, 25-14, 25-7. Saori Kimura led the Japanese with 15 points.
China overcame a slow start to defeat Serbia 3-1 (16-25, 25-18, 25-13, 25-12). Xu Yunli led China with 17 points, while star Wang Yimei had 11.
Known for her powerful jump serve, Wang is coming off surgery to repair ligament damage in her right ankle.
“I hope I can compete to my normal standard,” she said. “Compared to the last Olympics in Beijing 2008 I feel more confident in my position.”
Russia defeated host Britain 25-19, 25-10, 25-16. The match was attended by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who even joined in the wave with the crowd at Earls Court.
Italy downed the Dominican Republic 3-1 (25-17, 23-25, 25-19, 25-15).
Brazil won the final match of the day, edging Turkey 25-18, 23-25, 25-19, 25-27, 15-12. The defending Olympic champions are ranked second by volleyball’s international governing body, and are among the favorites in London.
Brazil will face the U.S. when pool play continues on Monday. China, Serbia, Turkey and South Korea are the other countries in their six-team group.