Friday 6th February
OLAIZOLA I – PATXI RUIZ beat TITIN III – PASCUAL 22-20
This has been a long time coming. For much of this tournament, Asier Olaizola has been forced to watch little brother Aimar scale the heights while he and his partner, an out of form Patxi Ruiz, plunged the depths. They remain lowly in terms of the overall table but they can now rejoice in a performance which has saved their faces. They hang onto a mathematical chance of qualification for the semi finals thanks to this win over fifth placed Titin and Pascual, although they would need a miracle. Their opponents for their part have failed to gain a crucial point as the fight to reach the last four hits fever pitch and will wait anxiously on other results this weekend to find out where they will stand as they enter the penultimate week.
The first four points of the match seemed depressingly like business as usual; Patxi hit short from the back, as has been his wont in almost every encounter so far. Asier then hit short down the wall and was beaten by Titin before the pair found themselves comprehensively out-manouevred. Asegarce eyes must have rolled. But then in what seemed a most unlikely turnaround, Patxi and Asier took the next eight points and had their opponents yelling and stamping in fury. The Aspe rot started when Titin miscued carelessly from close in to the frontis, and Olaizola pounced, bossing the great Riojan without any regard for his exalted status. While the man from Goizueta seemed inspired, Titin’s attempted winners appeared bafflingly lacking in bite. Pascual played his part by hitting carelessly short, in stark contrast to a rejuvinated Patxi Ruiz. A mishit from a disgusted Patxi halted the Asegarce run and onlookers must have been tempted to assume that Titin and Pascual would now stamp their authority, but despite their own run of points, Asier fired his pair ahead once again to 9-8. The underdogs built another lead, taking the score to 13-9 in their favour. Olaizola managed to partially nullify the Titin factor by hitting long, thus avoiding an ill advised forward battle and Pascual delivered the hoped for errors. However, yet again Titin and Pascual hit back and with the score at 16-16, hearts were in mouths on both sides. When the Aspe pair raced to a 20-16 lead, owing largely to some wayward defensive play from Patxi, surely the die was cast? Titin ensured that this was not the case as his two errors returned Patxi’s favour. With the glimmer of victory only just out of reach, Asier hit again, sending Titin into an undignified full frontal slide into the corner. The final two points were protracted, virtuousic and almost unbearably tense. The advantage ebbed and flowed like an angry river as neither pair would give a centimetre, but once again, Asier, dark curls flying, proved to have the coolest head; a beautifully executed drop shot and an opportunistic long smash sent Titin and Pascual reeling, terminally.
And so, not before time, Olaizola I and Patxi Ruiz have a pulsating win in the bag, to add to their somewhat dismal victory over Xala and Zubieta. Titin and Pascual must surely have viewed this match as an opportunity to regain their composure after last week’s rout at their expense by Olaizola II and Mendizabal II. They should perhaps have recalled the hackneyed adage of the wounded but dangerous beast, for the whipping boys tonight put in jeopardy their very survival in this championship.