Friday 17th April
PATXI RUIZ beat LEIZA 22-13
The first of the third round matches saw the entry of the first former champion. Patxi Ruiz won the Manomanista Championship in 2003, beating an injury afflicted Aimar Olaizola in the final. In order to progress into the latter stages of this year’s competition, the Navarrese defender will have to overcome injury troubles of his own. This very week, he informed the world, through the medium of Radio Euskadi, that he is not sure how much longer his back, which was operated upon in the autumn, will allow him to continue in the sport. He even went as far as to say that he had only entered this championship for the sake of his empresa. What sort of Patxi Ruiz, we wondered, would be on show in Amorebieta on Friday night? In his path stood the 28 year old Bizkaian Inigo Leiza, whose only manomanista triumph came in the second division championship in 2005. Leiza appeared to be in good form, having defeated Berasaluze IX last week, a player who himself has seemed on fire of late. However, in a topsy turvy match, it was Patxi who would overcome.
The early exchanges were all about Patxi Ruiz, who appeared a changed man from the player who, along with Asier Olaizola, propped up the table in the recent Pairs Championship. There, the pelotari from Estella seemed constantly out of his depth and never found any rhythm or confidence. Although the first point in this encounter went to Leiza, Patxi stamped his authority in the course of the next six, his serve and volley working to perfection. His opponent on the other hand looked ill at ease, his three errors coming as a direct result of the pressure exerted by his rival. However, it was not to be one way traffic and Leiza did find his touch. The turning point came in the play which took the score to 2-6; Patxi Ruiz pulled off two excellent saves in defence but could not prevent Leiza from playing him like a puppet on a string. As he dived, Leiza sent the ball spiralling over his head. Leiza went on to take the next five points, aided by three misses on the part of Patxi and two volley winners of his own.
With the score tied at 7-7, the crowd, who were mostly rather subdued, sensed a fight and warmed to the occasion. However, the latent class of Patxi Ruiz began to tell and the former champion, solid rather than flashy, began to build a lead. As the score crept from 7-7 to 12-7, Patxi ground his opponent into the floor in the style of a master accumulator rather than going for the knockout punch, though there was no doubt as to who was the superior player. Patxi displayed strength in closing out points with a beautifully judged drop and a driven volley which confused Leiza to the extent that he did not even chase it, but his greatest strength was in forcing his rival to crack. This was nowhere more obvious than in the point which took the score to 9-7, in which he repeatedly pushed Leiza back, mercilessly testing his overhead volleying power until he could take it no more.
Leiza did find the power to retaliate but his comeback attempt fell short of achieving parity with his opponent and in reality, Patxi never looked like a loser. As he carried on in the same vein of consistency, Leiza looked like a man who knew he was in for a beating. The errors became more numerous and as he hit high, miscued, and sometimes missed altogether, Patxi bossed the closing points with abandon, tying his opponent to the frontis before daring him to fetch balls for which he had to hare backwards in hopeless desperation. Leiza managed to accumulate a handful of points, more through Patxi’s carelessness than his own skill.
So, it is the 2003 victor who progresses to the next round, where he will face the formidable obstacle of defending champion Oinatz Bengoetxea, who showed good form in the curtain raising doubles match which preceded this manomanista encounter. There was little sign in the course of the play of discomfort caused by Patxi’s back, but he did use the rest periods to stretch, indicating that the problem is very much a reality. Only time will tell how much of an onslaught he can withstand, for there will surely be tougher tests ahead.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 6-1, 6-7, 7-7, 12-7, 12-8, 12-11, 15-11, 15-12, 18-12, 18-13 and 22-13.
Image from: Asegarce