Friday 8th May
BELOKI beat OLAIZOLA I 22-21
Ruben Beloki, who at 20 was the youngest ever winner of the Manomanista title, will return to the semi finals of the tournament for the first time since 2006. He achieved his passage at Labrit on Friday, beating one of last year’s semi finalists, Asier Olaizola by the smallest possible margin. This victory sets up a tie against Asier’s younger and more decorated brother Aimar, to take place on May 23rd, again in Pamplona.
This was a topsy turvy encounter filled with drama. Olaizola, whose participation had been in some doubt owing to a leg injury, started badly, to the extent that one feared he may face humiliation. He seemed unable to counter Beloki’s opening surge which took the man from Burlada to a 4-0 lead. It was however to prove a false alarm as Olaizola turned his game to take the lead 6-4 by means of a solid serve and a right arm more powerful than that of his opponent. There followed a period when the two protagonists seemed evenly matched, each taking advantage of the other’s mistakes to bring the score level at 10-10. Although Olaizola was again to pull ahead to a two point lead, the next passage of play belonged firmly to Beloki who used his serve to excellent effect and passed Olaizola crosscourt with ease. He won eight straight points to wrestle the initiative from the Goizuetan. Olaizola again closed on his opponent but an error on his part allowed Beloki to move to the brink of victory. It was then that a potentially match changing incident occurred in which sprained his right thumb in an attempt to hit a forehand volley. Clearly in pain, he lost the next two points and retired to the dressing room for treatment but his fears of a fracture were unfounded and he was able to continue, albeit somewhat handicapped. Olaizola took advantage of his rival’s plight with ruthlessness to draw the game at 21-21, but Beloki did not waver and when Olaizola failed to retrieve a ball at the front, he leapt to the heavens in pure joy.
Although Beloki should be fit to play his semi final in two weeks, the younger Olaizola will surely pose a greater challenge. Aimar has won two of the last four editions of this championship and will be eager to make up for last year’s surprise quarter final defeat at the hands of Bengoetxea. He was made to work in his 22-16 quarter final victory over Xabier Urberuaga but logic indicates his firepower will be too much for Beloki. However, in sport nothing is certain and if Beloki can show the same fight as he displayed against Olaizola senior, and if Aimar has an average day, who is to say that the final might not beckon?
Scoring sequence: 4-0, 4-6, 5-6, 5-7, 8-7, 8-10, 10-10, 10-12, 18-12, 18-16, 21-16 and 22-21