Sunday 25th October, Astelena, Eibar
Cuatro y Medio Second Round
OLAIZOLA I beat SARALEGI 22-17
For Ekaitz Saralegi, Sunday’s match against Asier Olaizola was a case of missed opportunity. Nobody seriously expected the man from Amezketa to be in this position, playing as he did Xala in his first round match, but he defeated the overwhelming favourite in that encounter, and he had his chances here too. In the end, Asier ran out the victor by 22 points to 17 but he was forced to survive a major scare along the way.
Saralegi began the match with promise, producing a serve which Asier could not return, to the delight of his extremely vocal fan club whose chanting became the soundtrack to the night. However, things then all went wrong as Asier took the next six points by virtue of three rather aimless Saralegi errors and three easy and nonchalant winners. Such was Saralegi’s demeanour that it was hard to imagine him winning another point, let alone the match. To his considerable credit, he did recover somewhat after a much needed time out; his botillero Aratz Mendizabal must have produced some wise words. However, he proved himself again and again unable to take any advantage of the chinks in Asier’s armour. Olaizola senior played a far from perfect game but Saralegi could not drive home the knife. The first instance of this came with the score at 6-2. Asier, perhaps resting on his laurels, had hit casually and low in the previous point but Saralegi threw away his foothold into the game with total miscue. Though the gap in points shrank gradually in the early period of the game, a similar important miss for Saralegi took place with the score on 11-7 following a sloppy attempt at a drop shot by Asier; Saralegi could have taken the point with a bit more care, but hit low when under little pressure.
Despite his underwhelming play in the first half of the match, things swung with a vengeance when Asier failed to dig out a low ball on 17-7; it was the turn of the Goizuetarra to fall apart. Saralegi won nine points in a row in a staggering turn around. He served with brilliance and speed, touching 104kph and hitting his eighth service winner to come within one point of Asier at 17-16. He also forced his opponent into errors in open play and swiped two commanding winners in a whipped dosparedes and a crosscourt airez. Asier looked stunned and turned to the counsel of his younger brother, defending champion Aimar, in the hope of stopping the rot. Saralegi had a massive chance to pull level with Asier at 17-17 which would have represented a huge psychological knock, but he blew it with an ambitious overhead attempt. He knew, from his expression, that he had missed another opportunity, this time a golden one. Again he had a chance at 18-17 but hit just long. His momentum was lost and his spirit dissolved. He failed to win another point in the match as Asier, finally, romped home on the back of two further errors from Saralegi.
So, Asier Olaizola proceeds to the quarter finals, where he will meet the evergreen Titin III on Friday. He will hope for greater consistency there, and a reacquisition of the form he showed in the first round. Saralegi has acquitted himself well in this championship; his contract at Asegarce is up for renewal in February and his performance here will surely stand him in good stead. But for a handful of opportunities missed, he could have gone further.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 6-1, 6-2, 8-2, 8-3, 8-6, 11-6, 11-7, 17-7, 17-16, 18-16, 18-17 and 22-17.
Image from: Diario de Navarra