Friday 30th November, Balmaseda
TITIN III beat OLAIZOLA I 22-21
In a game full of drama and emotion, Titin III used all his wiles to defeat Asier Olaizola, who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Balmaseda. That the stakes were raised as the Cuatro y Medio Championship hit its quarter final stage was plain for all to see; both players are known to let their feelings show on the fronton but rarely is one taken so far into the heart of a human drama in the sporting arena. The crowd, for their part, hung on every second of the spectacle and lapped it up with relish and fervour.
Titin looked the more assured in the opening stages, running out to a 9-3 lead. His first three points came from mistakes by Asier, who clearly had initial problems finding his range, but Titin then let fly with three aggressive winners and an unreturnable serve. A strange bounce of the ball on 8-3 only served to bamboozle his opponent further. However, in the first twist of this remarkable match, Asier changed from puppet to puppeteer to draw level, both through some stunning striking of the ball and through a dogged tenacity in the long rallies. When Titin missed the ball completely, cursing both it and himself, the game was all square at 9-9. The middle part of the match was a topsy turvy rollercoaster in which nobody could take control. There was some incredible play, as characterised by Asier’s dosparedes on 12-10 which appeared to travel at the speed of light and in the scrap of a rally close in to the wall on 10-9 where neither protagonist seemed prepared to give an inch. At 15-15 the tension was palpable.
Asier then, for the first time in the match, asserted himself with true intent and although the gap between the rivals never grew larger than four points, the Goizuetan and his fans could sniff the semi finals. Curly hair flying and eyes bulging in pure concentration, he appeared imperious; at 17-21 Titin’s die was surely cast. Remarkably though, the Riojan whirlwind now whipped up the pace; for him the game was never up and what ensued was a nightmare for Asier as he lost five points in a row to throw away his golden ticket to the semi finals. Although Asier made a tragic miscue from Titin’s serve on 18-21, this turnaround was due more to the skill of Titin than his own lack of it. A gantxo from Titin tied the scores at 21-21. He then called a time out to gather himself, and both players, as they sat and pondered what was to come, gained the appearance of prize fighters about to put their entire beings on the line for this one final effort. The last point was a cagey affair which could easily have gone either way but it was Asier who cracked, under enormous pressure from his vanquisher, and hit the ball fractionally low. An extra inch of height and the losing shot may well have been the winner.
The evergreen Titin III then marches on. Asier will surely wish to block all memory of this encounter from his mind, for he was so close yet so very far.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 3-1, 3-2, 8-2, 8-3, 9-3, 9-4, 9-9, 11,9, 11-10, 12-10, 12-12, 12-15, 15-15, 15-18, 17-18, 17-21 and 22-21.
Image from: Wikimedia