Saturday 16th January, Pamplona
GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN beat BENGOETXEA VI – BELOKI 22-9
Pairs Championship Quarter Finals
Tonight’s proceedings at Labrit constituted the second surprise in two days in the 2010 Pairs Championship. The shock was not so much that Sebastien Gonzalez and Aritz Laskurain won, but the manner in which they did it. Oinatz Bengoetxea and Ruben Beloki looked in fine form last weekend, defeating Xala and Zubieta with ease. Bengoetxea in particular was at his terrier-like best. Logic dictated that they would be hard to beat here, especially as their opponents were looking to spring back from a heavy defeat to Berasaluze VIII and Begino in the first round of matches. However, the encounter confounded expectations in almost every way, as the Aspe pair dismantled their more vaunted opponents without a shred of mercy.
It is a sporting cliché to talk of a game of two halves but this game certainly lived up to the adage. For the first ten points, there was nothing to choose between the two pairs and fans must surely have settled in for a long evening of tension. After two somewhat nervous errors gifted Gonzalez and Laskurain the first two points, the sides traded blows with equal venom. Laskurain hit high and then low to produce parity at 2-2, before three Gonzalez winners set their ball rolling. Gonzalez also committed three errors in this early passage of play, leaving a ball which he thought was wide before giving way to mistiming and misdirection. This was the last time Bengoetxea and Beloki would find themselves on a par with their opponents.
From 5-5, the game moved into ‘phase two’. Gonzalez and Laskurain scored eight unanswered points and wrenched the match firmly and terminally from the grasp of the more fancied pair. This was a partnership of equals in which both players took every chance to show their armoury of skills. Laskurain played as more than just a defender, producing balls which turned points. It was a steepling long ball from the native of Soraluze which took them into the lead, Beloki too far forward to get any power behind his return. He then hit a bona fide winner to take the score to 8-5, looping the ball into the wide court with perfection and catching both opponents totally unawares. He worked his magic yet again to reach 12-5 with a ball that reached the back wall and put Beloki in an undignified twist. Gonzalez too found a new gear, outwitting the usually irrepressible Bengoetxea on several occasions and finding the true Midas touch when he repaid his rival’s excellent gantxo with interest on 9-5. True, his gantxo winner which brought an eight point lead appeared low on the replays, but nobody could doubt his attacking superiority.
Bengoetxea and Beloki managed to claw back another four points before the game was up. One of these was the point of the match, a gargantuan struggle in which everyone was tested to their limits, and in which Bengoetxea demonstrated his familiar fight in beating Gonzalez with a wonderfully worked crosscourt winner, but this was scant respite for the Asegarce pair. The difference between the defenders became increasingly clear as the match progressed; Beloki, usually Mr Consistency, was increasingly troubled and worn down by the contrasting accuracy and speed of Laskurain. He produced some bafflingly uncharacteristic mishits and on 13-7 missed the ball altogether. Bengoetxea, who was not wholly bad but rather uninspiring, caught the bug as the Aspe score racked up. Gonzalez moved to match point by hitting the ball into an empty court before another Beloki error sealed a tremendous win.
This was a surprisingly bad showing from Bengoetxea and Beloki, from whom we have come to expect at least a fight in the absence of victory. Beloki was badly off colour and Bengoetxea, who never really exploded into action as he can, was unable to rescue him. In contrast, Gonzalez and Laskurain looked confident and controlled. Once they broke loose their grip on the match was total.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 4-3, 4-4, 4-5, 5-5, 13-5, 13-7, 18-7, 18-8, 19-8, 19-9, 22-9.
Image from: Deia