Daily Archives: 24 January, 2010

Backs decide the outcome as rampant Aimar falls just short

Saturday 23rd January, Pamplona


Pairs Championship Quarter Finals

Federer v Nadal, All Blacks v Springboks, Real Madrid v Barcelona, Martinez de Irujo v Olaizola II. Such is the fervour surrounding any match between the two greatest players in the sport that countless column inches are devoted to their relative prospects, tickets are grabbed like hot cakes and the world of pelota descends into a combination of anticipation and ecstasy. Labrit, an atmospheric cathedral of the sport, was a swirling cauldron of passion last night as a full house greeted the two warriors with rapturous applause. In doubles however, there are four players. The stars really did come out to play in Pamplona, but it was with their respective partners that the destiny of the match lay, and their contrasting fortunes stood at the heart of the struggle.

Irujo and Olaizola delivered a battle royal on all fronts. A face off between the two is always a fascinating spectacle, as much for their differing styles and demeanours as for their stunning play; Irujo, all fist pumping and snarling, like a caged lion, and Olaizola calculating, clinical and only occasionally wearing his heart on his sleeve. Their defence was almost more impressive than their attack, with Olaizola showing incredible skill and resolve in chasing down each Irujo txoko and Irujo himself doing the seemingly impossible to counter Aimar’s stinging left arm. The match was close and tense for 18 points and there was little if anything to choose between the pairs.

The decisive period of the game came in its middle spell and centred on Oier Mendizabal. Mendizabal can be a brilliant defender, solid and dependable. He knows what it is like to win this competition, having stood on the top step of the podium with Aimar two years ago, but his performance here was not that of a champion. The Aspe pair bombarded him with long, high balls, perhaps looking to nullify the impact of Olaizola, and the tactic worked a treat. Most had identified the young and inexperienced Beroiz as the weak link amongst the four but he proved them categorically wrong, putting his more seasoned rival in the shade. Where Mendizabal lacked direction, timing and power, Beroiz had them in abundance, and 9-9 became 20-11.

At this juncture, many fans could have been forgiven for heading to the exits, and many writers probably had their reports all but written, but this was to reckon without the Aimar factor. With little help from his waning partner, the man from Goizueta took the match by the scruff of the neck and almost took the spoils singlehandedly. His astonishing run began with two trademark gantxo winners and for what must have seemed like an eternity for Irujo, he utterly bulldozed his rival. The defence of both forwards had been textbook earlier in the game but here Aimar almost defied belief in his ability to return everything his opponents could throw at him. Irujo looked stunned and shook his head incredulously. When he miscued to take the score to 21-20, the shock comeback win was well and truly on. The Asegarce pair however, fell fractionally short, and perhaps fittingly, it was a Mendizabal error which sealed their fate. But for the sterling work of Beroiz, Irujo would have crumbled to defeat against a machine called Aimar Olaizola, who finished with twelve scintillating winners.

Olaizola and Mendizabal must surely have felt crushed by the nature of their defeat but they can take heart in the level of play of the former. If both can fire on the same day, their partnership will be an electric one, and there is a long way to go before semi final places are decided; they have the time and the resources to make it. The victors must thank their lucky stars for Beroiz, who was the difference between the sides. The young talent started the tournament nervously but is fast becoming one of its stars. This was a tussle worthy of a final; how many people will now pray for a rematch at Easter?

Scoring sequence:1-0, 1-1, 1-5, 5-5, 7-5, 7-6, 8-6, 8-8, 8-9, 9-9, 14-9, 14-10, 17-10, 17-11, 20-11, 20-17, 21-17, 21-20, 22-20

Another chapter has been written in the saga of Olaizola II and Irujo

Another chapter has been written in the saga of Olaizola II and Irujo

Image from: Gara

Xala and Zubieta rise from the ashes

Friday 22nd January, Irun 


Pairs Championship Quarter Finals

Pablo Berasaluze and Aritz Begino entered the fray in Irun as clear favourites, having won their first match in convincing style and lost their second by only a slender margin to the formidable pairing of Irujo and Beroiz. Berasaluze, always a handful owing to his never say die approach to the game, had looked in fine form, backed up by a typically solid partner in Begino. In contrast, Xala and Zubieta had lost both their matches, the last a marathon encounter with Aimar Olaizola and Oier Mendizabal, which must have sapped their resources both physically and mentally. However, form is only a guide to likely outcome.

Almost from the outset, Berasaluze looked to be chasing the game against an opponent in Xala who appeared determined to put the trials of the previous week behind him. After the Asegarce pair had won the first two points, the man from Lapurdi found his touch with an innocuous looking dab into the corner which Berasaluze was ill placed to reach. He then stamped his authority with a pinpoint gantxo before Zubieta got in on the act with a winner of his own from long range. In the blink of an eye, the favoured pair was 2-7 down.

Berasaluze showed flashes of his accustomed class and a recovery looked to be on the cards for the beleaguered Asegarce pairing. The diminutive forward outmanoeuvred Xala before volleying a winner to the corner to cut the lead to four points, and followed this with an airez winner and an aerial bombardment of Zubieta which eventually yielded fruit. However, the respite was temporary and Xala was not to be halted. Berasaluze and Begino would never get within three points of their rivals. The chief bread winner for the Aspe pair was the aforementioned Xala, who fired off a total of nine commanding winners, but Zubieta was the rock on which the victory was built. Zubieta has played well throughout the early stages of this tournament but here he grew in stature as part of a formidable partnership and eclipsed Begino commandingly.

The body language of the protagonists mirrored the scoreboard, as the magic figure of 22 came ever closer for the Aspe pair. Berasaluze is under normal circumstances irrepressible, a man you would want at your side in a fight, but here he knew the game was up and showed it. Apart from the odd shout of encouragement in the direction of Begino, he gave way only to silent, muttered curses. In contrast, Xala and Zubieta appeared as prize fighters who relished every moment of the conflict. Their desire for victory was encapsulated in their fervent protest at 11-15 when an apparent crosscourt winner from Xala was called wide. Last week’s gruelling defeat had done nothing to dent their resolve. As winners flowed, Xala punched the air in sheer glee. To his credit, Berasaluze tried to break out of his malaise but his efforts were often tense and hurried, such as the over arm volley attempt on 13-17 which should have netted him the point but instead fell short. While Xala flowed, he stuttered, and the few points gained were too little too late.

Berasaluze and Begino have the potential to make an impressive mark on this tournament but they will have to put this stinging defeat behind them and remember how to play as they know they can. Xala and Zubieta, clearly and rightly delighted, can now march on in confidence. Their next opponents will be Olaizola I and Patxi Ruiz, who look in better shape this year than last. With the belief their trip to Irun must have instilled however, they will be firm favourites.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-7, 6-7, 6-11, 7-11, 7-14, 8-14, 8-15, 10-15, 10-16, 13-16, 13-21, 15-21, 15-22.

Aitor Zubieta showed his worth

Aitor Zubieta showed his worth

Image from: Guaixe.net