Friday 22nd January, Irun
XALA – ZUBIETA beat BERASALUZE VIII – BEGINO 22-15
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.
Image from: Guaixe.net