Friday 5th February, Urduliz
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – EULATE beat OLAIZOLA I – APRAIZ 22-14
The Pairs Championship began its fifth week in the small Bizkaian town of Urduliz, with a match between two pairs whose fortunes have differed wildly. Juan Martinez de Irujo was partnered here by Pedro Martinez de Eulate, standing in for the resting Mikel Beroiz. Eulate, however, was a replacement deluxe, having won this very championship with Irujo four years ago. The two have a clear rapport. The most talked about substitution in the match though, was not that involving Eulate. Alexis Apraiz stood in for Patxi Ruiz for the second match in succession, with the latter now suspended from the tournament until further notice by his empresa in a wrangle over the level of his match fitness. Apraiz played well last weekend and Ruiz was certainly not missed. Another such performance was needed here, but despite the best efforts of the Asegarce pair, Irujo and Eulate had the edge in terms of class and match play.
The early exchanges were extremely tight, and Olaizola and Apraiz easily held their own with the overwhelming favourites. Irujo failed to hit the ground running, with four errors in the first eight points. Indeed, seven of these first eight came from errors, with Olaizola and Apraiz also opening their account in this regard. Irujo had no real excuse for nerves, his pair having a foot in the semi finals before the evening began, but his opponents badly needed a win and showed it in their lack of fluency. From 4-4 however, Irujo and Eulate found their poise and gradually pulled away. Irujo was never at his stunning best, but managed several trademark winners, both into the corner and crosscourt, which made his many fans coo with delight in the stands. Eulate backed him with utter assurance and was solid as a rock, fielding everything with extraordinary calm. The defender played a textbook opening spell with no hint of an error until he failed to field a long, fast serve from Olaizola at 11-7. Eulate’s opposite number, Apraiz, played solidly enough but could not match him.
The gap between the sides never threatened to balloon at this point in the game. Olaizola, despite mistakes, showed great drive to keep his pair in touch, just about holding the coat tails of Irujo in the forward battle. They must have hoped that if they could keep the match tight, a chance may present itself, and such a chance did come, in the form of four successive errors from the Aspe pair, caused partly by their own ambition and partly by the pressure of Olaizola’s excellent serve. They came within one point of parity at 15-14, and one more point would have dealt a serious blow to the moral of their more fancied opponents. It was time for the underdogs to take the game by the scruff of the neck. However, Apraiz blew this golden opportunity in the blink of an eye with two nervy and unnecessary mistakes. Irujo and Eulate, perhaps sensing they had been let off the hook, never looked back, and seized the initiative with a show of class. Eulate managed an implausible crosscourt winner from the midcourt to regain a four point margin before Irujo took the baton and pulled off commanding txoko and crosscourt winners. The deal was sealed with an error apiece from Apraiz and Olaizola, and Irujo, with little heed to the identity of his partner, marched on in his unbeaten vein. Olaizola and Apraiz must surely now be down and out.
Scoring sequence: 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, 3-4, 4-4, 8-4, 8-5, 10-5, 10-6, 11-6, 11-9, 12-9, 13-9, 13-10, 15-10, 15-11, 15-14, 22-14.
Image from: El Correo Digital