Saturday 17th April, Pamplona
OLAIZOLA I beat BENGOETXEA VI 22-20
Pairs Championship Group A
Asier Olaiziola’s heart must have sunk a little when he perused the draw for the group stages of the 2010 Manomanista, for he found himself in a group containing three previous winners with five editions of the title in their collective pocket. At least he was spared the trial of having to play his little brother, who finds himself in Group B. The first in the string of former champions to stand in his way was Oinatz Bengoetxea, who won in 2008, beating another group member, Abel Barriola in the final. However, the man from Goizueta proved far from overawed and in the defeat of the theoretically more illustrious, he showed himself to be a force to be feared.
Asier started in a whirlwind of calculated determination, putting four straight points past Oinatz with some simple, unostentatious pelota. Oinatz risked more, and lost more, breaking his duck only when his opponent miscued on the fifth point. Asier strolled casually to a margin of 8-1 and it seemed that the die was cast; there was no sign of a fight from Bengoetxea. However, the younger man slowly regained his touch; a txoko gave him the serve and with it the use of his own selected balls, which were lighter and livelier than those chosen by Olaizola. Bengoetxea successfully altered the pace of the contest and worked his opponent well, pushing him from side to side as he gradually closed the deficit. He took six points in a row to snatch the lead, for the first time in the game, at 10-11. However, this storming comeback spurred Olaizola into action again, and regained the initiative at 16-12. Once more Bengoetxea, who is never wont to lie down, clawed his way back to the lead at 16-18, but Olaizola, playing one of his best games of recent years, pulled off four winners to secure the first point of the championship.
After 65 minutes and 314 strikes of the ball, little separated the two protagonists, either in terms of final score or statistics. Asier scored two winners on serve to Oinatz’s three. Oinatz also came out one to the good in the overall winner count, in which he shaded his rival eleven to ten, but it was his nine errors which cost him dear; Asier committed seven and won by two points. Despite his loss, Bengoetxea can take much from this performance. His fighting spirit, so often lacking in the Pairs Championship, is plainly back and with a slice or two of luck, the result could have been very different. For Olaizola, this early victory will be a huge boost as he aims to set out his credentials in a group where he is the theoretical minnow.
Scoring sequence: 4-0, 4-1, 8-1, 8-5, 10-5, 10-11, 13-11, 13-12, 16-12, 16-18, 18-18, 18-20, 22-20.
Image from: Gara