Sunday 25th April, Eibar
XALA beat GONZALEZ 22-5
Manomanista Group B
The fans at Astelena surely expected something better. Yves Salaberry and Sebastien Gonzalez were two pelotaris on form, two reigning champions in various formats, and on paper this looked like a good tussle. Xala took the scalp on Gonzalez in the Pairs Final earlier in the month and one might have expected the Cuatro y Medio king to be out for revenge. Aitor Zubieta, Xala’s co-victor in the Pairs, was in the chair as his colleague’s botillero, but this time the forward needed no help; 35.12 minutes later it was all over and Gonzalez appeared as a man broken.
Xala’s power in the opening spell left his opponent reeling, and he never recovered from the blow. The former raced to an 8-0 lead, partly through his own nous, and partly thanks to an error prone opponent. Xala served like a man possessed, giving Gonzalez little room for manoeuvre, and tested his rival with the long ball to great effect. When Gonzalez broke his duck with a gantxo to move to 1-8, there was a palpable sense of relief; perhaps he could make a fist of the tie. However, Xala continued to pile on the pressure and Gonzalez’ subsequent four points arrived in a slow, painful trickle.
Xala’s most impressive weapon was undoubtedly his serve. The statistics tell us that he accrued seven of his points through service winners, including four in a row, but in reality he netted more for even when Gonzalez returned the serve on several other occasions, he was already playing catch up. He also demonstrated the ability to work Gonzalez in open play, commanding points with calmness while his opponent was forced to cover the whole fronton in defence. The pressure was too much to bear for the man from Azkaine, who committed six errors to Xala’s two. To his credit, Gonzalez did not give up, and tried manfully to break the stranglehold, but like his attempted dos paredes at 5-19, his would-be winners were found wanting.
It took Xala a mere 137 balls to complete his demolition job on Gonzalez, who should have been a formidable opponent, and the form pelotari of 2010 has sent a clear signal of intent to all comers. With the injury to Aimar Olaizola, he must now be considered the outright favourite to take Group B and the leading lights of Group A should be fearful. Gonzalez, for his part, must attempt to rise again. No easy task.
Scoring sequence: 0-8, 1-8, 1-10, 2-10, 2-15, 3-15, 3-19, 5-19, 5-22.
Image from: El Correo