San Sebastian: Pablito edges Irujo in close opener

Friday 20th August, Donostia-San Sebastian


Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian

Last night’s opening match at Atano III was all about experience versus experimentation. Pablo Berasaluze and Aritz Begino know each other inside out; each plays with various partners throughout the year but they more often than not converge at the major tournaments, and have joined forces in the past two Pairs Championships. Conversely, it was something of a novelty for Martinez de Irujo to find himself paired with Oier Mendizabal. Not only do they hail from different empresas, but Mendizabal is more used to partnering Irujo’s erstwhile greatest rival, Aimar Olaizola, with whom he won the Pairs title in 2008. The game which ensued was a close one, with frequent situations of deadlock, but in the end perhaps the greater empathy of the regular pair showed, and granted them the required edge.

Pablo and Aritz began the brighter of the couples. Mendizabal went high after a long, steady opening point, and Pablo confirmed the initial advantage with a txoko, wrong footing Irujo expertly. Irujo showed that he was not to be outcome by copying Pablo’s trick in the next point, but another Mendizabal error restored the two-point advantage. Irujo pulled out a ganxto, but then committed three errors in a row, going low, wide, and fluffing another gantxo entirely, to give the blue pair a decided spring in their step. An error born out of a moment of slight confusion by Begino and a stunning rebote from Irujo closed the reds’ deficit to two at 4-6, but the blues surged ahead again. Oier squandered a point in which his pair did everything right, going wide as he searched for space to clinch it, and in the next play he went low from the back of the court. The local boy looked classy at times under the high ball, and retrieved some stunning long shots excellently, but the errors began to blot his copybook. Pablo sealed a 9-4 lead with a stinging cross court airez, and it looked to all the world as if he and Begino were in absolute control.

However, Irujo and Mendizabal, gelling better than they had, slowly worked themselves back into the match, taking the next four points. Pablo followed his superb winner in the previous play with a miscued txoko in the next, and a service winner from Irujo followed by an error from Begino brought them to within a point. Pablo and Aritz pulled two back to steady the ship, but their opponents came again, Irujo now asserting his class to draw his pair level for the first time at 11-11. In the next passage of play, the couples could not be split, finding themselves tied at 12, 13 and 14 apiece, Irujo and Mendizabal taking the lead for the first and only time at 14-13.

Somebody needed to break the stalemate, and it was Pablo who took the helm. Both he and Irujo produced play from the top drawer at various points throughout the game, but it was Pablo’s greater potency, and perhaps his unbreakable will in this latter passage of play which proved the game breaker. His pair, finding themselves behind, reacted by taking seven of the next eight points, six of them winners for the irrepressible Berasaluze. Two virtuosic forward scraps went the way of the man from Berriz, before an unreturnable serve, a gantxo and two beautiful airez winners put him and Begino on the verge of victory at 20-15. Irujo found himself outmanoeuvred and out hit, attacking an empty chair in fury. There was a hint of a comeback from Irujo and Mendizabal, helped by two Begino errors and a flash of tactical brilliance from the Aspe forward, but Pablo fought tooth and nail to match point before sealing it with a serve.

The pairs were for the most part extremely evenly matched but in the final analysis the right side won. Begino and Mendizabal were much of a muchness in their defensive roles, at times classy but prone to error. The difference came in the forward battle, where Berasaluze got the better of the Manomanista champion, turning in twelve winners to Irujo’s nine. He also made half the number of mistakes of his illustrious rival. The winning pair was also, unsurprisingly, the better oiled partnership, more a single unit than a duo of talented individuals. They will now proceed to play Xala and Apraiz on Tuesday, for a place in the final.

Scoring sequence: 0-2, 1-2, 1-3, 2-3, 2-6, 4-6, 4-9, 8-9, 8-11, 11-11, 11-12, 12-12, 12-13, 13-13, 14-13, 14-14, 14-17, 15-17, 15-20, 18-20, 18-22.

Winners: Berasaluze VIII 12, Irujo 9, Begino 0, Mendizabal II 2

Errors: Berasaluze VIII 2, Irujo, 4, Begino 5, Mendizabal II 6

Balls played: 438

Total match time: 1:01.49

Playing time: 20.44

Begino (left) and Berasaluze are well acquainted

Begino (left) and Berasaluze are well acquainted

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