Monday 23rd August, San Sebastian
BENGOETXEA VI – BARRIOLA beat TITIN III – ZUBIETA 22-5
Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian Semi Final
This was an extraordinary match, in the main for the wrong reasons. It would be unfair to overlook the stunning play of Oinatz Bengoetxea and Abel Barriola, but inevitably the post mortem centres around Titin and Zubieta, both supposedly in excellent form, and their utter implosion. On the face of it, they should have been the better oiled partnership, having played together on many occasions. Bengoetxea and Barriola come from the same town, Leitza, in north western Navarre, and know each other well, but are unaccustomed to playing as colleagues. In the Manomanista final of 2008, which will go down in the civic annals and in local legend, Leitza ruled the sport, with Bengoetxea defeating Barriola to take the greatest prize of all, but the prospect of seeing the towns most famous sons in tandem was almost as enticing. Their collective virtuosity and their obvious empathy on Monday night makes one wish such a meeting could occur more regularly. They put Titin and Zubieta in the shade.
The game promised much, and the early exchanges did not disappoint. It was the eventual losers who drew first blood, when Barriola could not return a stunning long ball from Pairs Champion Zubieta. The second point was staggering in its variety, and was won by Barriola who came forward to whip the ball wide, having survived intense pressure. Titin took the lead again with an airez, before allowing his rivals to draw level once more at 2-2 with a low txoko attempt. All seemed set for an epic tussle. However, for Titin and Zubieta, the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion. They managed only three more points in the match, two of which came from the errors of their opponents, and the third from Titin’s second and last winner in the game.
The statistics tell the story of the gulf between the forwards. Bengoextea was on fire, striking nine winners to only one error. Five of his winners came from serves, a part of his game which clicked excellently well. He was striking in his speed and verve, never resting, always scrapping, and made space for his winning shots with ease and grace. In contrast, Titin looked leaden footed. He possessed none of the spark of his recent matches, and appeared stiff and immobile alongside Bengoetxea’s dexterity. He barely looked in a position to go for the kill, and when he attempted it he was found wanting. He provided no kind of platform for Zubieta, who also looked off colour. He showed his class in the course of many of the rallies, but missed the spot on four occasions, trying vainly to create some pressure on his opposite number, the irrepressible Abel Barriola. The great defender continues to go from strength to strength since returning from his enforced break. Here he was once again magisterial, striking cleanly and elegantly from all positions. Not content to simply field the long ball, he often came forward to mix it in the front half of the court, notably pulling off an astonishing dos paredes on 10-3 which sent Titin into a rage. It is telling that Titin’s opposing defender scored more winners, four, than he did.
Titin and Zubieta had a day to forget but will come back and prove their class soon enough. For them, it was a case of bad turning to worse, the one affected by the woes of the other. The game started well for them, and they appeared increasingly in shock that things could have taken such a dramatically bad swing, as did the gathered crowds. Bengoextea and Barriola in contrast look like an irresistible partnership, belying their inexperience as a couple. They will represent a tough obstacle in the final as they aim once more to make Leitza proud.
Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 2-6, 3-6, 3-7, 3-11, 4-11, 4-12, 4-17, 5-17, 5-22.
Winners/errors: Bengoetxea VI 9/1, Titin III 2/4, Barriola 5/2, Zubieta 0/4.
Balls played: 354
Total match time: 40.28
Playing time: 16.42
Image from Diario de Navarra by JA Goni