Saturday 19th March, Bilbao
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II beat OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO 22-12
Bilbao unveiled its new fronton in a blaze of pomp on Saturday evening. A crowd of 3000 expectant fans filled the Bizkaia fronton, all a buzz with the prospect of a classic forward clash between Martinez de Irujo and Olaizola II. Olaizola and Begino were the clear favourites, as despite their recent lapse, they had enjoyed by far the better run through the early stages. However, twenty year old David Merino, a professional for a mere eight months, blew their ambitions out of the water and utterly stole the show from the forwards. Despite some early wobbles in this, his first major championship, the young Riojan has surely now arrived.
The Asegarce pair, the only hope left for their empresa, started the better, going ahead 3-0 and 6-3, but their supremacy was put to an abrupt end. Aritz Begino, at 30, is significantly more experienced than Merino, especially on this most exalted of stages, but the young pretender hit him off the fronton, dominating with his left, and assuaging all doubts as to his prowess off the right. He placed the ball beautifully, and struck with a classical elegance, giving Irujo every chance in the world to put winners past Aimar, which he did with general ease. That Irujo hit nine winners, and won the forward battle, such as it was, went almost unnoticed in the well deserved fuss which surrounded his partner. Aimar did what he could, but could not lift the stranglehold of his rivals; his four errors almost cancelled out his five winners, and Begino gave him little to work with. But all this was a subplot in the story of David Merino, in whose hands the match lay. Aspe risked much by throwing their protégé into the big time so soon. At first it seemed an error of judgment, but perhaps it was we, the fans and the writers, who judged too soon.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, 3-3, 3-6, 11-6, 11-7, 13-7, 13-9, 15-9, 15-10, 20-10, 20-12 and 22-12
Service winners: Irujo 5, Olaizola II 3 (no service errors)
Winners: Irujo 9, Olaizola II 5, Merino II 3, Begino 1
Errors: Irujo 2, Olaizola II 4, Merino II 1, Begino 1
Match time: 58:01, with 24:47 of playing time
Balls hit: 480