Sunday 20th March, Eibar
XALA – BARRIOLA beat GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN 22-17
Xala and Barriola were the clear favourites for this, the second Pairs semi final, but they made heavy work of defeating Gonzalez and Laskurain, who are seen by many as the dark horses of the last four. True, there were mitigating circumstances, in the form of a pull to the left buttock of Xala. He started the match with all of his recent form, allowing his pair to keep pace with their opponents, despite the uncharacteristic early errors of Barriola, who looked significantly off colour. From 5-6, they surged forwards, a now more consistent Barriola playing like clockwork with his excellent partner. They added nine points with no reply, and Gonzalez and Laskurain, less incisive and lacking in imagination, looked dead in the water. Gonzalez in particular paid the price of his errors, which by the end of the match totalled seven. When they proceeded to lose the next three points, there was no immediate cause for panic, but brows were furrowed in their camp when Xala retired to the locker room for treatment. Upon his return, he looked stiff and attacked with less venom, becoming more reliant on the defence of Barriola. Thankfully for him, the man from Leitza played like a rock, even under vicious attack from Laskurain. The momentum in the back division shifted several times over, but once Barriola found his rhythm, his class told, and Laskurain became ever more prone to error, his body language deteriorating with his fortunes.
Xala and Barriola allowed their opponents to come within striking distance at 15-16 and 16-18, but in the end rode out the storm thanks to their greater tactical nous and ability to manipulate Gonzalez and Laskurain, who while threatening, never quite had enough. They did not win as many expected them to do, and some may be quick to point out holes in their armour, but the fact that they came through proves how tough they will be to dethrone. With Xala fit, they are still very much the number one pair.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 5-3, 5-5, 6-5, 6-14, 9-14, 9-15, 12-15, 12-16, 15-16, 15-18, 16-18, 16-20, 17-20, 17-22.
Service winners: none
Winners: Gonzalez 6, Laskurain 2, Xala 9, Barriola 0
Errors: Gonzalez 7, Laskurain 6, Xala 3, Barriola 6
Match time: 79:26, with 30:54 of actual playing time
Balls hit: 628
Image from Deia