Saturday 14th May, Bilbao
OLAIZOLA II beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO 22-18
This was pelota, but not as most play it. Aimar Olaizola and Juan Martinez de Irujo, a modern classic, played between two modern artists, always fuels the imagination and draws the crowds. Such was the confidence of the promoters that they charged 75 Euros for a top price ticket, almost double the cost of entry to Bengoetxea VI and Patxi Ruiz’s quarter final. Some quibbled at the asking price, in these troubled economic times, but those who coughed up were treated to a game in a million, between the defending champion and an Olaizola II at the height of his powers.
The infernal, rabid pace of the encounter drew gasps, as the two champions hurled themselves into the fray, desperate with desire for glory. Aimar made his chosen tactic apparent from the off, nullifying the Irujo serve by racing forward into the volley. In the midst of the rally too, he used the sotamano to seize the initiative, hitting 62 in all, 38% of the balls he struck in the match. This would seem outrageous to most pelotaris, professional or otherwise. When forced to, he defended the left wall with utter ferocity. Irujo returned fire, trying to beat Aimar at the volleying game, leading to some extraordinary rallies, full of near impossible shots and immense physicality. When he raced ahead 8-1 and 17-8, it seemed Aimar would bury Irujo quickly, but the man from Ibero is known for coming back from the death, and he scrapped back each time, to 8-10 and 18-19. In the end though, Aimar’s heat was the whiter, and there was nothing Irujo could do to halt his finishing kick.
The statistics speak of a close match, 13 winners to 10, 6 errors to 5, but it was Aimar who set the tempo, who dictated how the game should be played. It is to Irujo’s credit that he refused to lie down when the advantage of his opponent grew and grew again; his tenacity coupled with Aimar’s devastating mastery gave us a game for the ages, a recital in attack and defence, and a vision of platonic pelota. Goizueta’s finest will play Bengoetxea VI in the semi finals, and if he can maintain this irresistible force, it is hard to imagine him bowing out there.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, 1-3, 1-8, 7-8, 7-10, 8-10, 8-17, 14-17, 14-18, 16-18, 16-19, 18-19, 18-22.
Winners: Olaizola II 13, Irujo 10
Errors: Olaizola II 6, Irujo 5
Service winners: Olaizola II 4, Irujo 2
Service errors: Olaizola II 0, Irujo 0
Match time: 65:40 with 15:59 of actual play
Balls hit: 315
In the other quarter final to take place this past weekend, BENGOETXEA VI beat PATXI RUIZ 22-6 in Pamplona. This game was a near walkover for the 2008 champion, who took just 32 minutes to despatch his regular pairs partner. It was tight early on, but from 5-6, Bengoetxea was unstoppable against a lacklustre Ruiz, surging to 5-18 and 6-22. Bengoetxea served strongly, putting Ruiz on the back foot repeatedly, and dominated with his left, which brought seven points. Four of Ruiz’s points came from Bengoetxea errors, underlining the fact that the defeated player could find very little in the way of venom. Bengoetxea now plays Olaizola II, an entirely different proposition.
In the Promocion Championship, there were quarter final wins for Penagarikano, 22-14 over Ibai Zabala, and Olaetxea, who beat Ongay 22-17. They play each other on 29th May for a place in the final.