Sunday 22nd May, Pamplona
XALA beat IDOATE 22-19
Yves Salaberry won a tight match in Pamplona on Sunday, to become the first finalist of the 2011 Manomanista Championship. He was the overwhelming favourite, owing to his recent form and lasting class, but Mikel Idoate, who looks increasingly like the real deal, pushed him almost to the abyss. Idoate has had a stellar run in his first major championship, dispatching Beloki, Gonzalez and Olaizola I on his way to the semis, but Xala, although admitting fatigue, was a step too far.
Xala was always ahead, but Idoate won the adulation of the fans for refusing to lie down. Even when nine points behind at 11-19, he threw his whole being into the fight, and clawed his way back to within three points. He lost the game, but cemented his place in the affections of the masses, with his with his physicality, his thrilling volleying and his cast iron promise of great things to come; Idoate is just 21, and shows both flair and tactical wisdom beyond his years. Given his vast experience however, Xala was, as you might expect, the more polished of the two, and his quiet efficiency allowed him the upper hand. He served intelligently, using the left wall to hinder his opponent’s volley, and changing the direction of his deliveries to create the element of surprise. He was also adept at pushing Idoate wide, and testing his left left handed volley, which was from time to time found wanting. His twelve winners, double the number managed by Idoate, were varied and virtuosic, underlining the all round power of the left hander’s game.
Idoate will carry the confidence gained this year into his future battles at this level, and all the signs are that he will thrive. His time will come. For Xala however, the time is now, for he has struck a patch perhaps more purple than ever before. He will find out on Sunday the identity of his final opponent, when Olaizola II, his nemesis in the Pairs’ Final, takes on Bengoetxea VI, in what promises to be as intense a clash as they come. Whoever makes it through, this championship will swell to a fascinating crescendo.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-3, 6-3, 6-5, 13-5, 13-9, 14-9, 14-10, 18-10, 18-11, 19-11, 19-16, 21-16, 21-19, 22-19
Winners: Xala 12, Idoate 6
Errors: Xala 8, Idoate 7
Service winners: Xala 3, Idoate 5
Service errors: Xala 0, Idoate 0
Match time: 55.22 minutes, with 15.02 minutes of playing time
Balls hit: 237
On Friday, MERINO I beat JAUNARENA 22-19 in Tolosa, to reach the final of the second tier championship. He will face either Penagarikano or Olaetxea, who play each other at the same venue this coming Saturday.