Virgen Blanca Quarter Final: Oinatz in the Ascendency

Friday 5th August, Vitoria-Gasteiz


The opening match of the Virgen Blanca tournament in Vitoria-Gasteiz looked on paper to be a tough one to call. The Aspe pair combined Titin, still as dogged as ever with Aitor Zubieta, well on the way to recovering his considerable best after injury, while Asegarce fielded the oft thrilling Oinatz Bengoetxea, who stormed his way through the summer tournaments last year, with metronomic champion defender Aritz Begino. However, there was in reality little contest, as Bengoetxea dominated the evening, bringing his A game, while everyone else left theirs at home.

The tone of the game was set from the off, as Bengoetxea and Begino seized six points without answer against opponents who seemed immediately off colour. Bengoetxea signalled his intent in the first point, which he won with a beautiful txoko, from a superb angle, which barely bounced. Zubieta put it wide twice, and Titin low once, and those errors, combined with Bengoetxea’s serve and long game, placed the Aspe pair so firmly on the back foot that a time-out had never been more necessary. When Titin and Zubieta re-entered the fray, they secured their first point, by the grace of a falta from Bengoetxea, and their second due to a mishit from Begino, but then business continued as usual. Titin showed, not for the only time in the game, a lack of judgement, taking on the half volley a ball he probably should have waited for, before Zubieta miscued after some involved forward play from both parties. The normally unflappable defender let cry a tirade against himself and the world. 3-8 became 3-11, thanks in most part to the extraordinary pace of Bengoetxea’s play, which made Titin look leaden footed at best.

From 3-11 to 7-11, the Aspe pair put together their best run of the match, offering hope of a comeback. This sequence began with an embarrassed Bengoetxea going in for the kill and blowing it from close, but the next three points were all Titin, who wrong footed his forward rival by going to the corner, before two serves in a row induced bewilderment from Begino. However, he let the opportunity slip in the very next point by rushing into an ill advised volley, which fell short. The serve was recovered with a cross court stinger, but then Bengoetxea re-imposed his brilliance with a txoko, and an attritional point seized with a pitch perfect swipe from left to right. Titin offered another glimmer, replying with a tremendous airez, but his momentum was broken, and the Asegarce pair surged again. The two forwards went at each other hell for leather, but even with his partially recovered confidence, Titin simply could not answer the infernal pace of the man from Leitza. At 9-18, the die was well and truly cast; three errors from the dominant pair kept a trickle of points going for their struggling opponents, but the game was up when an improbable reply from Bengoetxea to a Titin dos paredes provided the meat in the sandwich of two further errors from Zubieta, now resigned and dejected.

There was only ever going to be one winning pair in this match, and within that pair, there was only one man who truly hit the heights. Begino was not at his best, although he outdid Zubieta in the consistency stakes. Bengoetxea showed flashes of serious class, and his mark on the match could have been even greater if he had not on occasion given way to complacency, hurrying to hit winners rather than building points block by block. There was little Titin could do to rescue the initiative, as Bengoetxea made him appear in a class below. If he can hold onto this purple patch, every other forward in the tournament must come up with a plan to subdue him and his boundless spirit.

Scoring sequence: 0-6, 1-6, 2-6, 2-8, 3-8, 3-11, 4-11, 7-11, 7-12, 8-12, 8-14, 9-14, 9-18, 10-18, 12-18, 12-22.

Oinatz Bengoetxea: class

Oinatz Bengoetxea: class

Image from: Noticias de Navarra

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