San Sebastian Final: Defenders to the Fore in Victory for Irujo and Zubieta

Tuesday 23rd August, San Sebastian


The final of the Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian was a strange match, exciting not for its quality but for its unpredictability and its closeness. Both forwards hit winners aplenty, many of them stunningly executed, but also made myriad mistakes. There was little to choose between them at the end of the match, and it was the defenders, while less noticeable, who held the key to the fortunes of the opposing sides. Both Irujo and Zubieta began shakily, but Irujo’s recovery came concurrently with the return of Zubieta’s poise. The man from Etxarri-Aranatz, playing without a knee brace for the first time since his operation, hit the heights as the match progressed, producing both the game plan and the execution to push his pair over the finish line. Laskurain, despite being marginally shaded here, was named man of the tournament, confirming the week as one in which the defenders truly shone.

The match started very evenly indeed, with each player showing both good and bad in turn. From 2-2 though, it was Xala and Laskurain who put their feet on the pedal, advancing to 10-5 which some calm, while Irujo increasingly lost the plot. His error on 2-3 resulted in him hurling the ball furiously at the frontis, sending officials ducking, and the mistakes kept coming, a low volley negating some excellent long returns from Zubieta, a failure to return an eminently reachable gantxo, a miscue down the wall and a wild cross court swipe leading to a five-point deficit. Zubieta also contributed to the rot by hitting high twice, and the red pair barely needed to extend themselves to maintain their margin.

However, the ride turned when Laskurain momentarily lost his touch and hit high. Irujo and Zubieta took four points in a row to close to 9-10, aided by two errors from Xala. Xala, clearly annoyed by his lapses, seized the initiative back with a devastating spell of three cross court winners. He then bombed Zubieta, who fell short with a long strike, and the five-point advantage was restored. But again Irujo and Zubieta came back, their latest recovery also kick started by an error from Laskurain. Irujo increasingly brought his trump cards to the table, aided by a partner in Zubieta who was starting to fire on all cylinders. His pressure led directly to errors from both his opponents, and he found ever more depth to force Laskurain onto the back foot. They drew level at 15-15 thanks to one such Laskurain failure, and when a txoko from Irujo put them ahead, Zubieta clapped vigorously, knowing the momentum was with them. Supported wonderfully from the back, Irujo produced a txoko and an inspired skimming dos paredes borne of pure reflex to give them a 15-19 advantage.

The next two points went to Xala and Laskurain, as Irujo proved with two errors that his conversion to form was not complete, the first throwing away a point in which Laskurain had been very much on the run. A service winner from Xala reduced the gap to one point at 19-18, but Zubieta unleashed a wonderful ball over his rival’s head, the icing on the cake of a mad scramble beneath the frontis from all parties. Xala was to have the final say in the match; he gave his pair some hope with a nonchalant cross court winner, on match point, but undid it with a wild and wide ball to give the match to the blues by a three point margin. A game shaped by errors ended most aptly.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-2, 4-2, 4-3, 7-3, 7-4, 9-4, 9-5, 10-5, 10-9, 14-9, 14-11, 15-11, 15-19, 18-19, 18-21, 19-21, 19-22

Winners/errors: Irujo 7/8, Xala 7/6, Zubieta 2/3, Laskurain 0/5

Match time: 64:23

Balls hit: 515


The fully recovered Aitor Zubieta

The fully recovered Aitor Zubieta

Image from: Deia, by David de Haro

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