Friday 20th October, Beasain
BARRIOLA beat RETEGI BI 22-20
While Julen Retegi might never the scale the dizzy heights of his great father Julien, his recent progression as a championship player has been plain to see. The 26 year old has three second tier championships to his name, the Manomanista in 2008 and the pairs in 2008 and 2007 and subsequently made the step up to the major league. He got to the quarter finals in his first attempt at the main Cuatro y Medio draw in 2008 and progressed to greater things a year later, making the semi final league with an unlikely but deserved win over Olaizola II in the quarters. Last year he fell to Barriola in the last eight and this time around he had a golden opportunity to make amends in a repeat fixture. That this introduction has discussed the loser rather than the winner is testament to the fact that Retegi was the orchestrator of this match, the hare which Barriola was forced to chase. The younger man played as if possessed, only undone by the cool head of his desperate elder at the last. Credit is due to Barriola, but it is hard to imagine him ever having been pushed as hard.
Retegi came out of the blocks like a lightning bolt, making it abundantly clear that this game would not be Barriola’s by right. He won the first six points with ease, and his opponent was shut firmly out of the fixture. Uncharacteristic errors from Barriola played their part in this early meltdown, but Retegi showed enormous tactical skill in pushing him into places from which he could not escape. He sealed the early lead with a clever shot into the side wall in reply to a Barriola dos paredes which emerged as the wrong option in the circumstances. It seemed as if Barriola would come back as he took the text two points with classy winners, a skidding ball cross court and a dipping ball into the wall which caught Retegi off balance, but the early leader was anything but fazed. In taking affairs to 8-3, Retegi showed his ability to defend to death or glory, turning a point which should have gone to Barriola into a point for himself. Barriola looked to have taken it with a dos paredes but Retegi stretched for all he was worth, leaving Barriola tumbling and then sitting and slapping the floor in abject disgust.
The next passage of play belonged to Barriola, as he closed from 3-8 to 11-11. Though Retegi picked up points through a Barriola error, a wide skimming winner and another sterling defensive effort culminating in a ball of genius behind his opponent’s back, Barriola looked to have his number. His serve began to fire, as he picked up three sakez winners and he began to hit with aplomb to all corners. Retegi showed the first signs of fraying edges with a despairing wide gantxo on 9-11. Perhaps the big match experience of Barriola was paying off. However, it was then Barriola’s turn to throw away his momentum as his improving serve fell apart with a falta, possibly born of an attempt to be just a little bit too clever. Though he recovered the serve with a txoko in the next play, Retegi marched again, opening up a four point lead at 16-12. Each of these points was a stunning gem of pelota; the first saw a long dipping winner into the side wall, the second another point which Barriola should have won, was turned around brilliantly by Retegi’s dogged defence, and the gap was established with an astonishing long drop which stopped dead upon hitting the floor and a ball into acres of space out wide. Once again, Barriola was forced to respond, and respond he did, returning to level pegging at 16-16 but once again proved incapable of taking the lead. Again Retegi opened a gap, going up 19-16, once again turning epic defence into attack before pulling out a txoko and a drop of pure class.
It seemed improbable that Barriola would have the strength or resolve to recover. The line was in sight for Retegi and his morale was flying high. Barriola’s body language, in contrast, revealed a man puzzled and amazed by the tenacity of an opponent who refused to be headed. However, when it truly mattered, Barriola called upon all his nerve and all his willpower, coming through as only a champion can. From 18-19 down he went to 20-19 up with three service winners in a row, blowing Retegi’s cool confidence out of the water. It was the younger player’s turn to be rattled and it must have been with some relief that he saw Barriola’s shot in the next point dip low to regain parity. However, Barriola now moved with the confidence of a man for whom the final stages of a championship are well and truly home. When Retegi went wide to give him match point, he exhibited all the cool in the world to produce his eighth sakez. He jumped for joy as if the txapela itself were his.
Even Barriola’s most hardened fan cannot have left the fronton without a consoling thought for Retegi. Most of the memorable moments were his, and his defence was stunning in the extreme. Time and again he forced Barriola to come from behind, calling all the shots and issuing all the challenges. At times Barriola seemed lost as he tried in vain to work out a way to get past his opponent. In the end, he kept calm when it mattered most and used all his experience of crucial ties to come through. It is he who makes the final four, but the highly impressive Retegi will use this experience as ammunition for his next championship assault, and his future opponents will surely give him the respect he deserves.
Scoring sequence: 0-6, 2-6, 2-7, 3-7, 3-8, 7-8, 7-10, 9-10, 9-11, 11-11, 11-12, 12-12, 12-16, 13-16, 16-16, 16-19, 20-19, 22-10.
Barriola: 8 service winners, 1 service fault, 9 winners, 7 errors
Retegi Bi: 1 service winner, 11 winners, 5 errors
Balls hit: 318
Image from El Correo