Sunday 6th November, Eibar
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat BARRIOLA 22-9
There was an air of stunned amazement at Astelena on Sunday as Abel Barriola, so solid in his defeat of Xala the previous week, wilted like a fading flower under Irujo’s heat. Barriola’s day had not started well as he was forced to battle the horrendous weather outside to make it to the fronton at all and it got worse as once in Eibar he was subjected to a storm of an altogether different, though no less elemental, nature. The winner of this match would progress directly to the championship final and the majority of onlookers expected a good fight between 2010’s last two, but Barriola was never allowed into the game by a rampant Irujo who is warming up nicely after a relatively low key year. There is a growing conviction that November will be his month.
At the start of the match, the signs looked good for Barriola. He wasted no time in taking the first point with a commanding serve and although Irujo equalised, it looked for a moment as if the game might be Barriola’s by default; at 1-1, a ball from the Leitzarra struck Irujo on the head and he left the fronton in seeming distress. Much to everyone’s relief, he emerged after only a short delay, and far from being stung by the incident, proceeded to win thirteen points in a row in barely twelve minutes. It was as if the unfortunate strike had goaded him into full throttle action. The majority of the points were so one sided that it seemed as if Irujo belonged to a different class. Those which were not won by the serve alone fell soon after to a range of comprehensive and terminal shots as he dropped the ball into space, sent it whistling past Barriola’s nose, used the dos paredes to perfection and manipulated the movements of his rival as if he were a puppet on a string. His run finally ended at 1-13, whereupon Barriola briefly threatened a revival. However, the trailing player proved unable to string together more than two points at once, and could not break through the stranglehold of Irujo’s resulting dominance with the serve, constantly dipping cruelly into the left wall. Barriola pulled points back in ones and twos, never looking convincing while doing so, but Irujo maintained a gap of nine or ten with ease. There were one or two moments when the crowd seized upon as possible triggers for a comeback. Irujo served a falta on 5-16 (his resulting cursing rather unnecessary given his position of total control) which Barriola followed with a searing dos paredes, but always Irujo came back, in this case proving the adage that anything Barriola could do he could do better with an almost identical shot of his own. He wasted no time in closing the deal, hitting his nineteenth winner to take the tie 22-9. Barriola, as he walked off expressionless and rather ashen faced, looked as stunned as the rest of us.
All is not lost for Barriola who can still make the final if he beats Aimar Olaizola this coming weekend. However, given Olaizola’s classy display in beating Xala set aside Barriola’s disintegration here, he will have to produce something special. Irujo makes no secret of the fact that he does not enjoy Cuatro y Medio; he must therefore have been delighted for more reasons than one to have vanquished a top opponent in thirty minutes flat. He was simply majestic, making a game full of pace, variation and accuracy look absurdly easy. He must now be the favourite for this title, though if Aimar continues to play as he did on Saturday his path to the txapela may not be a cakewalk.
Scoring sequence: 1-2, 1-13, 5-13, 5-16, 7-16, 7-17, 8-17, 8-18, 9-18, 9-22
Irujo: winners (19) errors (4) service winners (3) service errors (2)
Barriola: winners (3) errors (3) service winners (3) service errors (0)
Match time: 30:16 with 5:55 of actual play
Balls hit: 137
Image from Noticias de Navarra by Patxi Cascante
In the Promocion Championship, MENDIZABAL III beat LEMUNO in a 22-21 thriller in Antzuola. Both players collapsed in exhaustion at the end of a match which Mendizabal led handsomely before almost contriving to lose. He showed immense character in halting Lemuno’s storming comeback and qualifies for the final. In the other game, ALBISU beat ONGAY 22-19 to keep his hopes alive. Next week, Lemuno plays Ongay and Albisu plays Mendizabal III with the second final place very much up for grabs.