Friday 10th February, Urretxu
XALA – LASKURAIN beat ARITZ LASA – ZUBIETA 22-18
Aitor Zubieta spoke in the week of this game as a life or death encounter. He and Aritz Lasa, with two wins to their name, sat second from bottom in the table and points needed to come quickly in order to maintain any hope of qualifying for the last four. They had already beaten Xala and Laskurain, in their first match in the championship, and went to Lasa’s hometown of Urretxu with the confidence that they could strike again. However, despite a brave attempt to come from behind at the death, Xala and Laskurain had just a little bit more and Lasa and Zubieta are on the ropes. If they are to stand any chance, Lasa will have to do the job without Zubieta for the next few weeks; the defender has been ruled out with the hand problems which had plagued him throughout the championship and did so again here. For the victors, things are now looking a little more promising, and while they are still a long way off qualification, they can dare to dream.
Xala and Laskurain took the first two points, but Lasa and Zubieta gained the early advantage as they went ahead through an error apiece from the reds and two very well worked winners from Lasa. The signs looked promising; Lasa and Zubieta came out of the starting gate with pace, confidence and invention. However, this was to be the only time they led in the match. Their over ambition was perhaps the cause of their undoing in the next two points and having drawn level, the red pair kept going, building a 9-4 lead. Xala purred into form in this passage, nailing Lasa out wide , hitting a winning serve and finding an incredible angle for a dos paredes in answer to the same shot from his opposite number. He appeared calm personified in contrast to the local player, who demonstrated a will to seize points with both hands but too often rushed into shots and blew his chances. They maintained their gap and stretched it to six at 13-7, capitalising on three errors from Zubieta who after a solid and potent start, was starting to look troubled. Four points in a row from the blues, involving three errors from the leaders, two of which were largely unforced, put them back in touch at 11-13, but Zubieta was forced from the fronton for a medical timeout, lasting eight minutes.
When he returned, Xala was in no mood to be gentle, grabbing the five point lead back again almost singlehandedly, pushing a hapless Lasa around the fronton for three varied winners. 16-11 became 18-13 as Lasa and Zubieta undid the hard work of two points gained with two points thrown away. At 14-20, they looked dead in the water, but Lasa refused to die. A txoko and a service winner reduced the deficit by two and when Xala hit low, the door of opportunity opened a fraction. Lasa, all determination and fight, squeezed through the gap with a long, unreturnable serve and all of sudden they were firmly in touch. However, as he is wont to do, Lasa threw away his position of strength; a gantxo almost won him the next point and when Xala desperately pulled the return back in, all he had to do was tap a simple txoko to make it 19-20. He missed it, and instead of serving for parity found himself facing a match point. Another error, a ball hit wide, handed the game to Xala and Laskurain.
At the mid point, few can have predicted that the often frustratingly inconsistent Lasa and the ailing Zubieta would have made a game of it. Despite trailing almost throughout, they never gave up and pushed Xala and Laskurain all the way to the line. Taking the match as a whole, the eventual winners were clearly the better team, controlling the fronton with more ease and taking advantage of the chances they had. They will proceed to the next rotation with relief while Lasa sweats on the health of his partner and the daunting task ahead.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-4, 9-4, 9-5, 11-5, 11-6, 12-6, 12-7, 13-7, 13-11, 16-11, 16-12, 18-12, 18-13, 18-14, 20-14, 20-18, 22-18.
Winners/errors: Xala 10/4, Lasa 10/6, Laskurain 0/4, Zubieta 0/6
Match time: 1:17.34 with 31.56 of actual playing time
Balls hit: 632