Sunday 27th May, Pamplona
OLAIZOLA II beat RETEGI BI 22-15
Manomanista Quarter Final
These were nervous times for the supporters of the supreme Aimar Olaizola. His mere participation in this game had been in grave doubt earlier in the week owing to an injury to his right arm, the same problem which probably cost him the title in 2003. He was cleared to play following extensive physical tests but worries persisted as to how he would handle a high octane championship encounter. Under normal circumstances he would have been odds on the defeat Retegi Bi but this situation was anything but ordinary. That Aimar came through in the end must be a considerable relief to him and all his connections, for the route to victory was far from comfortable.
Right from the off it was clear that Aimar was not on top of his game. Before he had had any time to settle his worries, Retegi was leading 4-0 with Aimar defending well but lacking the edge to move from rear-guard action into attack mode. He got himself off the mark at 4-1 when he forced Retegi short after an aerial bombardment and it seemed as if he would come back into it. He closed to 4-3 to establish some sort of status quo but then fell behind again, allowing Retegi into an 11-4 lead. Aimar was physically troubled only by his right arm, but he seemed unable even to get the left going, his classic weapon appearing blunted. Retegi knew his rival was on the ropes and played his part to perfection, doing the basics extremely well and putting enough pressure on him until he offended. Twice he hit wide attempting cross court winners and even when he had the serve, produced a falta. All was not right in the Olaizola camp and twice he retreated to the chair in the hope that his brother Asier may have some words of wisdom. A beautiful low skimming dejedaz winner for 6-11 seemed to imply that he had found his touch but in the next play, tactically as well as technically he was all at sea, wasting a chance at an easy winner directly from serve. Retegi began to believe.
However, injured or not, Aimar Olaizola is a great champion and as such never lies down without a fight. Just as the belief that he would come back at Retegi sooner rather than later started to wane, he found some momentum and with it some form. From 7-12 down he advanced to take the lead for the first time at 14-13 and from then on, despite what had gone on before, a sense of inevitability descended upon Labrit. For the first time, he controlled the space of the fronton and it was Retegi who found himself repeatedly pushed back, desperately trying to escape from the salvo of high balls Aimar sent his way. When that tactic failed to finish him off, he produced an array of winners both into the corner and from left to right and now that he was on song, Retegi was blown out of the water. The underdog did manage a further two points thanks to a txoko on 18-13 and a subsequent service winner, but when he hit wide in the next play it was game over. Aimar sealed his semi-final place with an authoritative left armed swipe, showing all concerned that the real Olaizola II was back.
According to statements released today, Aimar is still in discomfort. The worries will not have been entirely banished by his quarter-final display. He does however have two weeks to rest and prepare for his match in the last four which will take place on 10th June. His opponent there will be the 2008 champion Oinatz Bengoetxea, who although not enjoying the best year of his career looked untouchable in his defeat of Aimar’s older brother in his quarter-final. If Aimar is fit he will be the clear favourite, but if not, Oinatz will make sure to exploit every weakness.
Scoring sequence: 0-4, 3-4, 3-7, 4-7, 4-11, 6-11, 6-12, 9-12, 9-13, 18-13, 18-15, 22-15.
Winners/errors: Olaizola 16/7, Retegi 8/6
Match time: 53:53 with 14:12 of actual play
Balls hit: 275