Sunday 13th May, Eibar
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat BARRIOLA 22-17
The atmosphere in Astelena was electric for this encounter between two of the 21st century’s big hitters. Irujo has not had the greatest of years thus far and has been overshadowed of late by perennial rival Aimar Olaizola, but the Manomanista never fails to galvanise his spirits. As he so often does, he came from behind to win against Barriola here, proving that even in 2012 you can never assume you have Irujo on the rack.
Barriola knew he was up against it as he strode onto the kantxa to take on his erstwhile Pairs partner but if he felt like the underdog he seemed unwilling to show it. He galloped to a 3-0 lead before Irujo had had time to breathe, and 3-0 may have become 4-0 were it not for a falta in the next point. A short strike and a dos paredes which failed to hit the second wall allowed Irujo to register on the scoreboard but Barriola looked comfortable at 7-3. Irujo came back into it with a dos paredes for 6-7 and it looked like he had shifted up a gear, but two almost identical miscues down the wall handed the momentum back to Barriola, who still appeared serene. Barriola forged ahead to 12-6 with a dominating serve and an easy drop after having made Irujo run back and forth for all he was worth. Irujo looked rattled; perhaps this time he would not come back? However, slowly but surely he clawed his way back. Barriola advanced to 14 -7 when a ball from Irujo hit the roof but a slanted txoko into the left hand wall in the next play opened the floodgates for the four time champion. He added fourteen points without answer in the quintessential Irujo rally from the dead. His new found total dominance was based on a serve which time and again beat Barriola, leading to an easy winner several hits later if it did not win the point outright. Barriola had precious few chances, and those which did come his way were squandered, such as in the point on 14-9 when Irujo hit a txoko too deep and was not made to pay. Irujo gave Barriola a last ditch chance when he hit a txoko low on match point and he briefly threatened to bring about a grandstand finish with three points in a row. It was not to be however as an attempted winner into space out wide clattered into the plate.
Irujo sent out a warning here to anyone who thought he might be off colour in this campaign. Bizkaia will be the setting for his quarter final on Sunday, and his opponent then will be the defending champion Xala, another competitor who never lies down. Despite making the Pairs final with Aritz Laskurain, Xala has not been in golden form of late but the big occasion has been known to spur him to the heights in the past and the fans who will pack the galleries will hope for a match of high octane excitement.
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-1, 4-1, 4-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-6, 12-6, 12-7, 14-7, 14-8, 14-21, 15-21, 17-21, 17-22
Winners/errors: Barriola 8/8 with 1 service winner, Irujo 14/9 with 6 service winners.