Sunday 3rd June, Eibar
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat IDOATE 22-18
Juan Martinez de Irujo is making something of a speciality of giving his opponents a head start. Before the Astelena crowd had had time to visit the bar and settle into their seats, the four-time champion was 6-0 down against a young talent whose tail was very much up. Irujo threw away the first point by falling low and Idoate took advantage of his own balls by firing off two service winners before Irujo went low again. It was 5-0 when Idoate pulled off an easy drop volley straight from the return of serve and he then showed that he could live with the favourite in a longer rally too, moving Irujo all over the fronton before nailing him with a cross court ball to the corner. Despite the clear ascendency of Idoate at this early stage however, there is always the assumption that Irujo will come hurtling back, almost mocking his rival for ever believing they had a chance to take his scalp. When Idoate miscued a high ball into the wall to allow Irujo onto the scorecard at 6-1, it seemed the inevitable would happen, and indeed Irujo closed his challenger down to 5-6.
However, Idoate was to prove a tougher opponent than many had predicted. He is a player hovering on the edge of the top flight, and even though he ultimately lost here, he has surely thrown his name into the hat for selection in major tournaments over the next couple of years. He prevented Irujo from drawing level by saving a dos paredes and then striking a winning txoko, and proceeded to pull away again, opening his lead up to 11-5 with real authority and total command of the playing area. Irujo was made to look ordinary. Sadly for the underdog and for his vocal fans though, it was not to last. Being left behind twice over was not to Irujo’s taste and he shifted into a gear which Idoate simply could not match. He seized the serve back with a txoko to make it 6-11 and proceeded to take the next ten points. Idoate had previously played Irujo like a puppet on a string but now the man from Ibero returned the favour with interest, dominating points straight from the serve and never allowing Idoate into a position of advantage. Idoate was still very much in the match at 11-12 and had a golden chance to re-establish some momentum when he finally managed to pin Irujo back, but the opportunity was blown with an unforced error. Everything was going Irujo’s way as he raced to 16-11.
Idoate, however, is not one to give in and when Irujo went high on the side wall for 16-12 he gradually worked his way back into contention. A brace of errors from Irujo and he found himself within two at 14-16 and then only one away from parity due to a high ball from Irujo for 16-17. Irujo kept his nose in front every time Idoate came too close however, and extended his advantage to 19-16 with an easy volley and an untouchable ball over Idoate’s head. Again though, Idoate doggedly returned, closing to 18-19 when Irujo completely missed the ball after a close battle at the front. Again though, Idoate blew his big chance, hitting unnecessarily low to gift Irujo the serve again with the finishing line in sight. This time, Idoate had nothing left to give and as Irujo cleaned things up he surely left the fronton ruing what might have been. Not many can beat Irujo at this stage in the Manomanista, but Idoate succeeded in giving him an almighty shock. Irujo proceeds to play either Olaizola II or Bengoetxea VI in the final, but Idoate will surely someday reach these exalted heights.
Scoring sequence: 0-6, 5-6, 5-11, 16-11, 16-12, 16-14, 17-14, 17-16, 19-16, 19-18, 22-18.
Winners/errors: Irujo 14/8 (no service winners), Idoate 10/8 (3 service winners)