Sunday 24th June, Bilbao
OLAIZOLA II beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO 22-7
This final, pelota’s showpiece event, promised a gargantuan tussle, a fight to the death between the players of their generation where no quarter would be given. In reality, we got a near walkover. Juan Martinez de Irujo’s implosion must however in no way devalue Aimar Olaizola’s devastating performance, for this result was the product of the Goizuetarra’s irresistible force. Olaizola was dominant in every conceivable way, both in this play and in his rock solid state of mind and Irujo had no answers. This sterling victory is the logical conclusion of a year in which Olaizola has been the best of the best. Throughout the Pairs Championship, he swatted all comers aside with disdain and was only prevented from attaining what many viewed as an inevitable txapela when partner Beroiz succumbed to injury in the semi-finals. He approached the Manomanista as favourite only to find his mere participation in grave doubt owing to an injury to his right arm. However, with the aid of match postponements, he set himself on course, overcoming a dogged Retegi Bi in the quarters and flattening Bengoetxea VI in the semis. Irujo had had to work harder for his place in the final, having very nearly been undone by Idoate in the last four, but he is a notoriously tough customer in finals. Not so for Aimar Olaizola who took 46 minutes and 49 seconds to dismantle him, body and soul.
The opening phase of the match, belying what was to come later on, was close and tense. Aimar hit the ground running with a gantxo winner, followed by a further three points based around a strong serve to go up 4-0 before Irujo had had the chance of a look in. He ceded the serve by going wide for 4-1 but Irujo could not capitalise, hitting the side wall high to restore Aimar’s four point advantage. Irujo took the next point with a cross court winner however and began to make inroads, closing to 5-5 with some dominating play before going ahead 7-5 thanks to a stunningly placed dos paredes. Irujo is well known for coming from behind, and those in the Olaizola camp must have sensed thunder clouds looming. All was now proceeding according to plan for the man from Ibero; it seemed the weaknesses he had shown in the first plays were now out of his system and that he was set to surge. It seemed unthinkable that he would fail to win another point in the match, but an excellent cross into the left hand wall from Aimar was to prove the opening salvo of a run of the fifteen straight points which took him to his third Manomanista title unopposed.
So what was it that precipitated this extraordinary second phase of the final? Was it the brilliance of Aimar Olaizola or the mental meltdown of his opponent? In reality, the two were intrinsically linked. For Aimar something clicked and every point was gilded with pure class. At 6-7, Irujo was undone by a terrific long serve, at 7-7 he was forced into miscuing an overhead volley, at 8-7 he was left reeling by a gantxo, then a volley into the corner at 9-7. Aimar was nonchalant and relaxed in his excellence, but relentlessly focused. As Irujo sensed fewer and fewer openings, the road of return becoming ever longer, his mistakes multiplied. More in hope than anything, he left a serve on 14-7 which he thought was going long. It did not, and Aimar strode on apace. When another serve passed him by, Irujo could take no more. He wandered, looking resigned, to his chair for a time out and in a sudden moment of rage kicked it to pieces, leaving his hapless botillero Patxi Eugi stranded on his feet. This is the second final in a row against Aimar Olaizola where Irujo has done this. Now, as in the 2011 Cuatro y Medio final, neither Eugi’s counsel nor the letting off of steam made any difference to the outcome of the game. Aimar returned to serve his way to 19-7 before Irujo hit wide twice on the bounce to cede match point. The champion elect wasted no time in tapping the ball with ease into an ocean of space, and as the board switched to 22 he raised his arms to the adulation of the crowd. Irujo knew he had been soundly beaten and congratulated his conqueror with a smile, eschewing his temper reserved for the courtside furniture. Two great champions saluted the crowd, but in 2012 there is little doubt as to who sits on the pinnacle of the sport. Aimar Olaizola, txapeldun.
Scoring sequence: 4-0, 4-1, 5-1, 5-7, 22-7
Service winners/errors : Olaizola 3/0, Irujo 1/0
Winners/errors : Olaizola 13/1, Irujo 6/9
Balls hit : 253
Match time : 46:49 with 11:01 of actual play
Botilleros : Asier Olaizola for his brother Aimar, and Patxi Eugi for Irujo