Virgen Blanca Final: Irujo and Zabaleta in perfect harmony

Wednesday 8th August, Vitoria-Gasteiz

The gulf in play between the two pairs in the Virgen Blanca final was vast, and but for a late flurry from Bengoetxea and Begino the scoreline could have verged upon the embarrassing. The defending champions came into the final full of confidence after an impressive win over Titin and Zubieta in the semis but Irujo and Zabaleta outdid them in every department, both as individuals and as a partnership. Such was the tactical togetherness of the victorious pair that it was easy to forget their relative inexperience in playing together. Irujo was close to his very best and Zabaleta, profiting from an injury to Barriola to take his place in the final, once more underlined his potential as both a current match winner and a future champion.

Irujo began the match very much as he did not mean to go on, missing what should have been an easy txoko winner, but from there it was almost all plain sailing. Five points in a row for the blue pair set the tone, giving a taster of Irujo’s front of court dominance, Zabaleta’s metronomic rhythm and Begino’s lack of direction. Irujo momentarily let Bengoetxea and Begino back into affairs with a moment of carelessness having totally bossed the point on 5-1 but he forced Begino into a mistake in the next play to gain the serve back. The next seven points belonged to the blues. The highlights of this period of play came on 7-2 and 8-2; Irujo produced an astonishingly nonchalant gantxo in the first of these points, the return of which was swatted with abandon into the corner. Irujo then forced Bengoetxea all over the fronton before handing the mantle to Zabaleta, who launched a rebote over a desperate Begino. Zabaleta’s first two errors of the match came in successive points and allowed the reds to close marginally to 4-13, but a row of errors of their own stifled any thoughts of a comeback.

At 19-4, the defending champions were disconsolate. Bengoetxea picked up a point with a gantxo, but Irujo, masterfully creating space from nowhere, brought up match point at 21-5. All too late the trailing pair strung together four points thanks to Bengoetxea, but all this did was to ward off the inevitable and perhaps remind the audience of just how special he can be when all is right in his world. An error from Begino brought up 22 for Irujo and Zabaleta, deserving and overwhelming winners and a quite excellent marrying of the prodigious talents of two individuals.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-5, 2-5, 2-13, 4-13, 4-19, 5-19, 5-21, 9-21, 9-22.
Winners/errors: Bengoetxea 4/5, Irujo 11/2, Begino 0/5, Zabaleta 1/3
Match time: 42:28 with 16:07 of actual play
Balls hit: 334

Irujo in charge

Irujo in charge

Image from aspepelota on Flickr, under Creative Commons

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