Mikel Idoate defeats Merino II (22-15) and Aritz Lasa (22-17) for a place in the Cuatro y Medio
It has been an epic weekend for Mikel Idoate. The young Aspe forward was not granted automatic entry into the Cuatro y Medio tournament, instead tasked with finding his way through two qualifying rounds to take his place in the line-up. In the 48 hours between Friday and Sunday he won both matches in a round trip which totalled more than 500 kilometres. The first port of call for Idoate, who is from Pamplona, was Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a town of 7000 inhabitants in the western part of La Rioja. His opponent here was David Merino, himself Riojan and therefore the recipient of almost all the support. The partisan nature of the support mattered little to Idoate however, as he wasted no time in rushing headlong to an 8-0 lead, Merino unable to get going despite several lengthy rallies in which he appeared to settle nicely. Merino slowly added points to the scoreboard, moving to 8-2, 9-5 and 15-7, but Idoate dominated until the mid point of the game, when something clicked in the mind and body of the local favourite. He closed to 15-13 with great tenacity and looked to be back in it. However, Idoate kept cool and an injury break, the result of a knock to a finger, appeared to unsettle Merino whose confidence never truly returned. He added only two more points as Idoate took it 22-15 with impressive command. Much later that night he declared his satisfaction on Twitter but looked ahead immediately; dinner and sleep, rest and then on Sunday, repeat.
Less than 48 hours later, another 130km drive to a more familiar venue, the town of Eibar, nestling in its deep ‘hole’ just off the motorway between Bilbao and San Sebastian. The historic fronton of Astelena has just reopened with a flourish after a temporary closure, and Aspe are encouraging custom with a new scheme, offering parking and nourishment as part of the pelota package. Idoate’s second opponent, the one man standing between him and the main draw, was Aritz Lasa, a talent if inconsistent performer who has a recent history of falling in the second round of the Cuatro y Medio. Idoate showed little sign of fatigue, racing into an early lead just as he had on Friday. Finding himself 0-4 down, Lasa found the strength to rally and looked the better player. However, gradually the errors of Lasa allowed Idoate a route back, and he took nine consecutive points to lead 16-12. Having come so far in the past two days, there was no way his determination would allow a lapse. Lasa threatened again, closing to 17-19, but thereafter took too many risks, allowing Idoate home for a breathless double header of wins.
Some questioned the need for a recent two time Manomanista semi-finalist to have to suffer the indignity of two preview rounds for the Cuatro y Medio, but it is, one feels a reflection of the embarrassment of riches at Aspe. The Eibar empresa has a legion of talented young players fighting for starting spots in championships, and the problem will only grow when the likes of Jon Jaunarena hit the big time. However, for now, Idoate is where he belongs, in the realm of the best having proved his right to be there. He plays Asier Olaizola in the first round proper on Friday, in a match where one would have to declare him favourite. He will certainly approach the encounter with the same tenacity with which he attacked the weekend and make the most of the chance which is finally his. As the man himself declared on Twitter, well after 1am on Monday morning, safely home: “very happy but tired. Time to relax, there will be time to work.”
Also on Sunday, Jon Jaunarena won a play off for a place in the Promocion Cuatro y Medio against Alberto Ongay. Jaunarena, arguably Aspe’s brightest young talent, was the favourite here but fell behind 7-16 t0 an excellent Ongay who played as if his life depended on it. However, in a game of great passion, Jaunarena came back to win 22-19.