Sunday 25th November, Bilbao
OLAIZOLA II beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO 22-18
Cuatro y Medio Semi-Final
There is little one can say about the intense rivalry between these greatest of modern pelota players which has not been said before. Olaizola and Irujo have, in the past few years, been head and shoulder above their rivals so it is natural that matches between them should arouse so much interest. Coupled with that, their opposing playing styles, Irujo so fiery and Olaizola so cool, lend a human element to proceedings, inviting the fans to adopt their personal favourite. So it was that Bizkaia was packed last Sunday, and full of atmosphere. The two champions obliged with a stormer of a match, with Olaizola pulling away only at the last to seize a place in his sixth Cuatro y Medio final.
After a brief opening flurry from Olaizola, thanks to his strong serving from the gun, it was Irujo who looked the sharper early on. Olaizola looked, by his standards, out of sorts and unable to find a rhythm, resulting in three errors in a row to gift his rival a 3-6 lead. He looked to have found his touch in the next point with a virtuosic cross court winner at full stretch but then, infuriatingly for him and his fans, served a falta. He failed to make any significant inroads, despite closing to within one point on 6-7 and Irujo, with the bit between his teeth, raced to 6-12. Olaizola seemed unable to read Irujo, or if he could then unable to do anything about it, and the man from Ibero punished him with a wide range of shots, the apotheosis of which was a stinging hook on 6-10. Irujo showed no signs of the virus which had caused the postponement of the match from the previous week and it was hard to see how Olaizola, looking unusually flustered and constrained, could turn matters around.
However, Olaizola is a great champion and has the cool to come from behind as well as annihilate from the front. Slowly but surely the defending champion began to find his mojo. With the serve back, he punished Irujo early to reduce his deficit by half at 9-12, and then he profited from an extreme moment of carelessness on the part of his opponent who missed a complete sitter in the next play. Another Irujo error and it was 11-12 and all to play for. Olaizola fell behind again with a pair of near misses but then came back once more with a glorious dos paredes. A low strike from Irujo and it was 14-14. Again Irujo battled forward through force of will, and again Olaizola pegged him back as deadlock was resumed at 16-16.
From here on though, a switch appeared to flick. An error from Irujo meant Olaizola was ahead for the first time since 2-1 and once there, he had no intention of sliding into arrears. The next two points brought vintage Aimar as a hook and a dos paredes landed him in view of the finishing line. An increasingly ragged Irujo could not respond as his opponent changed gear, gifting a point for 20-16 before Olaizola hammered his superiority home with a service winner to give him match point. Irujo pulled two points back with a late flurry, offering a reminder of who he is, but it was too late; as he pushed the last ball of the game low, Aimar Olaizola’s calm exterior gave way to a brief celebration before his mind turned forwards, towards another final and dreams of a sixth title.
The final was originally scheduled for this weekend but a back problem for Olaizola has resulted in a postponement. He will now face Oinatz Bengoetxea on 9th December in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Likewise, the Promocion final between Jaunarena and Untoria has been postponed, due to an injury to Untoria. It will take place in Pamplona on 8th December.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-3, 3-3, 3-6, 4-6, 4-7, 6-7, 6-12, 11-12, 11-14, 12-14, 14-14, 14-16, 16-16, 21-16, 21-18, 22-18