Asegarce have announced the signing of Mikel Larunbe, a 19 year old defender from Galdakao, on a two year deal. Larunbe won the pairs titles of the Torneo el Diario Vasco in 2012, GRAVN in 2010 and the Basque Country championship in 2010. He will make his professional debut on Saturday 5th January at Bizkaia, where he will play alongside Asier Olaizola against Saralegi and Apraiz.
Friday 28th December, Tolosa
17:00 (CET) LEMUNO – MENDIZABAL II v TAINTA – UNTORIA
Followed by GONZALEZ – ZUBIETA v XALA – BARRIOLA Pairs Championship
Sunday 30th December, Eibar
17:00 (CET) ARITZ LASA – LARRINAGA v JAUNARENA – CECILIO
Followed by BERASALUZE VIII – BEGINO v ARRETXE II – BEGINO Pairs Championship
Tuesday 1st January, Eibar
17:00 (CET) RETEGI BI – MERINO v EZKURDIA – LASKURAIN
Followed by TITIN III – MERINO II v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – ZABALETA Pairs Championship
The other Pairs Championship match this week is Olaizola II-Ibai Zabala v Bengoetxea VI-Beroiz, tomorrow in Pamplona
Also victorious in the first round of Pairs Championsip matches were Martinez de Irujo-Zabaleta and Bengoetxea VI-Beroiz. Irujo and debutant Zabaleta were not overly stretched in beating Gonzalez and Zubieta at Labrit last Sunday, running out 22-11 winners. Far closer was Bengoetxea and Beroiz’s win over Berasaluze VIII and Albisu, which finished 22-21. This looked like the most enticing of the first rotation’s matches on paper, with two evenly matched pairs featuring two of the most dynamic forwards on the circuit. Bengoetxea and Berasaluze have both been in great form recently, coming second and third respectively in the Cuatro y Medio and they put on a great show at a buzzing Bizkaia. For the first part of the match, affairs were extremely close with the eventual winners pegged back from 7-4 to 7-8 before the pairs were locked in combat on eight, nine and ten. Beraslauze and Albisu edged ahead 12-10 before Bengoetxea and Beroiz began to exert pressure and looked to be heading for a reasonably comfortable triumph. Thanks to the potency of Bengoetxea’s shot play and the rock solid defence of Beroiz, they forged ahead to 16-12 and 19-14. However, Berasaluze is nothing if not tenacious and, audibly goading Albisu on, he led a revival. They closed to 17-19 before Bengoetxea and Beroiz steadied the ship, giving themselves four shots at match point on 21-17. However, again their rivals fought back, setting up a winner-takes-all final point from 21-21. In a point of high tension, it was Berasaluze who fell first, handing the game to Bengoetxea and Beroiz when his strike fell agonisingly low. We will surely here much more from both couples as the championship progresses.
Tuesday 25th December, Eibar
OLAIZOLA II – IBAI ZABALA beat TITIN III – MERINO II 22-15
This had the makings of a highly intriguing match up. On the one hand, we had the defending champions, Titin and Merino, an established pair who combine experience and youthful talent in a coherent whole. Against them stood the biggest mismatch of the championship, Olaizola, the undisputed number one, and his partner the highly inexperienced debutant Ibai Zabala. Everything rested on whether Olaizola, still riding a purple patch of form which has extended for nigh on two years, could carry his partner to the extent that he could overcome such a talented pair. In the end, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’. Olaizola shouldered a massive proportion of the responsibility, striking many more balls than his partner, which is notable in that the defender usually hits more balls than the forward in pairs matches. He knew what he had to do and rose to the task.
The defending champions went behind almost immediately, going down 2-0 and 5-1. They came back into it, but were only to lead on two occasions, once at 6-5 and again at 7-6. Thereafter, the Asegarce pair was in almost total control. Ibai Zabala held up his end admirably, but in truth all he had to do was to defend and let his illustrious partner do the work. If Titin had been in better form the balance might have swung back, but Olaizola had his number, controlling the front of the court like a territorial tiger. He ruled the side wall, creating the angles and the space to pass his opponent and gave Titin no room to move. He scored more than double the number of winners of his rival, a whopping fourteen out of the twenty two needed to pass the line. Merino was the better defender, despite a nasty knock to his tailbone late in the game, but with such imbalance up front there was little he could do. The obvious tactic should have been to take Olaizola out of the game by hitting long to punish Zabala, but his control was too great and Titin was for the most part forced to fight for scraps. Once the lead had reached 17-11 there was no comeback and the body language of the champions suggested that they knew this.
So far so good for the most puzzling pair of the tournament. Olaizola was as stunning as one might expect and Ibai Zabala did what he needed to do to support him. Their fate in the competition depends on for how long Olaizola can keep this up. The Pairs is a long championship which requires consistency week in week out. It is also highly demanding physically. One senses that a slight dip in form for Olaizola, coupled with weaknesses creeping in from behind could see them fall from their early pedestal. Time will tell, but they will have enjoyed their Christmas.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-1, 5-1, 5-6, 6-6, 6-7, 13-7, 13-8, 14-8, 14-10, 15-10, 15-11, 17-11, 17-13, 21-13, 21-14, 22-14
Service winners/errors: Olaizola 2, Titin 0
Winners/errors: Olaizola 14/4, Titin 6/4, Zabala 0/3, Merino 1/2
Balls hit: 500
Match time: 65 minutes
Friday 21st December, Najera
XALA – BARRIOLA beat ARRETXE II – BEGINO 22-14
The 2013 Pairs Championship got underway last Friday with what looked like an outrightb mismatch. Xala and Barriola’s partnership is likely to consitute one of the most solid of the competition given their experience and individual class, while Arretxe and Begino were the whipping boys of 2012, rather mysteriously given a second chance. Much to the surprise of many, however, this was not a walkover and for the first half of the game at least, the underdogs held their own, giving Xala and Barriola a significant barrier to pass.
Arretxe and Begino went ahead in the early stages thanks to a brace of outright winners from the former, which very much contrary to the script. A Xala txoko got the favourites into the game however and from 3-3 onwards they began to build what looked to be an easy lead, with Xala effortlessly turning up the heat. However, Arretxe, not intimidated by the reputation of anyone, was on fire and out-manouvered his opponents single handedly to wrest the serve back. He cancelled out their deficit with a hook and a service winner to make it 6-6, before an error from Barriola gave them a 7-6 lead. Unfortunately for them though, Begino proved less sharp than his partner and two mistakes from the back meant a momentum swing back to the favourites who were then able to capitalise. As they built their lead from 8-7 to 15-8, 18-10 and 21-11, Xala demonstrated that he is in a different class to the plucky Arretxe. Going about his work in a characteristically cool manner the man from Iparralde showed off his full range of shot play, serving excellently and putting away winners to all corners of the fronton. He was ably assisted by the typically solid Barriola who as well as defending excellently as usual, put away winners of his own. Arretxe and Begino threatened a late flurry, moving from 11-21 to 14-21 thanks to an error apiece from Xala and Begino and a txoko from Arretxe, but it was too little too late as a miss from close in by Arretxe in the following point made the score 22-14.
The major difference in this match was between the forwards, where Xala was on a different level. His fourteen winners to three errors tell the tale of his dominance, set against the mere six winners put away by his opposite number. Begino played a solid enough match, but without the firepower up front, there was little he could do to advance their cause. Xala and Barriola, while not the most dynamic pairing of the line up, look set for a good tournament; once they found their stride the win came with ease.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, 3-3, 6-3, 6-7, 10-7, 10-8, 15-8, 15-9, 15-10, 18-10, 18-11, 21-11, 21-14, 22-14
Winners/errors: Xala 14/3, Arretxe 6/1, Barriola 5/3, Begino 2/3
Balls hit: 597
Match time: 1:04.50 with 29:13 of actual play