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