Pairs Championship: week two movers and shakers

The second rotation of the Pairs Championship is not quite over, with Martinez de Irujo and Zabaleta playing Titin and Merino tomorrow, but here is a run down of what has happened so far this week, of who is up and who is down.

The first game of the rotation took place on Friday in Tolosa, and saw a 22-17 win for Xala and Barriola over Gonzalez and Zubieta. This constitutes a second win for the former and a second loss for the latter. This was a marathon of a match characterised by some rallies which seemed as if they would never end. In all, the ball was struck 714 times in a game of an hour and a half, thirty six minutes of which was actual playing time. The two pairs were very closely matched in most of these attritional rallies but overall, Xala and Barriola had the edge. No one player had an excellent game as errors were a greater contributor to the final tallies than were winners, but Xala’s greater accuracy at the front proved crucial. Gonzalez failed to find any sort of stride until the second part of the game, when he and Zubieta managed to close in from 9-18 to 15-19. He proved in this passage that he is capabale of stunning winners but all too often in the game as a whole he missed shots which should have been winners. Barriola probably comes out of the game with the most credit; in such a contest, three errors is not a high total, especially when balanced with one winner, and he defended with his usual solidity. Zubieta also played well on occasion but was prone to let the odd ball slip through his net. Xala and Barriola therefore march onwards with little stress, while Gonzalez and Zubieta must find a way to win. They will be encouraged however that for much of this game they looked like a solid unit, undone by the fact that the difference between winning and losing any point can be very small.

In Pamplona on Saturday, Aimar Olaizola demonstrated his human side as Bengoetxea VI and Beroiz beat Olaizola II and Ibai Zabala 22-19. All four pelotraris played an excellent match. Olaizola and Zabala had the early upper hand, going ahead 9-4 as the former continued in his dominating ways. However, Bengoetxea moved into attack mode, taking the game to his rival, and with the help of Beroiz who was solid as a rock took his pair into an 18-15 lead. Olaizola had several lapses which gave the blues room to breathe. The game remained very tight until the death, with the scoreboard reaching 17-18 and 18-19, but from this juncture, Bengoetxea’s determination coupled with Beroiz’s potent hitting from the back took them to the line. It is a combination of skills which promises to take them far, and though it is early days, they must be considered one of the favourites for this title. Olaizola and Zabala, though they lost out, can be encouraged by another good display. Zabala played well and has already done much to silence the doubters. The question is whether he can continue to play at the requisite level, week upon week.

There was a surprise on Sunday in Eibar as Arretxe II and Begino proved the undoing of Berasaluze VIII and Albisu, winning 22-20.The underdogs counfounded all expectations by going ahead early and staying there for much of the match, leading 1-4, 6-10 and 9-14. It seemed inevitable that the dogged Berasaluze wold find a way to come back into it and so he did, leading from the front to take his pair to parity at 15-15. The momentum swing seemed terminal, and the 2011-12 version of Arretxe and Begino would surely have folded at this point. However, perhaps determined to prove his worth, Arretxe found some considerable fire in the belly to halt Berasaluze in his tracks, turning 15-17 into 19-17. Thanks to a string of unfortunate mistakes from Albisu, who repeatedly did all the hard wirk before blowing the denouement, they were able to hold out for a shock win. Maybe their 2013 vintage will be a better one. Berasaluze and Albisu, on paper such an attractive pair, now have two losses and much watch their step.

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