Sunday 19th April
BELOKI beat AGIRRE 22-11
Ruben Beloki can seem a quiet and rather unassuming character in comparison to the other past champions in the draw, about whom there is infinitely more fuss being made. However, of all 2009’s illustrious competitors, the 34 year old from Burlada is the most decorated, at least in manomanista terms, having been champion in 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2001. He also holds the distinction of being the youngest ever winner; he was all of 20 years old in 1995. He himself admits to the loss of some of his speed and power, but he makes up for these deficiences in his experience and guile, as Imanol Agirre was to discover to his cost.
Agirre, who is also 34, has also been around a while, having made his professional debut fourteen years ago. He is, however, far less decorated than his opponent here and on this occasion at least, far less assured. Things started positively for the man from Bilbao and the encounter was all square at 5-5. The early points were long and enthralling and the protagonists traded blows with equal venom. However, slowly but surely, Beloki exerted himself upon the game, winning the next six points at barely a canter. He served long and hard to put his opponent on the back foot from the off and then controlled the play with impressive composure. This was nowhere more apparent than in the point which took the score to 9-5, in which Beloki made Agirre run for sheer life before nonchalantly swiping to ball crosscourt while his rival was totally off the scene. Beloki also showed his prowess at turning defence into attack. For all his inability to impose himself, Agirre fought doggedly and managed to produce an exellent shot which used both walls in an attempt to bamboozle Beloki. Miraculously however, the latter reached it and broke Agirre’s spirit by producing a low crosscourt winner from a seemingly hopeless situation.
Beloki would not have everything his own way and there followed a passage of play in which Agirre showed signs of recovery, reducing his deficit to two points at 11-9. The underdog showed Beloki that he could play him at his own game by manouvering him around the fronton and rendering him out of place on three occasions. He also won a point with a barrelling serve. However, his stoical resistence was not to last and the former champion regained control to take six points without reply. Agirre, while still fighting, appeared now to be more prone to error, failing to retrieve two serves which he could not get under and miscuing two overhead volleys. Although Agirre managed to salvage two further points, the remainder of the match was all about Beloki, who composed the pattern and speed of the match before playing it to perfection. As Beloki showed his prowess in shot making and finishing points with a flourish, Agirre continued to miss when he attempted to volley and hit with unnecessary inaccuracy, a victim of his opponent’s relentless pressure.
This was a job well done by Beloki, who was not flashy but dominant nonetheless. In the fourth round he faces Asier Olaizola, who made the semi finals last year, in an encounter with no clear favourite. While Olaizola will come at Beloki with all guns blazing, his wiles could be his salvation. Beloki has not won a txapela of any kind since 2003; he has a long way to go here before another is in sight but his brand of quiet assurance could serve him well in the coming weeks.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 3-1, 3-5, 11-5, 11-9, 17-9, 17-10, 20-10, 20-11 and 22-11.
Ruben Beloki on top