Friday 19th August, San Sebastian
XALA – LASKURAIN beat OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO 22-18
The first San Sebastian semi-final ended with a far tighter score line than might have been expected. Xala and Laskurain proceeded to today’s final at the expense of Olaizola II and Begino, but what had looked like an easy win was momentarily put in jeopardy by a comeback which almost gave the reigning Pairs Champions licence to dream. The early part of the game was close, with the pairs tied at 1-1, 2-2, 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6. Both forwards looked as if they were shaping up for an epic duel. Four of Olaizola and Begino’s six points in this spell came from the former’s brutal airez, which he seemed able to sling into open space at will. Xala replied to his virtuosity with some wonderful tactical play, showing himself capable of wrong footing Olaizola, and countered his opponent’s venom with some most improbable defensive efforts. Begino made a brace of errors and Laskurain one, but generally speaking, both defenders seemed the perfect foils for their attacking forwards.
However, Xala and Laskurain broke the deadlock. They edged ahead when Begino was rendered completely baffled by a ball he imagined Aimar would take. Xala’s two txoko winners, separated by a missed attempt at the same shot, gave them a 9-7 lead, and they added eight points without reply, sweeping to 17-7 and the brink of triumph. Xala was the main instigator of this run of points, drawing gasps from the crowd with the pace and precision of many of his winners, whether cross court or into the corner. However, the real difference here arguably lay with the defenders; as Laskurain grew in stature, continuing his scintillating form from Zarautz, Begino looked increasingly lacklustre and gave Aimar, who only committed his first error with the score at 7-16, little room for manoeuvre. With an attack dulled, and Xala seemingly able to retrieve anything, the game looked to be up.
The momentum of the pelota match can change dramatically with the serve, and the blue pair won it back with a cross court winner from Aimar which, for once, left Xala reeling. He took the next two points in addition, hitting to the corner with total command. It seemed as if the sun had finally begun to shine on the trailing pair when Begino finally found some magic and struck the rebote, much to Laskurain’s visible chagrin. 11-17 seemed a little healthier; another few points and the opening was there. However, the advantage was lost once again when Aimar rushed into a txoko and hit it low. His fury with himself was plain to see. Begino let the deficit out further with an inexplicable miscue, but they came back to within five with a deceptively easy swipe into a clear court from Aimar, another rebote from Begino and a rare error from Laskurain. A ball from Xala into Aiimar’s body and a slip from Begino gave the reds match point at 21-14, but still the blues fought, two Aimar winners and two Laskurain errors bringing the score to 21-18. However, the dream comeback was ended with a typically clinical airez from Xala.
Xala and Laskurain were the better pairing for the majority of the match, and made hay while Begino suffered a lengthy lapse. Xala barely put a foot wrong, hitting 12 winners to 2 errors. Aimar managed 10 winners to 2 errors, signalling a solid evening from the multi txapela winner, but one in which he failed to break through Xala’s excellent defences for sufficiently long periods. Laskurain, until the very end, played a solid and astute game, acting as a near perfect foil for Xala’s venom.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 2-4, 3-4, 5-4, 5-5, 6-5, 6-6, 8-6, 8-7, 17-7, 17-11, 19-11, 19-14, 21-14, 21-18, 22-18.
Winners/errors: Xala 12/2, Olaizola 10/2, Laskurain 3/4, Begino 2/5
Match time: 1:04.16, with 24:04 playing time
Balls hit: 488
Saturday 20th August, San Sebastian
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – ZUBIETA beat BENGOETXEA VI – BEROIZ 22-21
Irujo and Zubieta will join Xala and Laskurain in the final tonight, having beaten Bengoetxea and Beroiz by the narrowest possible margin on Saturday. The Asegarce pair was ahead for almost the entire tense encounter, though their lead never grew to more than four points. They were tracked closely by Irujo and Zubieta, who showed their nerve at the death, coming from 18-20 and saving a match point to draw level, before seizing the decider for a 22-21 win after 82 minutes and 609 strikes of the ball. The match was partially overshadowed by the consequences of moisture on the fronton, which made a noticeable difference to the stability and confidence of the players from 18-16 onwards. Atano II has suffered and overcome this problem in the past, and investigations will surely commence. Happily though, all four players emerged unscathed.
Scoring sequence: 2-1/ 5-1/ 5-2/ 5/ 7-5/ 7-6/ 8-6/ 8/ 9/ 10-9/ 13-9/ 13-10/ 14-11/ 15/ 17-15/ 17-16/ 18-16/ 18/ 20-18/ 20/ 20-21/ 21/ 21-22
Winners/errors: Bengoetxea 8/6, Irujo 8/4, Beroiz 0/6, Zubieta 1/5
Images from soloespolitica.com, Deia