Saturday 26th December, Atano III, San Sebastian
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat OLAIZOLA II 22-16
The BBK Masters is the last hurrah of the pelota year, a jamboree in which the finest pelotaris of the past twelve months play for pride and a big cheque. As befits a tournament which aims to crown a ‘master’, the year’s final delivered a game between the best of the best, Juan Martinez de Irujo and Aimar Olaizola. Time after time this year, these two supreme competitors have fought each other but Irujo has held sway on the biggest stages, defeating Aimar in both the pairs and Manomanista finals. Aimar redressed the balance in the summer, displaying scintillating form in the merry-go-round of festivals, but who would have the last word of 2009?
From the off, this match had the makings of an epic. It was Olaizola who held sway in the early skirmishes. In taking out a 2-8 lead, the formidable Goizuetan offered a tactical masterclass. He aimed to expose Irujo against the high ball, repeatedly taking his shots fast and early, and striking the frontis high to pin his rival back. When that tactic did not produce an immediate result, he took the rally to the front of the court where he proved able to fox Irujo just as easily. Frustration surely led to two wild and wide strikes by the Manomanista champion on 2-3 and 2-4. Irujo tried to play Aimar at his own game on 2-7 but overcooked it, hitting the side wall high.
Aimar looked poised and polished but he then proceeded to let a determined Irujo back into the game, losing six points in a row to produce a tie at eight apiece. The first two of these points stemmed from Olaizola errors but he was then forced to give way to some brilliance by his opponent who had clearly employed his radar and found his range with dosparedes and drop winners. His serve, too, looked ominous. Irujo’s run ended when he hit too high to cede the lead once again, and Aimar surged forwards to a 9-13 lead, served up by a mixture of winners and Irujo errors. Again however, the fighter from Ibero clawed his way back and stalemate was reached at 15-15. The tensionwas palpable both in the demeanour of the protagonists and in the fever pitch of the large Atano III crowd; somebody had to give.
Whether a loss of focus from Aimar or a gear shift from Irujo provided the turning point is hard to say. When Irujo lauched the ball over Aimar’s head to take the lead at 16-15 however, one sensed a sea change, encapsulated in a hard won point which Irujo may have wanted more. There was little Aimar could have done about the two excellent serves which followed, both long enough to allow Irujo nonchalant drop winners as his opponent raced forwards from the return of serve, but in the next point one sensed that he may have lost his way; Aimar clearly thought he had the point with a drop but he was far too casual and underestimated the speed of Irujo. What could easily have been 18-16 if Aimar had chosen to go wide became 19-15, and one sensed Irujo had him in his death stare. One more error from Irujo notwithstanding, it was one way traffic from here on in, Irujo even managing to play Aimar at his earlier game of hitting high and long. When Aimar failed to scoop a low ball from the floor it was game over.
This was a fitting result. Doubtless Aimar would have wished to put an end to his 2009 habit of finishing second in major finals but Irujo is the year’s number one and this prize was the cherry on his considerable cake. With the exception of his blip in the Cuatro y Medio final where he lost out to Sebastien Gonzalez, Irujo has been nigh on unstoppable this year and has played at a pace, and with a verve, that barely seems possible. The champion once again proved that against even the toughest opponent, he has the ability to call on an extra gear, fuelled both by raw talent and by imagination. Zorionak Juan Martinez de Irujo, txapeldun.
Scoring sequence: 2-0/2-2/ 2-8/ 8-8 / 9-13/ 10-13/ 14-14/ 15-15/ 16-15/ 20-16/ 22-16
Image from: Gara