Sunday 24th April, Ezcaray
MERINO II beat ALBISU 22-21
There was a large and vocal crowd in Ezcaray to witness the Manomanista debut of homeboy David Merino. Merino’s rise has been swift, from his obvious nerves at the start of the Pairs tournament, to his scintillating semi final performances which nearly netted a place in the final. Much is expected of the young Riojan, who plays with a classical elegance and desperation to succeed. The fans had already witnessed David’s brother Miguel, and Titin, take a sound beating in the opening pairs match, which perhaps made them desire all the more a performance from the younger Merino brother. In his way stood another young charge, the softly spoken but assured and potent Jon Ander Albisu, also playing his first Manomanista game. The two delivered a battle royal, but ultimately, Merino’s tifosi left satisfied.
At first, it was all Merino. He started in with a whirlwind, netting the first two points with service winners, before taking advantage of four errors, some more excusable than others, from Albisu. However, Albisu found his touch from 0-6 down, forcing Merino wide with a cleverly angled ball from left to right. Serving with his own balls, he came storming back, adding nine points with no reply. He managed two service winners of his own, and bossed points with assurance, leaving Merino cursing a trifle petulantly. The run came to an end when Albisu hit low, attempting a forceful drive, and his rival drew level at 9-9, his composure returning. There followed a period of stalemate, as they found themselves tied at both ten and eleven apiece. Albisu once again eased ahead, opening up a three point gap at 14-11, and although Merino clawed his way back to 14-14, he re-established it at 17-14. Albisu looked to be the player with the aces, with more options up his sleeve and, outwardly at least, a cooler head. However, what Merino lacks in outward calm, he more than makes up for in fire and drive, and once again he came back, saving a match point before seizing the win for himself at the first time of asking.
It is a shame that a player with such potential must go out so soon, for Albisu played with real class at times. He is a bright prospect, and this narrow loss will not diminish that. However, it is the often mercurial Merino who proceeds to the quarter finals, where he will meet Aimar Olaizola, the recent shining star of the Pairs Championship. He will need all the fire he can muster there, for Aimar’s tail is very much up.
Scoring sequence: 0-6/ 6/ 9-6/ 9/ 10/ 11/ 14-11/ 14/ 18-147 18/ 18-20/ 20/ 21-20/ 21-22
Image from La Rioja, by J. Herreros