Friday 2nd March, Mutilva
ARRETXE II – BEGINO beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BARRIOLA 22-15
Finally, in Mutilva on Friday night, the unthinkable happened: Iker Arretxe and Aritz Begino broke their duck. It has been a torrid and unfortunate tournament for the bottom pair. Many questioned their coupling in the first place; Begino, last year’s winner, denied his chance to defend his title with Aimar Olaizola and paired with debutante Arretxe, who seemed a questionable selection. Morale appeared low from the outset, Begino a shadow of his former rock-solid self and Arretxe floundering in the top tier. They looked in the first week to have a modicum of promise, scoring eighteen points against Bengoetxea and Apraiz, but a 22-5 drubbing by the miraculous Olaizola and Beroiz set them on their ever decreasing spiral of ten losses in ten matches. It is true that this week Irujo and Barriola looked riper for the picking than ever before. Aspe’s flagship pairing was once viewed as unbeatable but all by Olaizola and Beroiz, a shoe in for the semi-finals, but as the tournament has taken its course they have sunk alarmingly. Irujo’s untimely mumps may be partially to blame for their recent losses, but the cold hard facts are that they now sit sixth and have something of a crisis on their hands with three weeks to go. Even so, a win for Arretxe and Begino seemed little more than a pipe dream, but thanks to an iron will, an indifferent Irujo and an unusually lacklustre Barriola, win they did.
The game went the way of the underdogs from the word go. They eased to leads of 1-5 and 2-7 thanks mainly to four errors in a row from the reds, three from Barriola and one from Irujo. Arretxe, no doubt buoyed by the confidence of a lead, then proved that he could win points of his own volition with a very clever dipping ball to an unsuspecting Irujo’s feet and a sakez. Irujo and Barriola looked rattled, but their supporters no doubt refrained from gloom; Irujo is at his most dangerous when coming from behind. His traditional comeback appeared in the works when he capitalised on a misjudged cross court shot from Arretxe to seize the serve and cut the lead with a point of pure authority. Begino then made his first two errors, hitting high on 6-8 and 7-8, and miscued from long on 9-8 to give the favourites a two point lead. Game over? It was tempting to think so.
However, Arretxe and Begino had failed to read the assumed script and pulled themselves level again at 11-11. In the point which brought about parity, Irujo fell awkwardly in an attempt to reach an Arretxe gantxo and looked briefly in a little distress, holding his side. He played on and while appearing physically fine, he was noticeably in a less than perfect place mentally. He simply could not impose himself on his supposedly less talented opposite number and although he managed ten winners in the match, the errors continued to flow. In the point on 11-12, he did everything right in inducing the short return from Begino to set up an easy winner, but then missed the txoko. He initially used his anger to good effect, producing an excellent gantxo in the next play, but four errors in the next five points proved that his wheel s had become irreparably detached. Even with Barriola on song, which he was not for most of the game, there was nothing he could have done to lift him. For Arretxe and Begino, the belief never wavered and they maintained the pressure necessary for their opponents to implode. Once the gap was established, the win was a formality; pride salvaged for the serial losers, the waning super-pair dismantled.
Scoring sequence: 1-0/ 1-1 / 1-2/ 1-5/ 2-5/ 2-7/ 5-7/ 5-8/ 10-8/ 10-9/ 11-9/ 11-13/ 12-13/ 12-18/ 14-18/ 14-20/ 15-20/ 15-22
Winners/errors: Irujo 10/6, Arretxe 10/2, Barriola 0/4, Begino 2/3
Match time: 64 minutes with 28 minutes of actual play
Balls hit: 586