Titin and a brilliant Merino defeat the invincibles to surge into final
Sunday 8th April, Vitoria-Gasteiz
TITIN III – MERINO II beat OLAIZOLA II – BEROIZ 22-20
A belligerent Titin and a stunning David Merino did the unthinkable on Sunday and defeated Aimar Olaizola and Mikel Beroiz. Nobody else had managed this in the entire tournament, not in fourteen qualifying games or in their first semi-final. The high flying pair did not play badly at Ogueta, indeed an often imperious Aimar came out statistically better than Titin, but they failed to capitalise at key moments and Beroiz in particular was worn down by a scintillating effort from Merino who is scaling the heights of the sport. Their triumph means that the Riojans advance to the final with one match still to spare. Aimar and Beroiz must play off against Xala and Laskurain on Friday for the other place.
Although Titin and Merino took an early narrow lead, it was Aimar and Beroiz who looked to be the more assured as both pairs settled into the game. Up until 10-10 matters looked as close as close could be, although the patterns of the match as a whole were established. Beroiz, a rock throughout qualifying, began to show worrying signs of fragility on his way to several unnecessary errors, some of which appeared almost careless. In contrast, Merino appeared brimming with confidence. He absorbed some searing pressure, returning with jaw dropping ablomb and exerted plenty heat of his own. He was not faultless, but the errors he made tended to be induced rather than of his making.
Aimar was the catalyst as he and Beroiz eked out a lead, going ahead 15-11. He was helped by a handful of mistakes from Titin, the worst of which entailed a point needlessly squandered. However, a brace of uncharacteristic mistakes and another error from Beroiz allowed the Riojans back in. Aimar surged again, and this time one wondered whether the elastic might have snapped for Titin and Merino, but a key error by the great forward on 14-17 handed them the serve back. A 18-14 lead may have been a critical turning point but all of a sudden, one drop fell low and the momentum was lost, the moment had passed. The final phase of the match was utterly nerve ridden. All four made mistakes and all four showed immense skill in turn. The fact that the final two points were ceded to Titin and Merino by errors from Aimar reflects badly on the latter, and perhaps unfairly so. The Goizuetarra did everything he could and objectively played a good match. Unfortunately for him, his partner showed too many flashes of mortality just as Merino reached for the gods.
Titin and Merino’s celebrations were jubilant and utterly deserved. The underdogs have come good in the latter stages of this tournament, finding their form exactly when it matters. For a pair who were forced to struggle so hard to make the last four, reaching the final ahead of Aimar and Beroiz is quite some coup. For the defeated partnership, hitherto untouchable, this is uncharted water; they simply have to win in Bilbao on Friday otherwise their dream is dead in the water. Few would have predicted this scenario, but in the semi-finals, anything can happen.
Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 5-2, 5-5, 7-5, 7-8, 9-8, 9-10, 10-10, 10-11, 11-11, 11-15, 14-15, 14-17, 17-17, 17-18, 18-18, 18-19, 20-19, 20-20, 22-20
Winners/errors: Titin 9/5, Olaizola 9/4, Merino 3/3, Beroiz 3/6
Match time: 85:26 with 34:11 of actual play
Balls hit: 714