Friday 9th March, Anglet
TITIN III – MERINO II beat XALA – LASKURAIN 22-18
Titin and Merino seized a crucial point last night against Xala, the darling of the Iparralde fans, and Laskurain. The Pairs Championship has reached the stage where every solitary point seems to count for double as the race to fill the three remaining semi-final places reaches fever pitch. Xala and Laskurain have blown hot and cold in this tournament but on paper have the quality to go all the way; when they have looked good they have looked very classy indeed. Titin and Merino are also brimming with potential as a pair but with them much depends on whether or not Titin is on song. Merino has seemed ever more assured as the weeks have gone by, but his fervent young talent needs the support of a forward partner firing on all cylinders. While Titin did not hit the highest of the heights here, his refusal to lie down coupled with the ability of Merino to rise to the challenge again and again were enough to take them home.
At first, it seemed as if Xala’s cool nonchalance would trump Titin’s hustle. The Manomanista Champion looked imperious in the first few rallies, showing the patience and finishing skill to out think his opponents and strike killer blows. The Riojans began to collect points in the wake of a long ball from Merino which forced Laskurain high and they stayed in touch, never more than four points behind but seemingly lacking the sustained pressure to draw level. However, with Titin and Merino 9-13 down, the complexion of the match began a subtle shift; within five points they were level. Titin kick-started this crucial phase of play with a txoko winner before pressure from both parties resulted in Xala hitting low and then three errors from Laskurain who had hitherto looked solid as a rock. They extended their lead to two when Titin beautifully out-manoeuvred everyone to set up an easy gantxo winner.
The momentum swing was however far from terminal. Titin’s brilliance should have given him the next point too, but having got himself out of a massive hole, he was found bafflingly lacking when attempting an easy winning tap to the corner. When Merino hit low, it was level again at 15-15. Xala reminded his opponents of his towering presence with a sakez winner to reclaim the lead, but Merino pulled things back with a rebote which left Laskurain cursing. Again the Riojans went two ahead and again they were pulled back; at 18-18 it looked as if it might go down to the wire. However, Titin fought on, putting a volley over Laskurain’s head. Thereafter, Xala’s cool deserted him and three errors on the bounce handed the game to his fighting opponents, two players who never say die.
Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 4-1, 4-2, 5-2, 5-3, 6-3, 6-4, 7-4, 7-6, 10-6, 10-7, 11-7, 11-9, 13-9, 13-14, 13-15, 15-15, 16-15, 16-16, 16-18, 18-18, 18-22.
Winners/errors: Xala 8/4, Titin 10/4, Laskurain 0/5, Merino 3/6
Match time: 1:25.22, with 38:58 of actual play
Balls hit: 790