Disclaimer: These are not real kids and Prince of Tennis isn't a real sports series. It's mystical, it's samurai-ical, there are no girl managers. So I'm not considering whether or not this is realistic. It's not. But it's pretty damn interesting.
This match has nothing to do with tennis. Kirihara and Kaidoh are both fucking amazing players who keep getting better and better. But we already knew that. Inui and Kaidoh have a bond of trust that is good and noble and pure and true. But we already knew that. (Not that I'm complaining about having it reinforced!)
This match is Inui vs Yanagi and, unlike their previous match, it's about which one is stronger.
All of the tennis action has been between Kirihara and Kaidoh, where Konomi, employing a subtlety worthy of George Lucas, shows us that Kaidoh has matured but Kirihara has not. Kaidoh is much better at controlling his anger than before, he is more inclined to reason than to bash his head against a wall, he is a sportsman. Kirihara, though, is still childish and cruel.
(It's interesting that Kirihara has lost to both Ryoma and Fuji and is still unchanged. But Fuji's non-transformative tennis is a subject for another day.)
Kirihara goes into freaky evil demon mode and targets Inui, beating him to a bloody pulp. This finally breaks Kaidoh down and triggers his own demon mode (which did seem strange -- I would have expected him to go berserk and jump over the net and whale on Kirihara instead).
But Inui stops Kaidoh. Yanagi did not stop Kirihara. Yukimura did not stop Kirihara. Whatever the outcome of the match (and I can't imagine that Inui will be able to continue), Seigaku has won and Rikkai has lost. Inui is stronger than Yanagi.
If Kirihara is still like this, it's not his own fault, it's the fault of his teammates, his senpais. It's their responsibility to correct and socialize him. And clearly, even if they tried, they failed.
Rikkai has an interesting pragmatism — always win, Rikkaidai — that isn't entirely at odds with the whole shounen sports spirit. Or at least until now. But they've gone too far. I'm reminded of the eeeevil coach in H2, talking to his eeeevil pitcher: I don't want players who love baseball; I want players who love to win.
I'm actually deeply disappointed. I didn't want Rikkai to come off like this. I didn't want Yanagi to look so bad. And I wanted more for Kirihara.
But Inui and Kaidoh: your love is true, so very true, and ever shall be so. Your whole story arc, from the first moment I saw you, has moved me so much. You are so weird and so beautiful and you make me cry.
Like now. ♥