Friday 26th June
22:20 (CEST) APEZETXEA – LASA III v URIARTE – ARRUTI
23:40 (CEST) MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BEROIZ v XALA – GONI III
Friday 26th June
22:20 (CEST) APEZETXEA – LASA III v URIARTE – ARRUTI
23:40 (CEST) MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BEROIZ v XALA – GONI III
There are two rather tasty looking matches being broadcast on the web on Friday (which is today or tomorrow depending on where in the world you are!). The first pits ASPE’s two recent debutants, Cecilio and Ibai Perez, against each other. Both won their first professional matches but one must leave a blot on his scoresheet this time round. The second game features the 1st and 2nd division Manomanista champions, Martinez de Irujo and Beroiz, playing together.
Friday 19th June
22:20 (CEST) ARITZ LASA – CECILIO v IBAI PEREZ – ARRUTI
23:40 (CEST) MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BEROIZ v GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN
In a press release, ASPE report that Abel Barriola, who has undergone surgery to repair a cruciate ligament in his right knee, will travel to the International Rehabilitation Centre for Sport (CIRD) in Valencia in an attempt to return to competition as quickly as possible. The defender from Leitza intends to spend the next two months there, undergoing daily sessions in both the morning and the afternoon. In addition to assisting with recovery work, the staff of the CIRD will work to ensure that he loses no muscle tone through a combination of closely monitored exercise in the gym and the pool. He will also undergo manual therapy sessions and electrotherapy in the hope of returning to the fronton in top condition.
ASPE predicted that Barriola would be out of competition for around six months in the wake of his injury; there is no word of any revised timeframe as yet.
Friday 12th June, Las Llamas, Sestao
IBAI PEREZ – PASCUAL beat ARITZ LASA – EULATE 22-19
ASPE have been shopping for new young blood and on Friday in Sestao, their second recent acquisition made his eagerly awaited professional debut. He had a hard act to follow after the convincing win pulled off by the first new pro, Cecilio, two weeks ago, but Ibai Perez delivered with cream on top. In front of a large and enthusiastic crowd in his home town, the young forward played with incredible tenacity and verve to humble a quality pair in Aritz Lasa and Eulate. They say the young have no nerves and of this Ibai is living proof.
In a match which lasted nearly an hour and a half, almost every point was a game in miniature. The first play continued for a lifetime and Ibai Perez was kept waiting for his first contact with the pelota by his partner, Inigo Pascual, who took on the point almost singlehandedly. However, when he did enter the breach, he made his presence felt, immediately overcoming Aritz Lasa in the forward tussle when his pressure caused his opponent to misfire with a hook. However, despite this excellent opening salvo from the pair in blue, the first half of the match was all about Aritz and Eulate, who despite never appearing streets ahead, possessed the edge in finishing power. From 0-1, they took the score to 4-1 and then 7-2 thanks to some solid serving from Aritz and an unfortunate error from the debutante who had a gargantuan point at his mercy before hitting inexplicably low. However, from this juncture, Pascual and Ibai Perez began to claw their way back. Two errors from Aritz reduced the deficit to three before another monstrous point gave Ibai Perez in particular a huge fillip. It was an excellent example of doubles play from all concerned; Pascual was peppered with one long ball after another but returned with interest and his young partner flung himself in all directions for the cause before flooring Eulate with a masterful drop. The apprentice had suddenly turned boss.
The lead of Aritz Lasa and Eulate grew once more to five points at 13-8, due in large part to three errors from Pascual, who hit wide and low in succession, before missing the ball altogether, and a slip and a winner from Ibai and Aritz respectively. In this early portion of the game, it was Eulate who held the key to red control, providing a solid and dependable platform from which Aritz Lasa could attack. Nobody could have imagined that the wheels would fall off in such dramatic fashion. Eulate, extraordinarily, committed five errors in a row, hitting both high, low and short. Ibai Perez’s pressure and strong service are an explanation of sorts, but Eulate seemed to have lost the metaphorical plot. When Ibai struck a stinging txoko winner to take the lead for the first time, the crowd raised the roof. The local boy was on fire and would never be headed again. The ‘home’ team’s lead never grew to more than three, but so assured did they look that the result seemed sealed. Eulate, although he improved, made a further six errors in the match and this was extremely telling, but nothing must be taken away from the triumph of Ibai and Pascual, who fought like warriors for every scrap which came their way. The point which closed the lead of the eventual winners to a single point at 18-19 was emblematic of a match where every rally was a tussle to the death. It lasted 4.40 minutes and 91 strikes of the ball before Aritz Lasa finally out-manoeuvred Ibai Perez to take the spoils. But this was transient triumph for Aritz and Eulate; they won the battle but Pascual and his rookie partner won the war.
Ibai Perez, on the strength of his performance here, is a tantalising prospect. He is fast and bustling, somewhat in the manner of Oinatz Bengoetxea, and hits with abandon and a noted lack of fear. This was a tense, close match, where almost every point hung on a knife edge, yet the young forward never lost focus, displaying a maturity far in advance of his tender years. ASPE must nurture him with care.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 4-1, 4-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-5, 8-5, 10-5, 10-7, 11-7, 11-8, 12-8, 13-8, 13-9, 13-16, 14-16, 15-16, 15-17, 15-18, 16-18, 16-19, 17-19, 18-19, 19-19, 19-20, 19-22.
Tonight’s second match on ETB Sat sees the debut of new ASPE pro Ibai Perez. The young forward will be paired with the experienced head of Inigo Pascual, as they take on Aritz Lasa and Eulate. The preceeding match is an appetising singles encounter between two young talents.
Friday 12th June
22:20 (CEST) BERASLAUZE IX v OLAZABAL
23:35 (CEST) ARITZ LASA – EULATE v IBAI PEREZ – PASCUAL
Live on ETB-Sat https://www.eitb.eus/television/etb-sat
Tomorrow (Saturday) sees a second young player make his debut, this time for Asegarce. 20 year old forward Mikel Urrutikoetxea makes his first appearance alongside Oier Mendizabal at the Arrigorriaga Festival, where they will take on Arretxe II and Begino.
We wish them both the best of luck!
Asegarce have announced that Oinatz Bengoetxea will be forced to sit on the sidelines for the next two months due to a fracture in the fourth finger of his left hand. The accident occurred in a doubles match at Labrit on Saturday which had to be abandoned after fourteen points. Bengoetxea will undergo an operation in Vitoria-Gasteiz on Thursday.
Saturday’s match at the Arrigorriaga Festival, which will mark the professional debut of Urrutikoetxea, will now take place without the 2008 Manomanista champion, who is likely to be replaced by Ruben Beloki. Beloki will play with Arretxe II against the debutante, who will be paired with Oier Mendizabal.
Sunday 7th June
Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat OLAIZOLA II 22-12
This match, the Manomanista final, the crowning point of the pelota mano year, had all the makings of a classic. In the blue corner was Juan Martinez de Irujo, the whirlwind from Ibero who had swept all before him in the year up until this point. He was the standout player of the pairs championship, where he and Fernando Goni got their hands on the prize and had obliterated all comers in reaching this showpiece final, slaying defending champion Bengoetxea VI, Xala and Gonzalez with a sweep of his arm and the eyes of a tiger. In red was his arch rival Aimar Olaizola, the cool assassin from Goizueta. Aimar had run Irujo close in the pairs and while not at his brilliant best this year, is never a man to be brushed aside. His route to the final was a little less conventional, proceeding as he did after only one match following the respective withdrawals of Barriola and Beloki, but his steely gaze which has struck fear into the hearts of so many was firmly fixed on victory. Irujo and Aimar are by far and away the greatest assets of their opposing empresas, their presence raising the box office takings of any given festival by at least 5000 euros, and Atano III sold out within the hour for this seminal match. However, when their eyes met, amidst the chants and the cheers, Aimar’s steel proved no match for the passion and power of the rampant Irujo.
Irujo’s victory, by 22 points to 12, was a demonstration of physical might. In the opening exchanges, the pair seemed evenly matched and battled toe to toe. Irujo served first but Aimar immediately wrestled the initiative from his rival, taking the serve from him and going up 2-0. He looked sharp and determined, fist pumping and brimming with intensity; all the worries about his lack of match preparation seemed unfounded. He continued to live with his rival, showing power and verve in the sotomano and serve, and displaying tantalising glimpses of his tactical intelligence in the way he moved Irujo back and forth. The Asegarce star found himself ahead at 4-3 and 5-4. However, any slight edge he may have held was slowly but surely whittled away as the hurricane of Irujo gradually picked up pace. Aimar, as a result of the withdrawals of both his quarter final and semi final opponents, was inevitably somewhat short of competitive preparation, and the warmer Irujo’s engine became, the more it showed. For a time, Aimar valiantly hung onto the coat tails of his opponent, pulling himself from 9-14 down to 12-14, but the remaining two point gap could not be bridged.
Irujo knew that a frenetic match would suit him better than Aimar and as he slipped into top gear, the pace rose accordingly. From 12-14, the Navarrese champion won a string of eight points to make the title his. Aimar, though he tried, could not live with him. As the panic became apparent in his normally serene demeanour, Aimar strove to slow the match by calling a string of time outs to allow him recovery. Even when an official break was not in progress, he paused to speak to his brother Asier on the sidelines, to have a drink and to catch his breath. Irujo meanwhile, sat for as little time as was possible before returning to the battle field to keep both his mind and his limbs warm. Body language told the story of who was the more comfortable, both in the course of play and out of it.
As a display of dominance and unquenchable power, this was a match for the ages, but as a contest it fell well short of expectations. Aimar, twice champion here and conqueror of Irujo back in December’s Cuatro y Medio final, was a shadow of what he can be; at no point was Irujo forced to feel the pain of his mighty left arm and his ability to read and change the flow of play was all but absent. He has clear excuses in his enforced five week break from competitive play, and the lingering effects of a troublesome right shoulder, but nobody can argue with the right of the champion to lift his prize. Aimar was outhit, out thought and overpowered by a man who can truly take his place among the greats, and left the arena of play drained of all his reserves. This is Irujo’s third Manomanista title, and his seventh major title in all, at the age of 27. It is the third championship final of his extraordinary season and his second txapela. If Irujo continues in this vein, how many more may follow? The pure life force that is Juan Martinez de Irujo, pelotari supreme, shows no sign of abating.
In preparation for the Manomanista final on Sunday, we take a close look at the two protagonists, arguably the greatest brace of pelotaris the 21st century has seen. The spotlight turns first on Olaizola II.
29 year old Aimar Olaizola hails from Goizueta, in north-eastern Navarre, where Basque tradition dies hard and where Euskara dominates. Bars in the small town are awash with photographs of the local hero and his signed shirts, along with those of his older brother Asier, also a top player, but Aimar it seems is still very much the boy next door. In an interview before his last Manomanista final in 2007, Goizueta’s parish priest recalled the pelotari as a “good boy” who always knew his catechism better than his teachers, and who has since remained humble and close to his roots despite his celebrity status. As a child he had a reputation for composure and level headedness on the fronton, in contrast to Asier who was rather more given to shows of temper. Despite being one of the weakest back court players at his club as a junior, his technique, temperament and close range power marked him out as a pelotari of searing potential.
Aimar turned professional in 1998 after an impressive amateur career which included wins in the Spanish Individual under 20 Championship and the Navarrese Pairs Championship. Within a year, he had won his first major tournament, the 2nd Division Manomanista Championship, and in 2002 he broke into the big time with the first of his four Cuatro y Medio txapelas. Only the great Retegi II has won as many. In addition to his domination in this form of the game, Aimar has also been Manomanista champion on two occasions, in 2005 and 2007, beating Irujo and Barriola respectively in the finals. In addition, he and Oier Mendizabal were pairs champions in 2008. He has also been a losing finalist in major championships on five occasions, meaning that in the 26 major championships since 2002, he has reached the last stage in almost half.
Aimar has faced Irujo in four major finals and their record stands at two apiece. The last of these came in the Cuatro y Medio final in December where the Goizuetarra triumphed 22-17. Historically, they are pretty evenly matched. However, the circumstances which surround Sunday’s Manomanista final are somewhat out of the ordinary in that Aimar has reached this stage after playing only one game. Abel Barriola’s knee injury, which occurred prior to the tournament, meant Aimar was only to have played two qualification matches anyway, but when Ruben Beloki sprained his thumb in winning his quarter final, the path was open for him to proceed to the final after a single victory, against Urberuaga. This chain of events has left Aimar worrying short of match practice. In his four matches since the pairs final he has not lost, but he has not played for five weeks. By all accounts his training has been going well, but he must surely worry about his lack of competitive speed in the face of Irujo, who is quite capable of blasting anyone off a fronton given half the chance. A major question mark hangs over his head in this his 13th major final, for nobody has any idea as to the state of his form.
The other niggling doubt concerns the state of his long term fitness. Since last summer he has played with tendinitis in his right shoulder, and this ailment appeared to have dampened his attack somewhat in the pairs championship earlier in the year. After the final, which he and Mendizabal II lost (to Irujo and Goni III), Asegarce spoke of a long term rehabilitation programme to be built around competition. He cannot afford to be below his best on Sunday. However, Aimar Olaizola is a great champion, and champions have a way of pulling out the stops when it matters. While Irujo will head to Atano III as favourite, he cannot afford to underestimate his rival. Aimar is a man for the big occasion. So often he has turned a match around when all has seemed lost and that never say die attitude is what marks him out. He is a master tactician who possesses an uncanny knack for reading a game and changing his style accordingly, and also has the power to dictate the pace of a match so that it suits what he wishes to do. Added to his sporting intelligence comes an armoury of physical weapons. His cuatro y medio victories are testament to his power close to the frontis and his left arm is especially feared. Given half an opening, Aimar can and will twist the knife with utter ruthlessness. His form is an enigma and his state of match readiness is open to question, but in any situation this Basque boy next door is never to be taken lightly.
Friday 5th June
Festival Adarraga, Logrono
22:30 (CET) CAPELLAN – CECILIO v DEL REY – MERINO
23:50 (CET) TITIN III – PASCUAL v XALA – GOÑI III
Live on ETB-Sat https://www.eitb.eus/television/etb-sat
Atano III, San Sebastian, 18:00 (CET) OLAIZOLA II v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO
Live on ETB-Sat: https://www.eitb.eus/television/etb-sat
At 6pm on Sunday, the world of pelota mano will stand still. The Basque Country over, time and place will become an irrelevance as fans young and old turn their minds and hearts to a world within a world, a world bounded by green walls and baying crowds, banners and television cameras. On Sunday, the two men who have ruled and defined pelota mano in the 21st century compete for the holy grail of their sport, the Manomanista title, in San Sebastian. Both Aimar Olaizola and Juan Martinez de Irujo have been here before and know the sweet taste of success but each will lay their entire being on the line in the quest for txapela number three. It is the dream final; since the turn of the century, 28 major championships have been held, and between them, Aimar and Irujo have won 13 of them, this despite the presence of other towering figures of the modern game such as Titin III and perennial bridesmaid Barriola. Their qualification for the Manomanista final means that they have reached every major final this season, Aimar having beaten Irujo in the Cuatro y Medio final in December and Irujo (with Goni III) having got the better of Aimar (with Mendizabal II) in the pairs final in the spring. It is divine justice that they should meet again.
The defining duel of our era continues on the greatest of all stages; if you watch only one match of pelota mano this year, let this be it.