Monthly Archives: June 2010

Manomanista Final: the Coronation of King Irujo

Sunday 20th June, Vitoria-Gasteiz


The Manomanista Final is always an occasion and this edition proved no exception to the rule. A massive crowd turned out in the Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz to witness two pelotaris at the pinnacle of their sport fight it out for the greatest prize of them all, and they lifted the roof. A deafening roar greeted the protagonists, which gave way to chanting, singing, the playing of instruments and the waving of banners, one of which, bearing a huge image of Martinez de Irujo, measured several metres across. The spectacle began with a special presentation by Irujo to Basque mountaineer Edurne Pasaban, and once the heroine had been honoured, it was time to crown a hero.

The match began with Xala, perhaps the marginal underdog, on top. Before reigning champion Irujo had had time to draw breath, the man from Lekuine was 4-0 up and on cruise control. Irujo’s first error, in the very first point, suggested tension, as he hit a highly speculative cross court winner attempt well low. Xala’s impressive serve, the backbone of so much of his success in 2010, unfurled itself as he won the next point with a gantxo, set up by his initial delivery. Irujo then hit high and wide from the next two Xala serves, the first long and the second cheekily short. However, Irujo marshaled his senses and fought back with a vengeance. He took his first point of the final in commanding fashion with a spiraling ball over the head of his rival, and backed this up with a txoko, to suggest his engine had begun to fire. On 3-4, the unease returned for a fleeting moment as he pushed his serve long, but as if wishing to banish this blemish with immediacy, he chose the next point to demonstrate his emerging dominance in open play. He retrieved a seemingly excellent gantxo from Xala, then survived a barrage of high balls, before returning a txoko with interest to force his opponent wide. With a service winner in the next play, the score stood at 5-5.

It was in the next passage of the game that Irujo asserted his mastery, and drew slowly but surely away from Xala. Three winners, a crosscourt and two txokos gave him daylight for the first time, with a score of 8-5. Xala miscued an overhead volley in the next point to make his lead four. Xala took a point back with a wonderfully worked sequence of shots ending in a killer txoko, but again the defending champion stepped on the gas, moving from 9-6 to 12-6 as he really let fly. Xala perhaps sensed that a move needed to be made to avoid reaching the point of no return, and gave his fans a glimmer of hope in the next three points, taking perfect advantage his own selected balls with two service winners. At only 9-12 behind, the left hander was still very much in the match.

However, Irujo changed gear and was never seen again. Two successive errors from Xala gave him the boost he needed to charge for home, and he wasted little time in doing so. Xala increasingly took risks in order to rein the champion elect back, but luck was not on his side, and he increasingly found the fronton too small for the angles he needed to get around the tiger-like Irujo. Part of the frustration of playing Irujo is his ability to defend from almost any position and any predicament. Time and again one assumes that balls will beat him, and somehow, time and again, he gets there, omnipresent in the manner of Rafael Nadal on the tennis court. For Xala he proved an insurmountable wall. Not content with chasing down and profiting from everything thrown at him, Irujo’s serve now started to ignite with two unreturnable missiles in quick succession. With the score at 19-10, the gulf could not be bridged. Xala, renowned for his calm head and his impassive control, seemed powerless, unusually lacklustre and on the edge of survival. Irujo gave him two gifts, allowing Xala to draw within seven points, but in reality this was meagre consolation. A wild, wide and desperate throw of the dice from Xala handed Irujo match point, and the winning blow was struck with the vanquished on his knees, both physically and in spirit.

In the end, the statistics told the story. Irujo struck an incredible 17 winners to only five errors, all but five of them coming in open play. Xala managed a mere eight winners, six of which came from serves. Xala has relied heavily on his serve throughout this tournament and until today, his strength in this department has proved more than enough to grant him dominance, but pelota becomes a whole new ball game when Irujo enters the equation. Xala will surely be disappointed tonight, but in time he will reflect on an excellent championship, in which he soared to the form of his life. He is still one of the two best players of the year, and his demise here was due only to a multiple champion with the bit firmly between his teeth. For Irujo, now a four time Manomanista champion, greatness beckons. At only 28 years of age, his playing colleagues must dread the grip he can exert on the sport for years to come. Irujo, jubilant, shared his triumph with his supporters, his girlfriend and their tiny baby daughter, to whom he dedicated the win; for the man from Ibero, new father and newly reinstated king of the fronton, it has been quite a year.

Scoring sequence: 0-4, 1-4, 3-4, 3-5, 9-5, 9-6, 10-6, 11-6, 12-6, 12-9, 15-9, 15-10, 20-10, 20-13, 22-13.

Winners: Irujo 17, Xala 8

Service winners: Irujo 5, Xala 6

Errors: Irujo 5, Xala 5

Manomanista Final: Irujo v Xala for the ultimate prize

The eyes of the pelota world will alight on Ogueta, in Vitoria-Gasteiz, tomorrow evening for the greatest, most important, and most prestigious match of the year, the Manomanista Final. The eight top Manistas have fought it out for the past two months, each determined to reach the apogee of the sport, but the final has space for only two. Martinez de Irujo or Xala? The multiple winner or the player of 2010? Tomorrow will decide.

There are some that say the early stages of this year’s tournament were a let down, and it is true that Group B ended up weaker than was hoped. The first match in that group saw the catastrophic knee injury to two time winner Aimar Olaizola, who is unlikely to return before 2011. This undoubtedly gave Patxi Ruiz a helpful leg up for the rest of the group stages. The second big name to fall was the Cuatro y Medio champion Sebastien Gonzalez, a wonderful winner over Martinez de Irujo last December. He still suffers from hand problems. This left the aforementioned Patxi Ruiz, two players brought in from the second tier competition, Retegi Bi, and Arretxe II, and Xala. Xala had signalled his intent in the first round of matches by thumping Gonzalez 22-5, and his remaining rivals in the group faced him on a wing and a prayer. Patxi Ruiz was put to the sword, 22-6, before he battled well to overcome a dogged Arretxe II 22-16 to reach the last four. Perhaps this was the test he needed to harden his steel. Ruiz joined him in the semi finals by way of a well orchestrated out-powering of Retegi Bi.

Group A was clearly the stronger of the two, not least due to the forbidding presence of the defending champion Martinez de Irujo. He was joined by Barriola, Olaizola I and Bengoetxea VI, the 2008 champion. Despite sailing unbeaten through the group stages, Irujo was not untested. His game against Olaizola I was an extraordinary one, as he was forced to overturn an inhuman deficit to win 22-18. Barriola also took 18 points off him, but in truth was a shadow of the player he was before his knee injury of last year, and lacked the killer punch of his great rival. Bengoetxea was the final victim, falling easily by 22 points to 10. There was much else to applaud in Group A, not least the never say die attitude of Olaizola I, who took a wonderful, pulsating victory over Bengoetxea in the first week, and backed this up with a typically gutsy display against Barriola to make the final four. Bengoetxea, although not at his best, marked himself out as the group’s number three with an easy win over Barriola.

The semi finals pitted Xala against Olaizola I, and Irujo against Patxi Ruiz. The former was a tight affair for the first twenty or so points, before Xala cut free, showing the extra gear which distinguishes the excellent from the merely very good. In the second, nobody gave Patxi Ruiz any hope at all, and matters went to form with Irujo winning 22-6, barely examined.

Although Irujo must be counted as favourite on his past form in this competition if nothing else, the final could well be a close one. The man from Ibero is a coiled spring, and human tiger who prowls the fronton and displays his heart firmly on his sleeve. His ruthless and dominating style has garnered him three Manomanista crowns to date, level with the Patxi Eugi (his botillero on Sunday) and Miguel Gallastegi. Only five pelotaris have more: Ruben Beloki and Atano III (4), Azkarate and Retegi I (6) and the incomparable Retegi II (11). At the age of only 28, he has many more years ahead to build himself a niche in the panoply of the greats. In addition, he is the owner of one Cuatro y Medio and three Pairs crowns, and along with Olaizola II, is the dominant pelotari of the 21st century. He has been tested in this edition of the Manomanista, but only by Olaizola I, and his response to his near eclipse that day was so staggering as to strike fear into the hearts of all who would face the salvo in weeks to come. Even when he is down, Irujo has the ability to throw off the shackles, like a modern day Houdini. It would be a brave man to bet against the defending champion, but given his opponent at Ogueta, Sunday may prove a whole different ball game.

Yves Salaberry, or ‘Xala’, is in the form of his life, a true purple patch which shows no signs of abating. His manner on the field of play is like chalk to Irujo’s cheese, for the 30 year old from the French side of the Pyrenees rarely conveys his feelings, whether they be fearful or jubilant. He possesses an unshakable inner steeliness, a never wavering belief in his own ability to control and subdue. It is an attitude which has carried him to the heights in 2010. He and Zubieta, his also botillero throughout this Manomanista, matured like a quality wine in the course of the Pairs Championship, and took a deserved win in the final, all ease and grace. Xala was the unquestioned player of the tournament, incapable of playing a bad game. This was his second Pairs title, the first having come in 2002. He has also been a Manomanista and Cuatro y Medio runner up, in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Although he faces the toughest opponent of them all in the final showdown, there is a real sense that 2010 could be Xala’s year.

The evening’s matches commence at 17:00 (CEST) tomorrow, Sunday, with a classy doubles match to whet the appetite. The main event takes place upon the conclusion of this game, at around 18:00. If you watch only one pelota match this year, let this be it. Tune into ETB-Sat ( to witness the drama.

The balls chosen for the final are as follows: Irujo opted for balls of 106.6g and 106.2g, while Xala has selected slightly lighter options, balls of 105.2g and 105g.

Irujo or Xala? Sunday will decide

Irujo or Xala? Sunday will decide

Image from: Diario Vasco, by Eduardo Buxens

Pelota on the Web, 19th-20th June: Manomanista Final

I will preview the Manomanista Final later on; it deserves a post of its own! In addition to the main event, the San Fermin Cuatro y Medio tournament also starts this weekend; I will keep you updated with that as it progresses.

Saturday 19th June, Pamplona


18:15 (CEST) BENGOETXEA VI v ARRETXE II San Fermin Cuatro y Medio

Sunday 20th June, Vitoria-Gasteiz


18:00 (CEST) MARTINEZ DE IRUJO v XALA Manomanista Final

All these matches can be viewed online at



Mendizabal I and Olaetxea renew their contracts with Asegarce

Aratz Mendizabal (27, Zaldibia) has signed to stay with Asegarce for another year, and Mikel Olaetxea (25, Lizartza) for a further two. Olaetxea won the 2008 Second Tier Cuatro y Medio crown, Mendizabal having won it previously, in 2006. Mendizabal has also been a Second Tier Pairs champion, winning the title in 2005 with Aritz Begino.

Second Tier Manomanista Final: Aritz Lasa serves his way to glory

Saturday 12th June, Tolosa


Second Tier Manomanista Final

It was no simple matter to pick a winner ahead of Saturday’s final. Mikel Beroiz had the pedigree in the competition, coming into this year’s tournament as defending champion, but Aritz Lasa had had the better championship thus far. The Tolosa faithful turned out with enthusiasm, and the atmosphere at Beotibar was fitting for a final which promised so much. In the ultimate analysis, Aritz Lasa proved the stronger, rendering the younger player powerless to act by means of a rip roaring serve. Lasa’s victory ended a seven year drought in this competition for pelotaris from Gipuzkoa, the last winner from that province being Kepa Penagarikano, in 2003.

The opening spell of the game appeared to signal great things to come for Beroiz, as the defending champion powered to a 4-1 lead, clearly dominant. However, when he allowed his rival into the game by striking too high, taking the score to 4-2, there was a sharp about turn in the colour of the match. Aritz Lasa, perhaps realising his inferiority in the long rally, used his own chosen balls to the maximum of their potential, winning eleven of his twenty two points with service winners. Beroiz resisted manfully, his best spell coming between 4-7 and 8-7, when he defended like a demon, deploying his powerful left arm when possible. He pushed the score on to 10-8, and once again looked to be in a strong position. However, Lasa had much more to give, and in the ensuing whirlwind, turned an 8-10 deficit into a 20-10 lead. The light had been snuffed out for Beroiz, with permanence. In the face of the Lasa serve, Beroiz was never comfortable and was at times utterly swamped. A top defender should have done rather better.

Aritz Lasa’s txapela is the culmination of a superb sustained effort throughout this tournament, for which he had to qualify through a preliminary round. Beroiz, being the 2009 winner, was granted a bye through the early stages but this year failed to live up to his reputation, squeezing through the quarter finals with the help of Retegi Bi’s defection to the main championship, and edging Urrutikoetxea in the semis by the narrowest of margins. He remains, however, a player of the greatest promise for the future, at the age of only 21. But this was Lasa’s day, the biggest sporting triumph of his 26 years, and one that all of Urretxu should savour.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 4-1, 4-7, 8-7, 8-8, 10-8, 10-20, 13-20, 13-21, 15-21, 15-22.

Duration: 51 minutes

Strikes of the ball: 179

Service winners: Beroiz 3, Aritz Lasa 11

Winners in open play: Beroiz 11 Aritz Lasa 9

Errors: Beroiz 2, Aritz Lasa 1

Aritz Lasa triumphant

Aritz Lasa triumphant

Image from: Gara, Sources: Diario de Navarra, Diario Vasco

Pelota on the Web, 11th-12th June: Second Tier Manomanista Final

After over two months of competition, the Second Tier Manomanista is down to the last two, and the final takes place at Beotibar on Saturday. Of the finalists, defending champion Mikel Beroiz has had the less protracted run to the final, although he has been far from invincible on the way. As last year’s winner, he was granted a bye in the first stage and entered at the point of the quarter final league. He lost his first match heavily, 13-22 to Retegi Bi, who was to leave the tournament to replace Gonzalez in the Manomanista shortly. He then won a tough fight against Oier Mendizabal by 22 points to 18, before losing again in his last group match, to Inigo Leiza, 17-22. He was therefore very lucky to make it through the semis; if Retegi Bi, who won both his games had remained, he would have been out. However, given his chance, he stepped up to the plate, triumphing in a tense match against Mikel Urrutikoetxea, 22-20, to reach the final.

Aritz Lasa had to work much harder to arrive at the final. He was put, my Aspe, through a pre-qualifying round before he could even take his place in the main competition, and came through this my the proverbial skin of his teeth, 22-21 against Merino. In the first stage proper, he found his form and came through easily against Cabrerizo, 22-13. He then won two of his three matches in the quarter final league, against Asier Berasaluze 22-12, and the second narrowly over exciting debutant Lemuno, 22-21. Not for the first time, Lasa sailed close to the wind here. He lost his third game 18-22 to Urrutikoetxea, who topped the group, but this was of no matter. His semi final was against Leiza, who he despatched without too much fuss, by 22 points to 16.

It is no easy task to pick the winner here. Beroiz, being the defending champion and a confirmed top young talent, is the natural favourite, but he has looked far from totally secure in the past few weeks. Aritz Lasa meanwhile has more experience and appears to be building nicely. He is a consistent performer who would be a richly deserving winner. Tune in on Saturday to see the drama played out.

Friday 11th June, Logrono



Saturday 12th June, Tolosa


Followed by BEROIZ v ARITZ LASA Second Tier Manomanista Final

These matches can be seen at


Can Aritz Lasa upset Beroiz?

Can Aritz Lasa upset Beroiz?

Image from: Noticias de Gipuzkoa, by Jose Sampedro

Manomanista: Irujo destroys Patxi Ruiz to set up showdown with Xala

Sunday 6th June, Eibar


Manomanista Semi Final

There was little doubt in the mind of anyone that Juan Martinez de Irujo would take this semi final, and take it he did, with brutal authority. The odds were stacked so overwhelmingly in the favour of the defending champion that there were very few bets at all. Patxi Ruiz was afforded a leg up in this championship by Aimar Olaizola’s injury, but a solid victory against Retegi Bi was enough to give him his rightful place in the last four. That win must have given him confidence of a sort, but Irujo is an entirely different proposition, and the man from Ibero looked not only in a different league, but on an entirely different planet on Sunday. It took him all of 31 minutes, and 142 balls to complete his demolition job. In that time, he struck 14 winners and 4 service winners, to only 3 errors. He knew he could afford to cut loose, and that he had ample license to take risks, pushing the ball to the limits of the fronton. Ruiz was blocked out of almost every rally, blinded by pace and outdone by placement. As the spirit of the underdog waned, Irujo showed no mercy.

So, the holder of the txapela proceeds as expected to face Xala on 20th June in Vitoria-Gastez for the 2010 prize. Irujo has three Manomanista crowns to his name thus far, level in the record books with Patxi Eugi and Miguel Gallastegi. Only five pelotaris have more: Ruben Beloki and Atano III (4), Azkarate and Retegi I (6) and the great Retegi II (11). At 28, Irujo has many more years ahead to make his rivals suffer. However, in his way stands Yves Salaberry, and on 2010 form, he will be a towering rival. ‘Xala’ has swept all before him this year, stunning in the Pairs, which he won with Zubieta, and barely challenged in the Manomanista thus far. If each man plays to his potential, this could be a final for the ages.

Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-2, 8-2, 8-3, 13-3, 13-4, 17-4, 17-6, 22-6.

Source: Diario Vasco

Can Irujo add to his three Manomanista titles?

Can Irujo add to his three Manomanista titles?

Image from: Kiroljokoa

Manomanista: Xala trumps battling Asier to reach the final

Saturday 5th June, Pamplona

XALA beat OLAIZOLA I 22-14

Manomanista Semi Final

Labrit was all of a buzz for this, the first of the 2010 Manomanista Semi Finals. A large and vociferous crowd gathered to cheer to show their support, and most, including a grown man in a pink tutu, sided with the underdog, Asier Olaizola, whose fans appeared to have commandeered the majority of the upper tier. It was conceivable that their man could cause an upset here. He had given Martinez de Irujo an almighty scare in the group stages, and shown indomitable fighting spirit in his two wins, against Bengoetxea VI and Barriola. However, he now faced Yves Salaberry, the pairs champion, who is experiencing a true purple patch this year. ‘Xala’ breezed through the preliminary rounds with barely a wobble, dispatching Patxi Ruiz, Retegi Bi and Arretxe II to reach this stage. Olaizola would in all likelihood pose a stiffer challenge than these three, but he was the overwhelming favourite. The match that ensued was every bit as enthralling as the fans must have hoped, an exhibition of pelota played at the highest level by two men who wanted it so very badly. In the end, polish trumped passion.

If anyone assumed Xala would hit Asier from the start, they were very wrong. The first part of the match was as close and as hard fought as anything we have seen in the championship thus far. Both men showed signs of nerves in the early exchanges, with two errors apiece in the first four points. Asier took the first real blood of the match with two winners, a cross court and a drop, to take the score to 4-2. The signs looked good for the Goizuetan, who demonstrated his power to force his opponent out of position. However, his error making returned as he hit high and then fell low to a high ball from Xala, to allow the latter to draw level at 4-4. Xala now built some momentum, kick started by a powerful long serve and drop routine and two further errors from Asier, but in keeping with the topsy turvy nature of the first half of the game, Asier wrenched the advantage back. He levelled at 7-7 by way of a Xala miscue and two outright winners, based on a serve which was now firing on all cylinders. Asier appeared once again to throw the initiative aside as Xala fired, but the pair could seemingly not be separated, as an impressive sotomano from the former brought the score to 10-10 deadlock.

The brilliance to which Xala has become used this year had thus far been contained by a man who had played with inspiration, determination, and the never-say-die attitude for which is has become known. However, the match now moved into a new phase. Xala must have sensed it was time to find a new gear, and so he did, although stutteringly at first. The three rallies which followed the 10-10 stalemate were all about the favourite. In the first, Asier managed to reach a dos paredes but in the effort found himself out of position for the resulting shot down the wall from Xala. The next two points were won by Xala’s serve, which now reached its apogee. Asier took two points back with some impressive defence turned to attack, but Xala surged again; it was the points on 12-13 and 12-14 which really turned the game. In the first of these two watershed moments, a smash from Xala appeared to have won it, but Asier dug the ball out. Xala then got one almost over his rival’s head and though Asier got to it, his reply fell just short. The underdog tried everything and was found wanting. The next point saw an exhibition of the sotomano from both players, followed by some stunning defence under the high ball from Asier. Xala eventually wore him down, winning the point with a drop. He now had a two point lead, but for Asier, that must have seemed like a chasm, for the man from Iparralde was giving no gifts.

Asier never ceased to fight, but managed only two more points in the match, one of which was the result of an extremely careless drop attempt by his opponent who must have sensed the prize was in sight. Even in points where Asier appeared on top, such as that on 13-16 in which he subjected Xala to an aerial bombardment, the eventual winner managed to escape, which must have been highly demoralizing. Points rarely came easily for Xala but one sensed that there was no way through for the brave older Olaizola. When Xala seized his 22nd point with a push into the corner, the game was up.

The scoreline, which seemingly suggests an easy victory for the favourite, fails to tell the true tale of a match where nothing came easily. Xala was put under huge pressure for the first half an hour from a man who strained every sinew to be as good as he could be. Even when he was on top, Asier refused to let him run away with the win. Xala, though, has the ability to employ an extra gear like few others, and it was this which saw him through. A hard fought match will have done him no harm in his preparation for the final, where he will have probably the biggest chance of his life to do something truly special.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 4-2, 4-3, 4-7, 5-7, 7-7, 7-8, 7-9, 8-9, 9-9, 9-10, 10-10, 10-11, 10-13, 11-13, 12-13, 12-16, 13-16, 13-20, 14-20, 14-22.

The final awaits for pairs champion Xala

The final awaits for pairs champion Xala

 Image from: Noticias de Gipuzkoa

Pelota on the Web, 4th-6th June: Manomanista Semi Finals

After a week’s reverie, the Manomanista returns this weekend. We are now at the semi final stage and there is nowhere to hide for the final four, for whom victory is now imperative. On paper, the games look fairly clear cut. In the first, Asier Olaizola plays Xala, and while Olaizola has battled royally to reach the last four, Xala is the form player of the year and has reached this stage with imperious ease. An upset is very much on if Olaizola can come out all guns blazing, but it is hard to bet against Xala breezing into the final.

In the second semi final, defending champion Juan Martinez de Irujo takes on Patxi Ruiz. Irujo is hard to stop under any circumstances, but like Xala, he has arrived in the last four undefeated and full of confidence. Patxi Ruiz, often an enigma, cannot be entirely written off, but he will have to play the game of his life. He was perhaps a little lucky to come through the group stages, benefitting as he did from Aimar Olaizola’s untimely injury, but he looked in fine fettle against Retegi Bi, whom he out powered impressively. Irujo, though, is an entirely different prospect.

As an aside, last week the second tier Manomanista competition saw its semi final stage and we now know that the final will be played between defending champion Mikel Beroiz (who beat Urrutikoetxea 22-20) and Aritz Lasa (who beat Leiza 22-16). The final will take place on Saturday 12th June at Beotibar in Tolosa.

Friday 4th June, Sodupe



Saturday 5th June, Pamplona


Followed by OLAIZOLA I v XALA Manomanista Semi Final

Sunday 6th June, Eibar


Followed by MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – PATXI RUIZ Manomanista Semi Final

All these matches can be viewed online at

Xala and Olaizola I lock horns on Saturday

Xala and Olaizola I lock horns on Saturday

Image from Gara (Juanan RUIZ/ARGAZKI PRESS)