Monthly Archives: March 2011

Pairs Championship: Aimar and Aritz keep the dream alive

Saturday 26th March, Pamplona


Aimar Olaizola and Aritz Begino can breathe a sigh of relief, after remaining in the competition by the skin of their teeth. Defeat here would have meant almost certain elimination, and while they would have liked a greater points difference to aid their way to the final, they will take what they got have grateful hearts, for Gonzalez and Laskurain should have won this match. Olaizola and Begino knew the gravity of this encounter, and perhaps as a result of this, were inconsistent and tight in their play, even Olaizola, known for being cold and calculating of nature on the fronton. The Goizuetarra made an uncharacteristic number of errors, five in all, but his ten winners saved his skin in the end. Laskurain did not have to work hard to put Begino under pressure, making him look decidedly uncomfortable as time and again he was forced to extricate the ball from the left hand wall.

Gonzalez and Laskurain maintained an advantage for the majority of the match, and although their gap over their rivals was never large, it seemed increasingly unbridgeable. Initially they went down 0-4, and all appeared rosy in the Asegarce garden, but as the tension crept in, they stormed ahead, 9-5 and 12-8. Their rivals doggedly closed the gap to a point at 14-15 however, and from there on, finally found their game. Aimar’s pace began to make Gonzalez suffer, and Begino rediscovered the strong, metronomic striking style to which we have become accustomed. 14-16 became 19-16. Controversy was to follow, which threatened to derail the Asegarce revival, when Aimar disputed a call from a judge. When his claim was rejected, Gonzalez and Laskurain were back in it, at 18-19. However, with their eyes on the prize, Olaizola and Begino would not be denied, and they held on to win by two points.

Victory for the pre-match favourites was justified, just about. They wobbled in the early exchanges, but like all great players, pulled through when the going got tough. There are still gargantuan challenges ahead though, as they must beat Xala and Barriola next weekend, or hope that Gonzalez and Laskruain beat Irujo and Merino II, in which case it would come down to points difference.

Scoring sequence: 4-0, 4-5, 5-5, 5-9, 8-9, 8-12, 9-12, 9-13, 11-3, 11-14, 12-14, 12-15, 14-15, 14-16, 19-16, 19-18, 21-18, 21-19, 22-19.

Service winners: Olaizola 2, Gonzalez 2

Service faults: Olaizola 0, Gonzalez 1

Winners: Olaizola 10, Begino 3, Gonzalez 4, Laskurain 2

Errors: Olaizola 5, Begino 4, Gonzalez 4, Laskurain 2

Match time: 69:47 with 29:32 actual playing time.

Olaizola II came good when the heat was on

Olaizola II came good when the heat was on

Image from El Correo, source Diario Vasco

Pairs Championship: Xala and Barriola move to the verge of the final

Sunday 27th March, Eibar


Xala and Barriola, the outstanding combination of the tournament thus far, are inches from a place in the final after their battling defeat of the ever improving Martinez de Irujo and Merino II, in front of a large crowd at Astelena. As long as they score fifteen points against Olaizola II and Begino next week, they will proceed to the showdown on 17th April. After their loss here, Irujo and Merino will have to beat Gonzalez and Laskurain.

The favourites should have waltzed away with this game from their early ten point lead, maintained from 13-3 to 15-5. Xala was able to dominate Irujo crosscourt in this spell, as the Manomanista champion perhaps too often went for the txoko, leaving himself open to attack when it did not come off. Barriola, again reminding one of a metronome, played his virtuoso supporting role to perfection. However, with the game half an hour old, Irujo sizzled into life. Key to his transformation was the newfound power of his serve, which at times baffled Xala and Barriola, sending them into uncharacteristic confusion. Merino , too, got in on the act, rushing in with both hands to pull off some of the best shots of the day. Having drawn level at 15-15 with their flurry of dominance, it seemed as if, with the momentum on their side, there was no stopping Irujo and his young partner. However, they were able to add only two more points, as Xala and Barriola restored the status quo. Xala volleyed and hooked with stunning intensity, adding a further five winners as his gallant opponents were extinguished

It is clearly possible to beat Xala and Barriola, but they have the stoicism and tenacity to come back time and again from deficits which might finish others off. This is the mark of champions in waiting, although they cannot afford to be complacent for a second, as anything can happen in a final. Key to their consistency is the bombproof defence of Barriola; his worth was proved here time and again as he contained Merino, who failed to reach the stellar heights of his performance in Bilbao last week. Still, the game is not up for Irujo and Merino; nobody is out and nobody is through. These semi finals will go down to the wire.

Abel Barriola: consistent and unflappable

Abel Barriola: consistent and unflappable

Image from Astore, source Diario Vasco

Pelota on ETB Sat, 25th-27th March

Friday 25th March, Casalarreina

22:10 (CET) IDOATE – LADIS GALARZA v GORKA – MERINO 2nd tier Pairs Championship semi final


Sunday 27th March, Eibar


Followed by MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II v XALA – BARRIOLA Pairs Championship semi final

To watch, go to

The other Pairs Championship semi final this weekend is between OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO and GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN, on Sunday in Pamplona. In the 2nd tier competition, APEZETXEA – CECILIO and OLAETXEA – ALBISU play their semi final in Beasain on Saturday.

Pairs Championship: Xala and Barriola pull through

Sunday 20th March, Eibar


Xala and Barriola were the clear favourites for this, the second Pairs semi final, but they made heavy work of defeating Gonzalez and Laskurain, who are seen by many as the dark horses of the last four. True, there were mitigating circumstances, in the form of a pull to the left buttock of Xala. He started the match with all of his recent form, allowing his pair to keep pace with their opponents, despite the uncharacteristic early errors of Barriola, who looked significantly off colour. From 5-6, they surged forwards, a now more consistent Barriola playing like clockwork with his excellent partner. They added nine points with no reply, and Gonzalez and Laskurain, less incisive and lacking in imagination, looked dead in the water. Gonzalez in particular paid the price of his errors, which by the end of the match totalled seven. When they proceeded to lose the next three points, there was no immediate cause for panic, but brows were furrowed in their camp when Xala retired to the locker room for treatment. Upon his return, he looked stiff and attacked with less venom, becoming more reliant on the defence of Barriola. Thankfully for him, the man from Leitza played like a rock, even under vicious attack from Laskurain. The momentum in the back division shifted several times over, but once Barriola found his rhythm, his class told, and Laskurain became ever more prone to error, his body language deteriorating with his fortunes.

Xala and Barriola allowed their opponents to come within striking distance at 15-16 and 16-18, but in the end rode out the storm thanks to their greater tactical nous and ability to manipulate Gonzalez and Laskurain, who while threatening, never quite had enough. They did not win as many expected them to do, and some may be quick to point out holes in their armour, but the fact that they came through proves how tough they will be to dethrone. With Xala fit, they are still very much the number one pair.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 5-3, 5-5, 6-5, 6-14, 9-14, 9-15, 12-15, 12-16, 15-16, 15-18, 16-18, 16-20, 17-20, 17-22.

Service winners: none

Winners: Gonzalez 6, Laskurain 2, Xala 9, Barriola 0

Errors: Gonzalez 7, Laskurain 6, Xala 3, Barriola 6

Match time: 79:26, with 30:54 of actual playing time

Balls hit: 628

Sweat and toil for Xala

Sweat and toil for Xala

Image from Deia

Pairs Championship: Merino II comes of age in Bilbao

Saturday 19th March, Bilbao


Bilbao unveiled its new fronton in a blaze of pomp on Saturday evening. A crowd of 3000 expectant fans filled the Bizkaia fronton, all a buzz with the prospect of a classic forward clash between Martinez de Irujo and Olaizola II. Olaizola and Begino were the clear favourites, as despite their recent lapse, they had enjoyed by far the better run through the early stages. However, twenty year old David Merino, a professional for a mere eight months, blew their ambitions out of the water and utterly stole the show from the forwards. Despite some early wobbles in this, his first major championship, the young Riojan has surely now arrived.

The Asegarce pair, the only hope left for their empresa, started the better, going ahead 3-0 and 6-3, but their supremacy was put to an abrupt end. Aritz Begino, at 30, is significantly more experienced than Merino, especially on this most exalted of stages, but the young pretender hit him off the fronton, dominating with his left, and assuaging all doubts as to his prowess off the right. He placed the ball beautifully, and struck with a classical elegance, giving Irujo every chance in the world to put winners past Aimar, which he did with general ease. That Irujo hit nine winners, and won the forward battle, such as it was, went almost unnoticed in the well deserved fuss which surrounded his partner. Aimar did what he could, but could not lift the stranglehold of his rivals; his four errors almost cancelled out his five winners, and Begino gave him little to work with. But all this was a subplot in the story of David Merino, in whose hands the match lay. Aspe risked much by throwing their protégé into the big time so soon. At first it seemed an error of judgment, but perhaps it was we, the fans and the writers, who judged too soon.

Scoring sequence: 0-3, 3-3, 3-6, 11-6, 11-7, 13-7, 13-9, 15-9, 15-10, 20-10, 20-12 and 22-12

Service winners: Irujo 5, Olaizola II 3 (no service errors)

Winners: Irujo 9, Olaizola II 5, Merino II 3, Begino 1

Errors: Irujo 2, Olaizola II 4, Merino II 1, Begino 1

Match time: 58:01, with 24:47 of playing time

Balls hit: 480

Bilbaos new Bizkaia fronton

Bilbao's new Bizkaia fronton

Source Diario Vasco; Image from skyscrapercity, by Alberto G. Alonso

Pelota on ETB Sat, 18th-20th March

Friday 18th March, Ezcaray

22:10 (CET) APEZETXEA – CECILIO v GORKA – MERINO 2nd Tier Pairs Semi Final


Sunday 20th March, Eibar


Followed by GONZALEZ  – LASKURAIN v XALA – BARRIOLA Pairs Semi Final

To watch, go to

The other Pairs semi final between OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO and MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II. It will be played on Saturday 19th at around 18:00 CET, at the new Bizkaia fronton in Bilbao.

Pairs Championship: semi final line-up complete

After eleven enthralling weeks, we now know the line up for the semi finals in the Pairs Championship. Heading the standings are Xala and Barriola, the long time favourites who only briefly ceded superiority to Olaizola II and Begino in the battle to top the table. With nine wins out of eleven, and a positive points difference of 83, they deserve their favouritism. Everything about their partnership seems right, from the calm brutality of Xala to the metronomic long range striking of Barriola, and it will take much to shatter their ice cool facade.

Olaizola II and Begino qualify in second, as the sole Asegarce representatives in the last four. They began the competition like a proverbial train, chalking up six straight wins, including a narrow defeat of Xala and Barriola, before things went somewhat awry. No matter though, for they never looked in danger of elimination thanks to their points difference, and an easy win this weekend made sure of their progress. While less consistent than Xala and Barriola, they bring class in abundance, especially in the form of Olaizola, who when on song can pulverise anyone who dares to take him on.

Behind the two more obvious semi finalists come two pairs who have had to fight tooth and nail for their positions. Gonzalez and Laskurain, who lost in the final last year to Xala and Zubieta, took their time to find their feet in 2011, surprisingly given their track record and knowledge of each other. In the end though, they glided into the semi finals almost unnoticed, causing few ripples along the way. They look to be coming to the boil when it matters, and with their grim determination to succeed, cannot be ignored.

Martinez de Irujo and Merino II had a torrid start to the competition, clearly failing to gel as a pair. In fact, Merino looked infinitely better when paired with Aritz Lasa during Irujo’s injury break. However, Aspe’s experiment of youth and experience, devised after Aitor Zubieta’s pre-Christmas injury, eventually paid off and they round out the last four, thanks to Bengoetxea and Albisu’s inability to score ten points against Xala and Barriola. No pair featuring Irujo can be ruled out, and Merino, though young, is a special talent.

The semi finals begin on Sunday 20th, when all four pairs will be in action. Fixtures will follow when they are confirmed.

1 XALA – BARRIOLA 11 9 2 238 155 +83
2 OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO 11 7 4 219 197 +22
3 GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN 11 6 5 213 189 +24
4 MTZ IRUJO – MERINO II 11 6 5 190 194 -4
5 BENGOETXEA VI – P. RUIZ 11 6 5 195 201 -6
6 TITIN III – PASCUAL 11 5 6 201 208 -7
7 BERASALUZE VIII – APRAIZ 11 4 7 195 211 -16
8 OLAIZOLA I – BELOKI 11 1 10 140 236 -96

Pairs Championship: Bengoetxea and Albisu fail to make perfect ten

Sunday 13th March, Eibar


This match was all about Oinatz Bengoetxea and Jon Ander Albisu, and by extension, Patxi Ruiz. Yves Sallaberry (Xala) and Abel Barriola, the favourites, had already secured their berth in the semi finals, but for their opponents, this was crunch time. Their Asegarce colleagues, Iker Arretxe and Ibai Zabala had done their best to eliminate Martinez de Irujo and David Merino, but squandered a match point to lose 22-21, meaning that Bengoetxea and Albisu had to score at least ten points against Xala and Barriola to qualify. For Bengoetxea and his usual partner, Patxi Ruiz, this should have been a formality. However, with Ruiz injured, grave responsibility fell on the head of his replacement, inexperienced twenty year old Albisu. Given the track record of Bengoetxea and Ruiz as a pair over the past year, a semi final line up devoid of them would seem perverse, but Xala and Barriola were in no mood for charity, and Albisu was forced to leave the fronton, head in hands, with Bengoetxea high and dry.

The encounter started in the worst possible way for the Asegarce pair; Albisu hit high in open play, and then again from a Xala serve, allaying no fears about the possible state of his nerves. Bengoextea steadied the ship with a crosscourt flick, ending a hard fought point, to get his partnership on the board, but Xala showed that he could beat him at his own game in the very next point, before Albisu miscued twice more in the next three points. Bengoetxea subsequently rushed into a potential drop winner which met the ground instead of the frontis. Scoring was an arduous trial for the blue pair, who picked up points periodically, but could not establish any momentum. Bengoetxea’s class shone through with the winners he managed, notably in the two excellent drops on 2-8 and 3-8, the second of which revealed disorganisation in the red camp for the first, and perhaps only time in the game.

However, despite the sterling defensive efforts for which he has become renowned, Bengoetxea was unable to compensate for the lack of attacking platform afforded him by Albisu. It was assumed that Xala and Barriola would target the young defender as the weak link, but as things unfolded, it became clear that he would dig his own grave. Time and again he hit too high, perhaps attempting in vain to put some pressure on the relentless Barriola. More frustratingly for the blues, he threw away points which should have been theirs; on 5-12, Barriola was forced forward to cover a txoko, but was let off the hook by an error, the result of either carelessness or tension. Again, and more crucially, on 8-20, with the magic ten points almost in reach, he undid all the excellent scrapping forward work of Bengoetxea to concede match point.

While the flailing Asegarce duo tried in vain to accrue points, Xala and Barriola moved forward with all of their customary ease and grace. So reliable and efficient was Barriola that one hardly noticed his presence. He ran rings around his young counterpart without breaking a bead of sweat, to the extent that there was an almost audible gasp when he finally made an error on 20-7. Watching such a consummate master at work, it seems baffling that he has won as few major championships as he has. Consistency throughout the year, as in an individual match, is Barriola’s byword, but maybe this time around the rewards will come. Xala’s showing was less than totally perfect, but so dominant was he over Bengoetxea that his two errors were hardly noticed. Most of his mounting winners were achieved with brutal ease, whether rocketed crosscourt or tapped delicately into the corner. On the occasions when Bengoetxea did engage him in a scap, Xala more often than not had his number. Even in the close fight on 3-8 which Bengoetxea won, Xala’s pick-up off the floor, adjudged to have bounced twice, was an extremely close run thing.

So, it is over and out for Bengoetxea and Ruiz. With Ruiz in place, the necessary ten points would surely have come more easily. Albisu fought as hard as he could, and showed talent in spurts, but in truth he leaked points, and gave Bengoetxea little room to manoeuvre. The qualifying concerns of their rivals were of little import to Xala and Barriola, who continued on their serene journey through this championship. They head the final quartet, and it would be brave in the extreme to predict their exit before four becomes two.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-1, 4-1, 4-2, 8-2, 8-4, 9-4, 9-5, 17-5, 17-6, 20-6, 20-8 and 22-8.

Match time: 47.04 minutes, with 21.22 minutes of play

Service winners: Xala 4, Bengoetxea 0

Winners: Xala 9, Barriola 0, Bengoetxea 4, Albisu 0

Errors: Xala 2, Barriola 1, Bengoetxea 3, Albisu 5


No joy for Oinatz

No joy for Oinatz

Image from Diario Vasco

Pairs Championship: Irujo-Merino, Olaizola-Begino and Gonzalez-Laskurain qualify

Friday 11th March, Mutilva


Juan Martinez de Irujo and David Merino needed to win in Mutilva on Friday to have any hope of making the last four, and they scraped through against the substitutes, Iker Arretxe and Ibai Zabala, who squandered two match points. Arretxe threw all caution to the wind and well and truly took the game to Irujo, who was not on his best form, finishing with seven errors to his rival’s one. Irujo and Merino kept their noses in front for the first portion of the match, largely thanks to Merino’s mastery of Ibai Zabala, but they increasingly found themselves behind, and it seemed as if an upset was on the cards. However, they found their nerve when it mattered most and could breathe again; a loss by 13 points for Bengoetxea and Patxi Ruiz’ replacement Jon Ander Albisu would out them through.

Saturday 12th March, Pamplona


Aimar Olaizola and Aritz Begino had been on the cusp of the semi finals for four weeks, but the elusive seventh victory escaped them until Sunday. With their comprehensive defeat of Titin and Pascual they ended their run of indifferent form and ensured qualification in second place behind Xala and Barriola. Titin and Pascual began the better, opening up a 5-0 lead, but once the Asegarce pair hit their stride, there was no stopping them. They closed to 9-10 thanks largely to the play of Begino, who thrilled the crowd with two robotes and left an out of sorts Pascual reeling. He supported Olaizola excellently, and the Goizuetarra hit eleven winners in all, easily outclassing Titin for pace and guile.

Saturday 12th March, Gernika


Sebastien Gonzalez and Aritz Laskurain put their slow start in the championship behind them when they made certain of their place in the semi finals, defeating Ekaitz Saralegi (replacing Pablo Berasaluze) and Alexis Apraiz on Saturday. Until the mid point, the game was evenly balanced, and was notable for some superb attacking play from Saralegi. However, the wheels fell off for the Asegarce combination as their opponents raced unopposed to 18-11. Although they managed four more points, in fits and starts, there was no way back, and class told.

Gonzalez, along with partner Laskurain, is through

Gonzalez, along with partner Laskurain, is through

Image from: Noticias de Navarra

Pairs Championship on ETB Sat 11th-13th March

Friday 11th March, Mutilva

22:10 (CET)  LEIZA* – OTEIZA v JAUNARENA – LARRINAGA (Leiza replaces Lemuno) 2nd Tier Pairs Championship

Followed by MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II v ARRETXE II* – IBAI ZABALA* (Arretxe II and Ibai Zabala replace Olaizola I and Beloki) Pairs Championship

Sunday 13th March, Eibar


Followed by XALA – BARRIOLA v BENGOETXEA VI – ALBISU* (Albisu replaces Patxi Ruiz) Pairs Championship

To watch, go to

The week’s other Pairs matches are TITIN III – BEROIZ* v OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO (Pamplona, Saturday) and GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN v SARALEGI – APRAIZ (Gernika, Saturday)