Daily Archives: 14 March, 2011

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