Monthly Archives: April 2011

Pelota on ETB Sat, 29th April-1st May

Friday 29th April, Ascain


Followed by GONZALEZ v IDOATE Manomanista Round 2

Sunday 1st May, Eibar

17:00 (CEST) LADIS GALARZA v JAUNARENA 2nd Tier Manomanista Round 2

Followed by BENGOETXEA VI v ARITZ LASA Manomanista Round 2

To watch, go to

Manomanista first round results

As reported previously, MERINO II beat ALBISU 22-21 on Sunday. Alas I do not have time to write on every match of the weekend, so here is a round up of the other Manomanista first round results in brief.

22/4/11, Pamplona: IDOATE beat BELOKI 22-4 Many pundits believed the young and supremely promising Idoate would beat Beloki, but few would have predicted the scale of the thrashing he handed out to the 36 year old four time champion. Idoate, who is all of 21, dominated the veteran in every facet of the game, suggesting that his time might soon be upon us. However, to progress further, he will need to defeat Gonzalez in Ascain on Friday.

23/4/11, Haro: URRUTIKOETXEA beat BEROIZ 22-18 This must rank as an upset. 21 year old Beroiz has been regarded as Aspe’s champion in waiting for over a year now, so strong and assured is he for his age. However, Asegarce’s Mikel Urrutikoetxea, who is also 21, put paid to any ambitions for this year with a battling performance to fell him at the opening stage. He will now play Retegi Bi in Amorebieta on Saturday, and he must rate his chances.

25/4/11, Eibar: ARITZ LASA beat ARRETXE II 22-16 This was a close match in which there were several ties on the scoreboard. Both played quality pelota, but in the end, Lasa’s strength won the day and Arretxe was forced to concede after a marvellous fight. Lasa will now play Bengoetxea VI in Eibar on Sunday for a place in the last four.

 In the Promocion championship, Ladis Galarza beat Iza 22-10, Argote beat Gorka 22-10, Rico IV beat Cecilio 22-13, and Olaetxea beat Zabaleta 22-18. In the second round, Ladis Galarza plays Jaunarena, Argote plays Olazabal, Rico IV plays Pengarikano, and Olaetxea plays Leiza.

Urrutikoetxea did for the fancied Beroiz

Urrutikoetxea did for the fancied Beroiz

Image from Asegarce

Manomanista: Merino II lifts spirits in Ezcaray

Sunday 24th April, Ezcaray

MERINO II  beat ALBISU 22-21

There was a large and vocal crowd in Ezcaray to witness the Manomanista debut of homeboy David Merino. Merino’s rise has been swift, from his obvious nerves at the start of the Pairs tournament, to his scintillating semi final performances which nearly netted a place in the final. Much is expected of the young Riojan, who plays with a classical elegance and desperation to succeed. The fans had already witnessed David’s brother Miguel, and Titin, take a sound beating in the opening pairs match, which perhaps made them desire all the more a performance from the younger Merino brother. In his way stood another young charge, the softly spoken but assured and potent Jon Ander Albisu, also playing his first Manomanista game. The two delivered a battle royal, but ultimately, Merino’s tifosi left satisfied.

At first, it was all Merino. He started in with a whirlwind, netting the first two points with service winners, before taking advantage of four errors, some more excusable than others, from Albisu. However, Albisu found his touch from 0-6 down, forcing Merino wide with a cleverly angled ball from left to right. Serving with his own balls, he came storming back, adding nine points with no reply. He managed two service winners of his own, and bossed points with assurance, leaving Merino cursing a trifle petulantly. The run came to an end when Albisu hit low, attempting a forceful drive, and his rival drew level at 9-9, his composure returning. There followed a period of stalemate, as they found themselves tied at both ten and eleven apiece. Albisu once again eased ahead, opening up a three point gap at 14-11, and although Merino clawed his way back to 14-14, he re-established it at 17-14. Albisu looked to be the player with the aces, with more options up his sleeve and, outwardly at least, a cooler head. However, what Merino lacks in outward calm, he more than makes up for in fire and drive, and once again he came back, saving a match point before seizing the win for himself at the first time of asking.

It is a shame that a player with such potential must go out so soon, for Albisu played with real class at times. He is a bright prospect, and this narrow loss will not diminish that. However, it is the often mercurial Merino who proceeds to the quarter finals, where he will meet Aimar Olaizola, the recent shining star of the Pairs Championship. He will need all the fire he can muster there, for Aimar’s tail is very much up.

Scoring sequence: 0-6/ 6/ 9-6/ 9/ 10/ 11/ 14-11/ 14/ 18-147 18/ 18-20/ 20/ 21-20/ 21-22

Merino with Titin III, who was his botillero on Sunday

Merino with Titin III, who was his botillero on Sunday

Image from La Rioja, by J. Herreros

Manomanista Contenders Announced

The line up for the 2011 Manomanisa Championship was announced earlier this week, and the protagonists are as follows:

For Asegarce: Olaizola II, Bengoetxea VI, Urrutikoetxea, Beloki, Arretxe II, Olaizola I, Albisu, Patxi Ruiz

For Aspe: Martinez de Irujo (defending champion), Gonzalez, Beroiz, Idoate, Aritz Lasa, Merino II, Retegi Bi, Xala

The first matches take place this weekend, with Beroiz v Urrutikoetxea and Beloki v Idoate opening proceedings tomorrow. For a full timetable, head to Asegarce.

Photo from Aspe, via

The Campeonato Manomanista Promoción will feature:

For Asegarce: Iza, Argote, Rico IV, Olaetxea, Peñagarikano, Ibai Zabala, Lemuno, Leiza

For Aspe: L.Galarza, Gorka, Cecilio, Zabaleta, Jaunarena, Olazabal, Ongay, Merino I

The first game in this competition took place today, and Gorka became the first victim, falling 22-10 to Argote. For the full timetable, again, see Asegarce.

Image from Aspe, via

Pairs Championship Final: Olaizola II and Begino Surge to Glory


Phenomenal Aimar hits 16 winners in a performance of power and grace, as Xala fails to scale the heights

The word ‘epic’ is oft overused in the sporting arena, but while not especially close, this final was something akin to it. Take 3000 ecstatic fans in a new cathedral of a fronton, a great player on a mission to scale the summits he enjoyed prior to a serious injury, and a 35 year old desparate for his first professional txapela and hardly able to walk for the pain in his leg, and you have the recipe for a very special drama. Aimar Olaizola is one of the modern giants of the game, a man who has collected trophies for fun throughout his illustrious career. However, in last year’s Manomanista Championship he fell crashing to the floor in agony, victim of one of the most dreaded injuries in pelota, the complete anterior cruciate ligament tear. Medical practice tells us it is possible to return to the field of play roughly six or seven months later, but the truth is more complicated; many who succumb to this injury are never quite the same again, their speed lessened and their explosiveness deadened, and although he had produced some impressive performances since returning late last year, countless people wondered whether we would ever again see the Aimar of old. However, he took this match on like a bull to a red flag, and produced one of the finest displays of pelota seen in months. This was a recital, full of snap, vigour, pace, instinct and ruthless finishing. Aimar is back, let the world take note.

The cruel absence of Abel Barriola was rued, rightly, in the run up to the game. Quite apart from the fear over how Mikel Beroiz would react to the pressure of having to replace probably the greatest defender, in the biggest game of his life, the occasion seemed somehow sullied and incomplete by the fact that Xala, who had duked it out with his settled partner for sixteen weeks, would now have to reach for the txapela without him. However, the fevour and passion of both the play and the atmosphere in the first few points rendered all reservations meaningless; this was the biggest game of the year and the excitement was utterly contagious. The opening salvo seemed as if it would never end, with both pairs struggling to achieve supremacy and neither succeeding. The crowd reacted with a roar to every impressive strike as the ball ricocheted around the fronton careering off every surface, before Beroiz won the point with an oddly bouncing dipping long ball, to which a slightly baffled Aimar only just got a hand. The next point was almost as intense, but the result was different, as Aimar dropped the ball into the corner for a hapless Beroiz to chase. The Asegarce pair built on their base in the next three points, and began to look the more polished. Another Aimar drop, which took the score to 3-1, had both blue players spread eagled on the floor, though Beroiz had done well to reach his first attempt at the winner. In the next play, Aimar opened his shoulders with a trademark gantxo, a foretaste of things to come.

If this ominous show of strength from the great forward sounded a terrifying warning bell for Xala and Beroiz, they were not overawed, as they clawed two points back to a rare error apiece from each of their rivals, but their nascent revival was not to be, as a brace of lax, wide, hits from Xala, undoing all his sterling defensive work, opened the door to another Olaizola salvo. Whereas the opening points had been evenly fought, the next passage of play was utterly owned by the reds, spearheaded by an Aimar who was beginning to revel in his superiority. An airez on 6-3 out-manoeuvred both blues comprehensively, and although they let two points slip through mishits, in Begino’s case perhaps brought about by a moment of indecision, they surged again, from 7-5 to 12-5 in the blink of an eye. Another airez from Aimar sent Xala thudding onto his back, legs flailing, and he doubled the pain with a brutal gantxo. Xala tried to play him at his own game, but while a valiant effort, his own gantxo was low, and paled next to the extraordinary power and precision of Aimar’s example. Aimar then demonstrated his ability to strike winners even from positions of weakness, conjuring a cross court airez from somewhere as he fell and stretched forwards. He had earlier sent Xala and Beroiz into disarray when he forced the former to cover both a gantxo and the resulting spiralling long ball, and having found themselves the wrong way round, they were perpetually on the back foot. With a beautifully disguised txoko, Aimar stretched the reds’ advantage to seven. Xala had yet to strike a winner; Aimar had romped his way to nine.

Hope for Xala and Beroiz seemed vain, but fortunes in pelota can turn on a sixpence, and given their chance to play with their chosen balls thanks to a pair of errors from Begino, who temporarily misplaced his radar, the blue partnership came surging back. The massed ranks of fans roared with delight as the rot was stopped, in the knowledge that they may yet get a final which was tight as well as intense. The point which took them to 8-12 was immense. Both Xala and Beroiz tested Begino to the death, pummelling him over and over again. Every time, he powered the ball back, but when Xala had him where he wanted him, and had tied Aimar up with a txoko, an airez finished the job. When he took the next point with a wonderfully calculated txoko, the momentum had surely swung, for this was the Xala to whom we have become accustomed these past three months, cool and brutally effective. He continued in his march, ever growing in confidence and venom, with two gantxo winners, the second from an outrageous angle. When Begino hit low in the next rally, it was, amazingly, twelve apiece. Xala let his new persona slip a fraction, failing to scoop a dipping ball off his boots, but he drew his pair level again at 13-13 with yet another improbable gantxo, which took Aimar completely by surprise. The pairs traded points once more with an error from each of the defenders in turn, and at 14-14, it appeared to all the world as if we were in for a very long haul indeed.

However, for Aimar clearly enough was enough, the younger Olaizola brother is, and always has been, a consummate big match player. When a championship hangs on a knife edge, he knows no nerves and he grasped his destiny with fearsome force of will. His scintillating cross court winner for 15-14 cut through air like a rapier, and like a huntsman who has his prey on the run, he gritted his teeth and yelled in grim determination. In the next point he sent Xala haring after a fictional gantxo while he tapped the txoko the other way, and with a sense of near panic, Xala clawed at a ball close to the frontis with too much haste, despairing at the tell tale thud of a txapa. At 17-14 though, things almost went terribly wrong for the ascendant pair; Begino, who had struggled with a niggling leg strain earlier in the tournament, now succumbed in far more dramatic fashion, and retired to the locker room for treatment. When he returned, he was strapped heavily, and clearly encumbered. However, the knowledge that his partner desperately needed a swift end to the game only spurred Aimar on to greater heights. He protected Begino from the ball, taking matters squarely upon himself, and racing towards the magic number 22 with whipped airez upon txoko. The straining defensive efforts of Xala and Beroiz were nowhere near enough. The last point was long, and for Begino, no doubt arduous. It is to their credit that he and Aimar managed the build up to the eventual winner so patiently, but when it came, there was no chance of an answer as the rampaging forward unleashed his left arm for one last time. Begino collapsed in a mixture of joy and agony, before being swamped by his ecstatic supporters.

While not especially close in the final analysis, this final will go down as one of the most passionately fought in recent times. Xala failed to hit the heights which made him the overall player of the tournament, and if he had, the battle would surely have been white hot, but nobody in the stands can have felt short changed by the over 700 strikes which comprised this drama. The game was made by the forwards, but a word must be spared for Mikel Beroiz, who came in at the eleventh hour, pressure heaped upon him, to play by far the most important match of his young career. Although he ended on the losing side, he played an excellent game, and has nothing to reproach himself for. He was, in fact, clearly superior to Begino, his opposite number, However, that barely mattered given the discrepancy at the front, where save from Xala’s brief revival, Aimar Olaizola ruled with exhilarating aplomb. There can no longer be any doubt about his post injury potency, for this was extraordinary stuff. As he beamed his way through the press conference, he dedicated his win to the medical staff who had got him back to the fronton. Begino, meanwhile, struggled to stand let alone run, but he too radiated joy unabashed. Worthy champions indeed.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 4-1, 4-3, 7-3, 7-5, 12-5, 12-12, 13-12, 13-13, 14-13, 14-14, 22-14

Winners: Olaizola II 16, Begino 1, Xala 6, Beroiz 1

Errors: Olaizola II 3, Begino 4, Xala 4, Beroiz 1

Service winners: Olaizola II 0, Xala 0

Service errors: Olaizola II 0, Xala 0

Match time: 83 minutes

Balls hit: 720


Aimar Olaizola and Aritz Begino: champions

Aimar Olaizola and Aritz Begino: champions

Image from

Pelota on ETB Sat, 15th-17th April: PAIRS FINAL

After over three months of competition, the Pairs Championship has come down to a final between the two pairs who were predicted to be there all along. The only fly in the ointment of the perfect final is the cruel absence of Barriola through injury. The best defender of the tournament by a long chalk, he has been exemplary throughout, but it is now down to Beroiz, who comes in to play the biggest match of his career, to help steer Xala to the title. In their way stand Olaizola and Begino, who started the tournament in the blaze of glory and assurance, only to suffer a dip mid way. They came good again in the semi finals, and as the more established pair must surely be the favourites. In the course of the tournament they have beaten Xala and Barriola twice, and this will only fuel their confidence. The new Bizkaia fronton in Bilbao will be a riot of colour and noise for one of the biggest days of the pelota year. Don’t miss it.

Friday 15th April, Soraluze



Sunday 17th April, Bilbao


Followed by OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO v XALA – BEROIZ* Pairs Final (*Beroiz replaces Barriola)

To watch, go to

Olaextea and Albisu crowned Second Tier Pairs Champions

Saturday 9th April, Tolosa


A superb display, including a whopping fourteen winners, by Mikel Olaextea, saw the Asegarce pair clinch the second tier final at Beotibar on Saturday. He and Jon Ander Albisu were always ahead, in front of a capcity crowd who created a magnificent atmosphere. They surged ahead to 6-0 early in the game, but Gorka and Merino did bring some pressure to bear, closing to 9-5 and then 14-13. However, Olaetxea increasingly exploited the errors of Gorka, and ably supported by Albisu, halted the Riojan challenge in its tracks.

Albisu and Olaetxea exultant

Albisu and Olaetxea exultant

Image from Noticias de Navarra

Heartbreak for Abel Barriola

Olaizola II and Begino set up the dream final, only for Barriola to be forced out

It seems as if, since I have been away in Italy and devoid of internet, all hell has broken loose in the world of professional pelota. The weekend before last, Aimar Olaizola and Aritz Begino booked their place in the final of the Pairs Championship, with a 22-19 victory over Yves Salaberry and Abel Barriola, who had already qualified. As Martinez de Irujo and Merino II lost to Gonzalez and Laskurain, this set up the final which had been long anticipated, between the two star turns of the tournament. However, yesterday, this tantalising prospect was turned firmly on its head with the news that Barriola, due to line up in his first ever Pairs final, would not be able to play. The top defender from Leitza had injured his calf muscle during the last semi final match, and it was clear he would not recover by Sunday, when the final was due to take place. Aspe looked into the possibility of postponing the big event until the following weekend, but the organisers vetoed this for the following three reasons:

1)      There can be no guarantee that Barriola will be fit by 24th April.

2)      A postponement would be unfair on the fans who had bought tickets, especially as the new date would coincide with the Easter holiday when many would be away.

3)      A deferral would get in the way of the start of the Manomanista Championship, the presentation for which is on 19th April.

This drastic decision throws Mikel Beroiz in at the deep end. The young defender will replace Barriola in what will be by far the biggest game of his short career, but filling the master’s boots will be a task not for the faint hearted, especially as it falls upon him to salvage Xala’s tournament. Beroiz stated that he was ‘in shock’ but that he is determined to play to the best of his ability. He also expressed his sorrow for Barriola, to whom misfortune seems to cling. Xala and Barriola have been the favourites for this txapela, almost throughout the long months of the tournament, and it seemed highly possible that the Leitzarra would finally break his lengthy run of second places in major championships. In 2005 he endured a lengthy break after an operation on his right hand, and worse still, lost a year to an anterior cruciate ligament tear in 2009, but this injury will hurt more than anything which has gone before. It is a staggering blow in the wake of a near faultless campaign by one of the classiest, and unluckiest, players of our era.

Agony for Abel

Agony for Abel

Image from Manista

Pelota on ETB Sat, 1st-3rd April

Friday 1st April, Urretxu

22:10 (CEST) OLAETXEA – IBAI ZABALA* v GORKA – MERINO 2nd Tier Pairs Semi Final (Ibai Zabala replaces Albisu)


Sunday 3rd April, Eibar


Followed by OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO v XALA – BARRIOLA Pairs Championship semi final

To watch, go to

The other Pairs semi final is between MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – MERINO II and GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN (Saturday, Labrit)

I apologise in advance for the lack of match reports this coming week. I will be on holiday but will round up all the news upon my return.