Monthly Archives: December 2011

Pairs Championship: Irujo the difference in tough Tolosa tussle

Friday 23rd December, Tolosa
Xala and Laskurain came into this match with a point to prove, having fallen apart against supposedly less fancied opposition in the first week. However, having to play against the tournament favourites when seeking a restoration of confidence is never ideal. Irujo and Barriola for their part may have felt the need to pull off a game which justified their favouritism after being tested more than they would have liked last week, meaning that they too were well and truly up for the fight. They were tested for the second week running, but their superior control and teamwork saw them through leaving their opponents, highly fancied to make the last four, nursing their wounds after two losses from two.
The favourites made the early running, going ahead 3-8 thanks mainly to the stroke play of Irujo. Barriola made two uncharacteristic early errors, but with their opponents slipping up in their attempt to hit the lines, they mattered little. However, when Barriola continued his lapse, matters became a little more urgent for the blue pair. Three further errors in a row from the great defender, two rather lax and the third an over-ambitious attempt at a cross court winner, brought the reds to within two points. Xala seized his chance and pulled his duo into the lead at 10-9, inducing Irujo to hurl the ball at the frontis with total disgust. Two winners, perhaps a knee-jerk reaction, from Irujo gave the lead back to the blues and the lead changed again as Xala mixed winners full of wow factor with an extremely careless missed txoko. At 12-12 there was nothing to choose between the sides but a mistake each from Irujo and Barriola gave Xala and Laskurain a two point lead for the first time. Again, though, Irujo used his disgust as a spur to action. On 13-14 he slipped trying to change direction, leaving the court open for Xala. When Laskurain handed the serve back to Irujo as he rushed into a covering attempt on behalf of Xala, Irujo changed gear.
Irujo and Xala had hitherto been evenly matched, but the man from Ibero now put on a demonstration not only of his shot making ability but of his skill in manipulating his rivals like inanimate puppets. This was never so apparent as in the point which gave him a 20-17 lead, in which he worked Xala until he was forced to run backwards, leaving Laskurain woefully unable to pick up the pieces at the front. Xala failed to help himself, alternating between clever and skilful play and inexplicable misses, and the final two points were all Irujo, the first taken after he had bombed Laskurain into submission and the second seized with an extremely easy txoko.
Although they were forced to scrap until the mid point, Irujo and Barriola will take a vast amount of confidence from this performance, for they proved themselves able to lift their game when it mattered. Xala and Laskurain, in contrast, will have done nothing to make themselves feel better. They are a classy pairing no doubt, and will grow into the competition, but in these early stages they do not appear as a couple brimming with inner harmony. Thankfully for them though, April is a whole world away.
Scoring sequence: 0-2, 1-2, 1-4, 3-4, 3-5, 3-8, 7-8, 7-9, 10-9, 10-10, 10-11, 11-11, 11-12, 12-12, 14-12, 14-13, 15-13, 15-18, 17-18, 17-22.
Winners/errors: Xala 8/4, Irujo 14/3, Laskurain 0/4, Barriola 0/6
Match time: 1:05.32 with 28:18 of actual play
Balls hit: 560
Still no joy for Xala
Still no joy for Xala

Photo: mine

Christmas Pelota on ETB

Friday 23rd December, Tolosa


Followed by XALA – LASKURAIN v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BARRIOLA Pairs Championship 2nd rotation

Sunday 25th December, Eibar


Followed by TITIN III – MERINO II v ARITZ LASA – ZUBIETA Pairs Championship 2nd rotation

In addition to the normal professional games, ETB will also show the finals of the Torneo Diario Vasco for elite amateurs on Christmas Day at 12:00 (CET).

To watch, go to or 

Pairs Championship: Aritz Lasa and Zubieta on top as Xala rages

Monday 19th December, Tolosa
Extra interest in this match was added by the polemic which has surrounded Gonzalez’s non-selection in the past few days. Gonzalez yesterday apologised at an extremely earnest press conference for his tirade, in which he questioned the selection of Aritz Lasa and accused his bosses of using non-sporting criteria in a decision which smacked of favouritism. If Gonzalez hoped justification for his rage would come as a result of this match he must have been sorely disappointed, as Lasa had the measure of Xala, the Manomanista Champion and looked every inch at home in the exalted company of the elite pairs competition. The first half of the match was close with the couples tied at 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9, but from 10-11 the supposed underdogs played like anything but. Xala had extreme difficulty in moving the balls chosen by Lasa and Zubieta and grew more and more frustrated at his ability to break free. His fury flowed over at 10-14 when Lasa appeared marginally to block his path. When his protestations to the referee failed he threw his chair three rows back into the crowd in a fit of emotion all the more shocking for coming from a player who is usually so collected. Despite Xala’s meltdown however, the real difference between the pairs came in the back division, where 2010 champion Zubieta was solid as a rock and worked expertly with his partner to put Laskurain under pressure he proved unable to bear. It is early days in the competition, but Lasa and Zubieta have proved in no uncertain terms that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 4-2, 4-4, 4-6, 6-6, 7-6, 7-7, 8-7, 8-8, 9-8, 9-9, 9-11, 10-11, 10-14, 11-14, 11-20, 12-20, 12-22
Service winners/errors: Xala 2/2, Aritz Lasa 3/0
Winners/errors: Xala 5/2, Laskurain 1/6, Aritz Lasa 7/2, Zubieta 2/2
Match time: 60:10.30
Balls hit: 584


Lasa and Zubieta won at a canter

Lasa and Zubieta won at a canter


Photo: mine



Pairs Championship: Olaizola II-Beroiz confirm their billing as Asegarce’s finest

Friday 16th December, Sestao


Aimar Olaizola is likely to be the favourite in almost everything he enters just now and that was certainly the case here. He does not have a long history of playing with Mikel Beroiz, who only transferred to Asegarce from Aspe in the summer, but on the strength of a series of good results together including an exemplary campaign at the San Mateo tournament, they were paired together. This opening match assuaged any doubts as to the worthiness of the 22 year old Beroiz, who played a flawless match in support of his illustrious partner, raising their stock in this championship still further.

The pair in blue could not possibly has made a better start to their assault on the txapela, storming to a 7-0 lead with minimum of effort. Berasaluze started badly, gifting his opponents the first three points with unforced errors. Some might have complained more vociferously when in the fourth point Aimar unintentionally got in his way in hitting a winner to the corner, but Beraslauze knew he was beaten, nodded as if to acknowledge his opponent’s superiority and moved on. Aimar controlled the next two points with consummate assurance, demonstrating his tactical nouse as well as his ability to conjure winners of brilliance, and an Albisu error sealed their early dominance. The red pair managed their long overdue first point thanks mostly to a slight breakdown in communication from the favourites but they did not seize the chance presented to them to get back into the game as the blues built their lead to nine at 10-1.

It was not until the score stood at 2-11 that Berasaluze got into his stride, hinting at a possible comeback. Four winners in a row from the effervescent forward halved their deficit and the man from Berriz finally showed the crowd what he could do with two winners to the corner and a scintillating cross court airez followed by an unreturnable serve. It was thanks to Albisu, hitting high, that they could not capitalise on their new found momentum; while Beroiz hit powerfully and metronimically, the young debutante was inconsistent and ill at ease. Both pairs accumulated points in ones and twos in the next period of the match. Berasaluze’s determination and will prevented the points deficit from increasing, but he and Albisu could make no progress against the control of Aimar and the inpregnability of Beroiz. Two Berasaluze winners gave the underdogs some hope as they arrived at 10-15, but from there the floodgates opened and they failed to score further. Four of these points came from the hand of Aimar who was so much in the ascendency that he appeared almost nonchalant. A low strike from Berasaluze sealed the deal as Asegarce’s most fancied pairing chalked up their first win in some considerable style. 

Scoring sequence: 0-7, 1-7, 1-10, 2-10, 2-11, 6-11, 6-12, 6-13, 8-13, 8-15, 10-15, 10-22.
Service winners/errors: Berasaluze 2/0, Olaizola 0/0
Winners/errors: Berasaluze 8/3, Olaizola 12/2, Albisu 0/5, Beroiz 2/0
Match time: 54:16 with 26:49 of actual play
Balls hit: 518

An excellent start for Mikel Beroiz

An excellent start for Mikel Beroiz

Photo: mine

Pairs Championship: Bengoetxea and Apraiz off the mark as champion defender fails to fire

Sunday 18th December, Eibar


The main interest in this match was in seeing how Begino would operate with Arretxe, and whether the latter as a debutante would be able to stand the pace of the elite tier. Begino won the title with Olaizola II in 2011 and might be forgiven for feeling a little aggrieved not to have been paired with him again, being ousted by Beroiz who has had a rather more visible year since. As it happened, Begino proved completely unable to lift Arretxe, who while he played with credit was outpaced by Bengoetxea. The game was characterised by long tough rallies and it exceeded 700 ball strikes in all, but the poetry was removed by the error count, for which Begino was especially responsible. The defender was a rock in last year’s championship, proving a splendid anchor for Olaizola’s attacking venom, but there was little sign of these qualities on Sunday. Bengoetxea and Apraiz were rarely troubled and were ahead throughout, but this win has done nothing to answer any questions about their credibility as a pair for the overall. Consistency is the name of the game in this mammoth championship and on this showing they look less than immovably solid. Still, it is very early days, and much can and will change between now and April.

Iker Arretxe made a creditable debut

Iker Arretxe made a creditable debut

Photo: mine

Pairs Championship: Irujo and Barriola off to a winning start at the expense of team Rioja

Saturday 17th December, Pamplona


Saturday’s game at Labrit went to the form book as the tournament favourites registered a win in their opener. However, they were pushed extremely hard by the Riojan duo of Titin and David Merino. Although Irujo and Barriola game out all guns blazing and surged to a 5-0 lead, their opponents found their feet and managed to sneak ahead at 8-6 and 9-7. Irujo and Barriola dominated most of the rallies but the red pair finished them well, with Merino controlling play impressively from the back. At 14-13 there was nothing to choose between the protagonists. However, thereafter the favourites began to exert their control. Merino’s level dropped and Barriola, who finished the match without a single error, was king. Irujo also lifted his game, though he was inconsistent throughout, and without Merino firing on all cylinders, Titin looked one dimensional. Irujo and Barriola never fully threw off the shackles of their rivals, who tracked them closely and fought hard, but this was in the end a job well done.

Scoring sequence: 0-5, 5-5, 5-6, 8-6, 8-7, 9-7, 9-11, 12-11, 12-13, 14-13, 14-16, 15-16, 15-19, 16-19, 16-21, 17-21, 17-22

Service winners/errors: Titin 1/0, Irujo 0/0

Winners/errors: Titin 8/0, Irujo 12/8, Merino II 0/6, Barriola 4/0

Match time: 63:13

Balls hit: 530

Irujo was inconsistent but did enough

Irujo was inconsistent but did enough

Source: Diario Vasco, Photo: mine

Pelota on ETB, 16th-18th December: Pairs Championship week 1

Friday 16th December, Sestao


Followed by BERASALUZE VIII – ALBISU v OLAIZOLA II – BEROIZ Paris Championship 1st rotation

Sunday 18th December, Eibar


Followed by BENGOETXEA VI – APRAIZ v ARRETXE II – BEGINO Pairs Championship 1st rotation

To watch, go to or

The other Pairs matches in this first rotation are between TITIN III – MERINO II and MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – BARRIOLA (Saturday, Pamplona), and XALA – LASKURAIN and ARITZ LASA – ZUBIETA (Monday, Tolosa)

Pairs Championship presentation: empresas spring surprises

The players for the 2012 Pairs Championship were announced yesterday and are as follows:

For Asegarce: Olaizola II-Beroiz, Arretxe II-Begino, Berasaluze VIII-Albisu, Bengoetxea VI-Apraiz

For Aspe: Martinez de Irujo-Barriola, Xala-Laskurain, Aritz Lasa-Zubieta, Titin III-Merino II

These combinations caused an instant reaction both from the press and from Sebastien Gonzalez, axed in place of Aritz Lasa, who makes his debut. Gonzalez is perhaps right to feel aggrieved; most assumed he was an automatic choice, and it is questionable as to whether Lasa has done enough to merit inclusion. Gonzalez is convinced that he has been excluded for ‘extra-sporting reasons’ and the mayor of his home town of Ascain has gone as far as to call for a boycott of matches in protest at a perceived anti-Iparralde bias. Irujo and Barriola are clearly Aspe’s trump card and there is little surprise over the formation of an all Riojan pair comprising Titin and Merino II, but elsewhere the debate continues. It was expected by most that Zubieta would partner his good friend Xala with whom he won the title in 2010 before injury ruled him out in 2011. However, Zubieta now finds himself with Lasa while Xala plays with Laskurain. Laskurain is in excellent form but his coupling with Xala, with whom he has rarely played of late, has raised eyebrows.

In the Asegarce camp, it is all about Olaizola II and Beroiz. Some may disagree with the splitting up of the defending champions Olaizola and Begino, but the empresa have clearly been grooming Beroiz to partner Olaizola and they have played well together ever since the young defender transferred from Aspe. Begino plays with another debutante in the form of Arretxe II. Asgegarce’s policy seems to be to spread their experience across all the pairs rather than concentrating it in two or three and while Arretxe must be delighted to have the rock that is Begino supporting him, one wonders whether it might have been more prudent to pair him with the likes of Bengoetxea, providing a realistic semi final option. Bengoetxea and Apraiz have the potential to beat anyone on their day, but Apraiz can lack consistency, a quality which is fundamental to a serious championship assault in the Pairs. Beraslauze has been paired with the third new player, Albisu, who is undoubtedly a great talent but who lacks a track record at this level. Asegarce must hope that when they throw their inexperienced charges into the fire, they thrive and do not burn.

The championship commences on Friday when Olaizola II and Beroiz play Berasaluze VIII and Albisu in Sestao. Asegarce lists the first rotations fixtures in full here: The final is scheduled for 29th April.

Cuatro y Medio Final: Aimar Olaizola sweeps to fifth title over imploding Irujo

SundSunday Sunbday 11thDecember, Bilbao


When Aimar Olaizola saw Irujo miss the ball which gave him the 2011 Cuatro y Medio title, his reaction was one of relief, perhaps infused with disbelief, rather than unabashed joy. It has been a tortuous month for the great forward, who broke his finger in his semi-final win over Abel Barriola on 13th November, causing the final to be delayed twice, and then had to endure the death of his father from a long illness only days before his date with sporting destiny. Nobody truly knew the state of his afflicted finger. Although he stated that he practised on Wednesday and experienced ‘good sensations’, playing a major final with a finger in a plastic brace is clearly far from ideal. Irujo warmed up in a more conventional manner, playing two pairs games to keep his match fitness nicely tuned, and although his year has been disappointing in comparison with Aimar’s, he started as clear favourite in these somewhat rarefied circumstances. However, conventional reasoning rarely applies to finals, where dead certs can crumble and underdogs can be crowned; Aimar showed no sign of distress or mental disquiet, while Irujo disintegrated with devastating effect to give the former his ninth professional txapela and his fifth in Cuatro y Medio. He now stands alone amongst the champions of this specialism, ahead of the great Retegi II, and while he dismisses obsession with records his place in the pantheon of the sport is fully assured.

The opening exchanges were torturously tight and high on both excitement and nerves. The pace was frenetic but neither played with consummate assurance. Irujo stamped an early mark, taking the first point by passing Aimar on the left but cancelled it out with an error in the next. Irujo took the next rally with a ball down the wall but then Aimar sent a warning of his presence with a cross court bullet. 2-2 became 3-3 after an error apiece and nobody had the ascendency. All cagey looks and concentrated stares, the protagonists seemed deep in a subtle mind game. Aimar was the first to make his move, taking the game from stalemate to 6-3. His run of three points was kick started by Irujo completely missing a ball against the side wall, much to his scowling disdain, and he broke clear with a wonderfully worked point in which he pinned Irujo to the wall before whipping the ball to the right. This was followed by a service winner which his opponent totally misjudged. 6-3 could easily have been 7-3 had his attempted gantxo winner made contact with the frontis but his three point cushion was restored when Irujo made an almost identical error in the next point, although he was possibly hard done by with the referee’s call. Aimar, however, was unable to break free and despite flashes of his customary brilliance, the typical nervous errors of such a momentous match crept into his play. He doggedly fought off a barrage of txoko attempts in the next point before somewhat needlessly hitting high and then miscued a sotomano which he sent clattering into the metal. His lead extended once more to two when Irujo went wide, and dropped again to one when he went low.

From this impasse, the colour of the encounter changed as Aimar exerted the control he had hitherto struggled to find. From 8-7 he advanced to 13-8 and the only point he lost in the sequence was due in part to Irujo’s unintentional blocking of his path, which lay just on the right side of the law as far as the officials were concerned. Aimar is renowned as an excellent tactical thinker and he showed his aptitude here in getting Irujo exactly where he needed him as he controlled the open spaces. This was especially evident in the point on 10-8 in which he completely out-foxed Irujo, hitting left to right as he hared the other way. His served also increased in potency, giving him the upper hand in rallies from the off, and the point which gave him his five point lead was brought about by his second sakez.

Aimar was obviously the more composed and the more potent, but as he stated in his post match press conference, you can never be sure to have buried Irujo until you reach 22. This being the case, his fury with himself at letting his great rival back into the game was fully understandable. Once again Irujo hauled himself back to within one point thanks to four errors in a row from Aimar which sprang more from a slippage of his own standards than a raise in Irujo’s. It seemed the championship would go to the wire, but what occurred over the following twenty minutes must constitute one of the most startling meltdowns in of the current era. Irujo would not win another point as Aimar strode towards the txapela with unshakeable assurance. He realised the importance of the point on 13-12, not wanting to give Irujo the mental boost of drawing level with him for the first time since 3-3 and pumped the air as if to signal the dawn of Irujo’s demise when he won it. If that was crucial, the next play was more truly the turning point, a momentous, never-ending whirl of hitting in which Irujo had Aimar running for his life, falling and tumbling in his desperate efforts to recover. The destination of the point appeared obvious, but Aimar thrillingly turned straining defence into glorious attack with a gantxo from nowhere, followed by an unreachable txoko. Irujo, dejected, must have wondered what he could possibly do to get past the obstacle in his path. Aimar did not celebrate, but leant his forehead against the wall, a picture of concentration, focussed on what he still had to do to make the prize his. The mentality of a champion.

If it was the stunning defence of Aimar which turned the tide, it was the force and accuracy of his serve which broke Irujo’s resolve. He moved from 17-12 to 19-12 with three straight service winners, pushing Irujo from flat, to dejected, to utterly incredulous. Irujo is not a player renowned for bottling his emotion deep within and although the lid was on, one sensed that it was about to blow in dramatic fashion. Sure enough, the next point did it. Irujo battled throughout its lengthy course, hitting as an equal, but when he threw his chances away with a ball which went well wide, it was more than he could bear. He walked purposefully towards Patxi Eugi, his botillero, as if to take a time out but then snapped in the blink of an eye, stamping on his chair with such force that pieces of plastic snapped from its legs before hurling it towards the floor of the fronton which he had come to hate so much. He stormed off the field of play past a slightly stunned looking Aretxabaleta, warming up for the third match, to a barrage of whistles from Bizkaia’s mighty throng. The game was obviously in Aimar’s hands, but to his immense credit, his focus never left him. He knew the dangers of playing Irujo, of assuming the prize is yours before the scoreboard confirms it. When Irujo returned, it was business as normal as Aimar registered his sixth service winner. This time his opponent left the furniture unmolested and resorted to a mere shrug. The magical 22, for which he had so patiently grafted, fell into Aimar’s grateful lap when Irujo missed the ball completely.

The new champion, engulfed by his friends, his brother and the press, looked serene and calm, and it was these virtues which took him to victory. Irujo was so rattled by the end of the game that he was barely recognisable as the great player we know him to be. Many would have become impatient and
bolted for the line, but not Aimar, who accumulated his points with quiet determination, never content until the job was done. The txapela of triumph upon his head, he pointed skywards in memory of his father, who had scarcely missed a match involving either him or his brother Asier, in a very public but also touchingly private tribute. Irujo, to his credit, mustered a wan smile on the podium and joined in the heartfelt applause for a worthy and truly great champion.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 6-3, 6-4, 7-4, 7-6, 8-6, 8-7, 10-7, 10-8, 13-8,
13-12, 22-12.

Winners/errors: Olaizola 14/9, Irujo 3/8

Balls hit: 263

Match time: 48:18 with 9:55 of actual play

Botilleros: Asier Olaizola with his brother Aimar, and Patxi Eugi with Irujo

Olaizola II, king of 4 1/2

Olaizola II, king of 4 1/2

Image from Deia

Pelota on ETB, 9th-11th December: Cuatro y Medio Final

After two postponements, the final of the Cuatro y Medio Championship takes place this Sunday in Bilbao. Juan Martinez de Irujo starts as favourite after Aimar Olaizola’s injury lay-off and possible resulting lack of match fitness, but as with any game between the two top players of the past decade, it promises to be a closely fought and fascinating encounter. The finalists selected their balls at Bizkaia yesterday with Olaizola choosing weights of 104.8g and 105.4 g, and Irujo 105.6g and 105.3g. Their press conferences (in Spanish) can be viewed on the Asegarce website. An excellent weekend of action begins in Ezcaray tonight with some Rioja’s finest on show in a festival which combines players from both empresas.

Friday 9th December, Ezcaray



Sunday 11th December, Bilbao


Followed by OLAIZOLA II v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO Cuatro y Medio Final

To watch, go to, or

Irujo and Olaizola II meet again on the biggest stage

Irujo and Olaizola II meet again on the biggest stage

Image from Noticias de Gipuzkoa, by Luis Gomez