Daily Archives: 26 April, 2013

Presenting the Finalists: Martinez de Irujo and Zabaleta

Juan Martinez de Irujo Goñi is one of the defining pelotaris of his generation and there is little that has not been said about the greart forward. Irujo, now 31, hails from Ibero in Navarre and made his professional debut in Pamplona in 2003. He hit the ground running in dramatic style, becoming Manomanista champion within a year of his debut having already reached the Pairs final in the same year. Titles continued to fall at his feet, culminating in the apotheosis of 2006 when he won all three major championships. Irujo’s career has slowed down of late; he has not won a major title since 2010, partly due to a dip in his own form and partly to the extraordinary flourishing of Aimar Olaizola who has usurped him as the sport’s number one in the past three years. However, Irujo remains Irujo and he has played a blinder for the majority of this year’s Pairs, inspired to reach the heights by his young partner Zabaleta, himself on a golden path to the top. It is not an exaggeration to say that, along with Olaizola, Irujo has changed the style of the modern game. To watch these two greats play each other is to watch a virtual whirlwind. Such pace and relentless attack set the pattern that all others would have to try and follow. Irujo has bad days and can sometimes be the architect of his own demise but when on song he is extremely hard to stop. This task will fall largely to Berasaluze on Sunday. He has done it before but can he do it again on the biggest stage of all?

Pairs record
2004 with Lasa III, finalist
2005 with Goni III, winner
2006 with Eulate, winner
2007 with Goni III, quarter-finals
2009 with Goni III, winner
2010 with Beroiz, semi-finals
2011 with Merino II, semi-finals
2012 with Barriola, group stages

Previous professional titles
Pairs Championship in 2005, 2006 and 2009
Manomanista in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010
Cuatro y Medio in 2006 and 2010

Jose Javier Zabaleta Lasa, who hails from the tiny Navarrese village of Etxarren, has been the revelation of the championship, though in truth his promise was so obvious that his rise is no big surprise. Zabaleta, who celebrated his 22nd birthday last month, made his professional debut in Eibar at the start of 2011 and impressed immediately. As an amateur he won the Campeonato de Lezo in 2009 and a year later took both the Federacion de Clubes Pairs title and the senior world title and given this pedigree, Aspe threw him into the Promocion Manomanista a few months later, where he lost to Olaetxea in a tight first round encounter. The following year he fell only at the semi-final stage, 21-22 to eventual winner Jaunarena. He missed out on selection for the Pairs with a broken arm in 2012, so the 2013 top tier championship is his first in the discipline at the professional level. He won his place on merit with a succession of outstanding performances against more experienced opposition and repaid the faith of his empresa from the word go. Zabaleta has looked older that his years, consistently inspired and constantly solid throughout the many weeks of the championship. He is quiet, polite and unassuming off the court and unflappable on it, and is clearly totally undaunted by both the massive chance and the great responsibility that comes in playing with Irujo. He is already destined for the bigtime and a win on Sunday would take him there with immediate effect. Whatever happens, 2013 has, so far, been the year of Zabaleta.

Pairs record
2013 is his first appearance

Previous professional titles

Photos: mine