Tag Archives: Atano III

Defending champions off the mark in San Sebastian

Friday 4th January, Donostia-San Sebastian

The defending champions, with David Merino fit again, registered their first win of the 2013 edition on Friday, taking a pulsating match of epic proportions right at the death. This was a titanic struggle, lapped up by a near capacity crowd at Atano III, which stretched over an hour and where almost every point seemed a miniature match in its own right. All four players hit the heights and were extremely evenly matched. The Riojans looked the more secure early on, but once Xala and Barriola settled they began to turn the screw, edging ahead 11-14, 13-16 and 17-19 with Xala forcing Titin to play an ever more physical game and Barriola hitting long with great aplomb. However, the champions battled hard and showed enormous determination to close the gap in the dying rallies of the game. From 17-19 they drew level and moved directly to match point. Xala and Barriola threatened a comeback as they seized another point and with it the serve, but Titin and Merino were not to be denied and brought it home 22-20. This win was not enough to move them out of the bottom half of the table, but will surely have given them the confidence they need to get their defence on the road after a rocky start.

Scoring sequence: 1-0/ 1/ 1-2/ 2/ 2-6/ 3-6/ 6/ 7-6/ 9-6/ 9-7/ 10-7/ 10/ 11-10/ 11/ 11-14/ 12-14/ 12-15/ 13-15/ 13-16/ 14-16/ 14-18/ 17-18/ 17-19/ 19/ 20-19/ 21-19/ 21-20/ 22-20
Winners/errors: Titin 11/2, Xala 12/5, Merino 1/3, Barriola 3/6
Balls hit: 810
Match time: 94 minutes with 39 minutes of actual play

Titin and Merinos defence is back on track

Titin and Merino's defence is back on track

Photo: mine

San Sebastian Final: Defenders to the Fore in Victory for Irujo and Zubieta

Tuesday 23rd August, San Sebastian


The final of the Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian was a strange match, exciting not for its quality but for its unpredictability and its closeness. Both forwards hit winners aplenty, many of them stunningly executed, but also made myriad mistakes. There was little to choose between them at the end of the match, and it was the defenders, while less noticeable, who held the key to the fortunes of the opposing sides. Both Irujo and Zubieta began shakily, but Irujo’s recovery came concurrently with the return of Zubieta’s poise. The man from Etxarri-Aranatz, playing without a knee brace for the first time since his operation, hit the heights as the match progressed, producing both the game plan and the execution to push his pair over the finish line. Laskurain, despite being marginally shaded here, was named man of the tournament, confirming the week as one in which the defenders truly shone.

The match started very evenly indeed, with each player showing both good and bad in turn. From 2-2 though, it was Xala and Laskurain who put their feet on the pedal, advancing to 10-5 which some calm, while Irujo increasingly lost the plot. His error on 2-3 resulted in him hurling the ball furiously at the frontis, sending officials ducking, and the mistakes kept coming, a low volley negating some excellent long returns from Zubieta, a failure to return an eminently reachable gantxo, a miscue down the wall and a wild cross court swipe leading to a five-point deficit. Zubieta also contributed to the rot by hitting high twice, and the red pair barely needed to extend themselves to maintain their margin.

However, the ride turned when Laskurain momentarily lost his touch and hit high. Irujo and Zubieta took four points in a row to close to 9-10, aided by two errors from Xala. Xala, clearly annoyed by his lapses, seized the initiative back with a devastating spell of three cross court winners. He then bombed Zubieta, who fell short with a long strike, and the five-point advantage was restored. But again Irujo and Zubieta came back, their latest recovery also kick started by an error from Laskurain. Irujo increasingly brought his trump cards to the table, aided by a partner in Zubieta who was starting to fire on all cylinders. His pressure led directly to errors from both his opponents, and he found ever more depth to force Laskurain onto the back foot. They drew level at 15-15 thanks to one such Laskurain failure, and when a txoko from Irujo put them ahead, Zubieta clapped vigorously, knowing the momentum was with them. Supported wonderfully from the back, Irujo produced a txoko and an inspired skimming dos paredes borne of pure reflex to give them a 15-19 advantage.

The next two points went to Xala and Laskurain, as Irujo proved with two errors that his conversion to form was not complete, the first throwing away a point in which Laskurain had been very much on the run. A service winner from Xala reduced the gap to one point at 19-18, but Zubieta unleashed a wonderful ball over his rival’s head, the icing on the cake of a mad scramble beneath the frontis from all parties. Xala was to have the final say in the match; he gave his pair some hope with a nonchalant cross court winner, on match point, but undid it with a wild and wide ball to give the match to the blues by a three point margin. A game shaped by errors ended most aptly.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-2, 4-2, 4-3, 7-3, 7-4, 9-4, 9-5, 10-5, 10-9, 14-9, 14-11, 15-11, 15-19, 18-19, 18-21, 19-21, 19-22

Winners/errors: Irujo 7/8, Xala 7/6, Zubieta 2/3, Laskurain 0/5

Match time: 64:23

Balls hit: 515


The fully recovered Aitor Zubieta

The fully recovered Aitor Zubieta

Image from: Deia, by David de Haro

Aimar Olaizola into Manomanista Final, as Bengoetxea succumbs to power and guile

Sunday 29th May, San Sebastian


It would have been easy for Aimar Olaizola to have fallen into the trap of complacency. The two-time former winner, and current Pairs champion, has swept all before him this year, and to many, his scintillating win against Martinez de Irujo in the quarters felt like the final; how would he rouse himself for another effort, against a dangerous opponent with the skills to spring a surprise? Aimar, however, was firmly on his guard, and a slight mid-game lapse notwithstanding, produced another performance seemingly designed to crush the soul of Benogetxea, himself the champion in 2008. That year, he beat Aimar in the semis, but in 2011 there was no chance of that.

Bengoetxea started well, winning the first two points with clean winners. However, a falta ceded the serve, and with it the advantage. Aimar took the following three points with poise, producing a service winner and a txoko, and forcing Bengoetxea to hit wide. The underdog showed all his noted resolve to draw back level, repelling a barrage of long balls from Aimar before producing a winner from a position of near desperation, and then serving his way to 4-4. However, the next passage of play was one way traffic, as the great Navarrese forward unleashed the heavy artillery, adding eight points without reply. A key turning point came when Bengoetxea left a serve which looked to be going long. When it was called in, Aimar kept the serve and battered his rival into submission, manipulating him like a puppet on a string and finishing him off with a cocktail of overarm volleys, drops and a beautifully angled dos paredes which made the crowd purr. Bengoetxea defended with all his might, but was still found wanting, his disbelief palpable when he hit fractionally low after brilliantly picking the ball up from his toes at 4-10.

Bengoetxea got back on the board at 5-12, striking a winner by the skin of his teeth from an Aimar gantxo. There followed a period in which Bengoetxea chipped away, coming back to within five points at 8-13 before Aimar reminded him of the status quo by means of his powerful left arm. At 8-15, Bengoetxea would need to bring about a seismic shift to have any chance, but miraculously, he almost did it. Aimar made two uncharacteristically careless errors in a row, the second borne of a tactial blunder in choosing not to go long earlier in the point. Bengoetxea, full of bounding confidence and fight, then produced four winners in a row, finding momentary domination with a wonderfully employed long serve. Suddenly it was 14-15, and the game took on a very different complexion. Aimar, hitherto so calm and matter of fact, wore a furrowed brow. However, in the manner of great champions in all sports, he raised his level when the pressure was on, allowing Bengoetxea only one more point in the match, in a salvo which took him from 15-14 to 22-15. The awe inspiring Aimar was back, whipping the ball behind, above and round his ailing opponent until he was either forced into failure or powerless admiration. Bengoetxea never gave up the fight, but Aimar was a cut above.

This was perhaps not as complete a performance from the favourite as the one which vanquished Irujo, but the same elements remained in place. His serve was strong and well directed, his speed was immense and tactically he was almost faultless, employing the simple but devastating tactic of controlling the left wall and pummelling his opponent with his left hand. Bengoetxea tried to play him at his own game for much of the encounter, volleying from serve in an attempt to wrest the initiative. Against a lesser opponent, this may have borne fruit, but Aimar was unfazed, and showed how it should be done, with a total of eight airez winners in the game. He plays Xala in the final, which will be held on 19th June in Bilbao, delayed for a week due to a minor hand ailment suffered by Aimar. If he plays as he did against Irujo, Xala will be left reeling; if he lets his guard slip, and if Xala plays at the top of his game however, it could be a classic.

Scoring sequence: 0-2, 4-2, 4-4, 12-4, 12-6, 13-6, 13-8, 15-8, 15-14, 20-14, 20-15, 22-15

Winners: Olaizola 13, Bengoetxea 9

Errors: Olaizola 2, Bengoetxea 4

Service winners: Olaizola 4, Bengoetxea 4

Service errors: Olaizola 0, Bengoetxea 1

Match time: 56.30, with 10.54 of actual play

Balls hit: 264

Olaizola II: worthy finalist

Olaizola II: worthy finalist

Image from: Kiroljokoa

Cuatro y Medio Final: Barriola the bridesmaid succumbs to the irresistible force of Irujo

Sunday 12th December, Donostia-San Sebastian


Cuatro y Medio Final

On Sunday, 29 year old Juan Martinez de Irujo from Ibero became, officially, the second most successful pelotari of all time. In adding the 2010 Cuatro y Medio crown he took his tally of txapelas to nine, and only the incomparable Retegi II, with twenty, stands above him in the pantheon of pelota playing gods. It was Irujo’s second win in this championship, the first coming in 2006, and confirms him as the runaway player of the year, holding as he does both individual crowns. Few would bet against him adding the Masters title to his palmares in the next fortnight, for Atano III witnessed vintage Irujo, in a display which showed emphatically why he is at the very pinnacle of his art.

At first, the game was all about Barriola. It cannot be overlooked that for the man from Leitza, simply making this final was a triumph of some magnitude, for many doubted he would ever reach his former heights in the wake of his appalling knee injury of last year. His play in the first seven points appeared as a celebration of his resurrection, and with sheer exuberance he put Irujo to the sword. He stormed to 3-0 with three unreturnable serves, low, skidding and guileful. A clearly rattled Irujo hit low in the next point, and Barriola marched on, with yet another service winner. He then proved his quality in open play, maneuvering his rival expertly in the following two points to take a 7-0 advantage. Could he dare to dream?

For any mere mortal, such a drastic start would likely prove impossible to overcome, but Irujo is on a plane above the ordinary. Time and again he has proved his ability to turn deficits into positions of strength, and by sheer force of will, and white hot determination, he came roaring back, all bared teeth and pumping fists. The tide turned when he managed to dig out a point he had no right to win, scrapping like a dog before sending Barriola haring back to no avail. With his tail up, he played Barriola at his own game, winning the next four points with three service winners and a searing gantxo. He piled on the winners, passed his opponent’s tally, and kept going. Barriola hit wide attempting an ambitious winner on 7-9, and this acted as a barometer for the state of the match; the underdog now knew that to beat Irujo he had to take risks, and with this realization on the part of his rival, the eventual winner scored a crucial sucker punch.

Barriola’s risks did on occasion pay off. He stemmed Irujo’s flow with a skimming crosscourt winner to peg his deficit at 8-10, but he now seemed anxious, losing the next two points with a rushed gantxo attempt and a high ball with which he tried in vain to pin Irujo back. Irujo slipped into another gear with the point for 13-8, driving Barriola all over the fronton before crushing him with a gantxo. Barriola refused to be bowed however, and chipped away at the scoreboard with flashes of dogged brilliance. He drew level again at 14-14, thanks to his strong serve, several ingenious winners and two uncharacteristically slapdash errors from Irujo, and it was game on once again. However, in three swift points, the whole complexion of the game swung once again to Irujo, this time for good. Agonisingly, Barriola struck the 4 ½ line in an attempt to push Irujo long, and railed against himself, hands on head. With the lead back, Irujo pounced with venom, producing a gantxo which reasserted his dominion over the fronton. He then worked Barriola over mercilessly, sending him wide and then long, before his valiant salvage attempt fell short. Irujo was now tearing, blinkered, towards the prize, swinging freely and oozing confidence from every pore. He treated Atano III to his full armory of attack. Barriola served at 19-16, still within striking distance, but in sad contrast to his earlier brilliance in this department, his ball failed to travel far enough. This was the final nail in the coffin, and Irujo wasted little time in condemning Barriola to his seventh straight defeat in a major final.

Barriola, the perennial bridesmaid, may find this loss hard to swallow, but the man from Leitza has confounded the critics. It was sometime after his comeback before he regained the fluidity and accuracy for which he is known, but with his performance in the Cuatro y Medio and the tournaments which led up to it, he has regained his status at the very top of the game. For Irujo, who suffered a painful and unexpected loss to Gonzalez in last year’s final, the sky is the limit. How many more titles might he add before he writes the final chapter of his already illustrious career? Might Retegi II be toppled?

Scoring sequence: 0-7; 10-7; 10-8; 13-8; 13-10; 13-12; 14-13; 14-14; 15-14; 16-14;19-14 19-16; 20-16; 20-17; 22-17.

Match time: 43 mins, with 9 mins actual playing time

Balls hit: 206


Sheer delight for Juan Martinez de Irujo

Sheer delight for Juan Martinez de Irujo

Image from Noticias de Gipuzkoa, by Ruben Plaza



San Sebastian Final: Victory for the Leitzarras after injury to Xala

Friday 27th August, Donostia-San Sebastian


It was an anti-climactic end to a match which had everything. With the score on 10-12 in favour of Bengoetxea and Barriola, the latter raced forward to retrieve a txoko from Xala. He got there, and dived, but the ball hit him on the rebound, giving the point to the opposing pair. Such was the drama of the point, in much the same vein as every point in this absorbing encounter, that one could have been forgiven for missing the stumble of Xala as his knee went sideways in the execution of his winner. As he sat, slumped against the wall, a resigned shrug told the story. He was hurt, and departed for treatment. He returned to the fray, briefly, but to continue was not worth the risk of lasting damage. Two points later it was all up for the pair in red, and thus came to an end a game, which although only partially played, was as long as a complete match of average length. Nobody can say what might have been.

The match started with a whitewash by Bengoextea and Barriola, the men from the same small Navarrese town of Leitza. Bengoetxea was supreme, looking every inch the player who took the 2008 Manomanista by storm. The first point, which ended in the first of his nine winners, was a tactical tour de force. Apraiz took took it on and attacked his opposite number, but Bengoetxea wrested the initiative before whipping the ball into space in the wide court. Xala almost nailed the second point, but pushed his attempted winner wide, and the Asegarce forward continued his masterclass, with five winners in the next five points, showing the immense range of his skill. In the point which took the score to 3-0, he dealt Apraiz a merciless working over before barreling one above his head. The next was won with a drop before he flummoxed Apraiz again. A service winner stretched the lead to six, and a textbook long serve-gantxo-drop routine took it to seven. Barriola was faultless as Bengoetxea’s foil, and there was nothing their opponents could do.

However, the tide turned. Bengoetxea, who had been stretching throughout the game, left the fronton at 7-0 for attention, and when he returned, he found a changed opposition. The reds gained their first point from Bengoetxea’s first mistake, and the second came from a Xala serve. The leaders continued to score in ones and twos, but the real surge by Xala and Apraiz came at 4-10, upon which they added five points without reply. Notable here was the reverse in the fortunes of the defenders. Hitherto, Barriola had been irreproachable, but Apraiz was not intimidated by his reputation and seized the initiative. Barriola’s dip started when he got utterly mixed up close in to the wall and pushed one wide. He withstood some searing pressure in the point which followed, but subsequently cracked under Apraiz’s salvo, going short and low in consecutive points. Xala, too, moved up a gear, tricking Bengoetxea superbly at 2-8, and firing merciless winners at 6-10 and 8-10. With the reds only one point in arrears, it was anybody’s game.

Bengoetxea and Barriola relieved some pressure, restoring their two point lead after the former ended a full scale war of a point with a crosscourt winner, but threw it away immediately with miscued sitter of a txoko. The pattern repeated itself as Bengoetxea volleyed cleverly into space, before the txoko winner in which Xala’s knee gave out. After the treatment break, Apraiz struck low before Benogetxea grabbed a three point lead with an easy winner into the corner, but Xala appeared immobile and dejected; he could not go on.

There is no way of knowing what could have happened in the remainder of this extraordinary match, so full of gargantuan points, stunning defence and virtuosic winners. A rout had seemed on the cards, but Xala and Apraiz showed an iron will to fight, and stormed back to within an inch of the lead. When the accident happened, Bengoetxea and Barriola appeared to be in the process of regaining their calm, and one has to concede that the best pair in the tournament took the spoils. Their semi final performance was a display for the ages, and in the early part of this game they showed that their level there was no fluke. Barriola took home the trophy for the player of the tournament, and save for his momentary slip in the transitional part of the final, he was near faultless. Bengoetxea too was in a higher league, full of venom, attack and guile. The fans can only hope that they will be afforded the chance to renew their partnership very soon.

Xala was diagnosed with a sprained right knee in the aftermath of the match, and will undergo further medical tests tomorrow to determine the extent of the injury.

Scoring sequence: 0-7,2-7,2-8,3-8,3-9,4-9,4-10,9-10,9-11,10-11,10-12,11-12,11-14

Winners/errors: Bengoetxea VI 9/3, Xala 4/3, Barriola 0/3, Apraiz 1/2

Total match time: 1:02.03

Playing time: 22.45

Balls played: 471

Oinatz and Abel, victors in San Sebastian

Oinatz and Abel, victors in San Sebastian

Image from Gara, by Jon Urbe

San Sebastian: Xala and Apraiz finalists at Atano III

Tuesday 24th August, Donostia-San Sebastian


Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian Semi Final

The final of the San Sebastian tournament will be between two pairs whose players are drawn from opposing empresas. Yves Salaberry and Alexis Apraiz booked their place on Tuesday, beating the established pairing of Pablo Berasaluze and Aritz Begino, to take their place in Friday’s showdown with the men from Leitza, Bengoetxea VI and Barriola. The game was won in the forward battle, where Xala stood head and shoulders above Pablo, who had a night to forget. Xala signalled his intent from the word go with two crosscourt winners which verged on the nonchalant, and he never looked back, committing one solitary error in nearly twenty minutes of playing time. In the final at Zarautz, Xala was very far from his usual self, but here we saw the play from him to which we have become accustomed this year. Never ruffled, he played with icy calm, hitting ten winners, and exuding utter control. He finished the match as he started it, with an easy winner, to further confirm his status as man of the match. In contrast, Berasaluze leaked errors, committing eight in total. He was potent at times, scoring eight winners too, but these were essentially wiped out by his inconsistency. He fought hard, as ever, but Xala was an obstacle too far for a man in less than his greatest form.

The backs were more evenly matched, both making four errors. Apraiz, for his part, grew in confidence as the match progressed, finding a nice rhythm and a cool head. The majority of his mistakes came early on in the game, and he offered high level support to his attacking game-winner. Begino was perhaps the more inventive of the two, managing three outright winners, and was strong from the rear of the court, but the crucial battle occurred in front of him and Begino; no amount of stoic support could have saved Pablo. On the evidence of their semi final, Bengoetxea and Barriola will be hard to beat on Friday. Bengoetxea has been in fine fettle of late, and looked totally at ease with his new partner. Apraiz will have to play out of his skin to upset Barriola, who is currently playing like a Rolls Royce, and Xala will need another game like Tuesday’s if he and Apraiz are to lift the silverware.

Scoring sequence: 0-3, 2-3, 2-4, 4-4, 4-6, 6-6, 7-6, 7-7, 7-13, 8-13, 8-14, 11-14, 11-15, 12-15, 12-18, 14-18, 14-20, 16-20, 16-22.

Winners/Errors: Xala 10/1, Berasaluze VIII 8/8, Apraiz 0/4, Begino 3/4

Balls played: 393

Match time: 51.56

Playing time: 19.20

Apraiz offered good support

Apraiz offered good support

Image from Diario Vasco by Michelena

San Sebastian: Crushing Victory for Leitza’s Famous Sons

Monday 23rd August, San Sebastian


Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian Semi Final

This was an extraordinary match, in the main for the wrong reasons. It would be unfair to overlook the stunning play of Oinatz Bengoetxea and Abel Barriola, but inevitably the post mortem centres around Titin and Zubieta, both supposedly in excellent form, and their utter implosion. On the face of it, they should have been the better oiled partnership, having played together on many occasions. Bengoetxea and Barriola come from the same town, Leitza, in north western Navarre, and know each other well, but are unaccustomed to playing as colleagues. In the Manomanista final of 2008, which will go down in the civic annals and in local legend, Leitza ruled the sport, with Bengoetxea defeating Barriola to take the greatest prize of all, but the prospect of seeing the towns most famous sons in tandem was almost as enticing. Their collective virtuosity and their obvious empathy on Monday night makes one wish such a meeting could occur more regularly. They put Titin and Zubieta in the shade.

The game promised much, and the early exchanges did not disappoint. It was the eventual losers who drew first blood, when Barriola could not return a stunning long ball from Pairs Champion Zubieta. The second point was staggering in its variety, and was won by Barriola who came forward to whip the ball wide, having survived intense pressure. Titin took the lead again with an airez, before allowing his rivals to draw level once more at 2-2 with a low txoko attempt. All seemed set for an epic tussle. However, for Titin and Zubieta, the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion. They managed only three more points in the match, two of which came from the errors of their opponents, and the third from Titin’s second and last winner in the game.

The statistics tell the story of the gulf between the forwards. Bengoextea was on fire, striking nine winners to only one error. Five of his winners came from serves, a part of his game which clicked excellently well. He was striking in his speed and verve, never resting, always scrapping, and made space for his winning shots with ease and grace. In contrast, Titin looked leaden footed. He possessed none of the spark of his recent matches, and appeared stiff and immobile alongside Bengoetxea’s dexterity. He barely looked in a position to go for the kill, and when he attempted it he was found wanting. He provided no kind of platform for Zubieta, who also looked off colour. He showed his class in the course of many of the rallies, but missed the spot on four occasions, trying vainly to create some pressure on his opposite number, the irrepressible Abel Barriola. The great defender continues to go from strength to strength since returning from his enforced break. Here he was once again magisterial, striking cleanly and elegantly from all positions. Not content to simply field the long ball, he often came forward to mix it in the front half of the court, notably pulling off an astonishing dos paredes on 10-3 which sent Titin into a rage. It is telling that Titin’s opposing defender scored more winners, four, than he did.

Titin and Zubieta had a day to forget but will come back and prove their class soon enough. For them, it was a case of bad turning to worse, the one affected by the woes of the other. The game started well for them, and they appeared increasingly in shock that things could have taken such a dramatically bad swing, as did the gathered crowds. Bengoextea and Barriola in contrast look like an irresistible partnership, belying their inexperience as a couple. They will represent a tough obstacle in the final as they aim once more to make Leitza proud.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 2-6, 3-6, 3-7, 3-11, 4-11, 4-12, 4-17, 5-17, 5-22.

Winners/errors: Bengoetxea VI 9/1, Titin III 2/4, Barriola 5/2, Zubieta 0/4.

Balls played: 354

Total match time: 40.28

Playing time: 16.42

Oinatz and Abel united

Oinatz and Abel united

Image from Diario de Navarra by JA Goni

San Sebastian: Pablito edges Irujo in close opener

Friday 20th August, Donostia-San Sebastian


Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian

Last night’s opening match at Atano III was all about experience versus experimentation. Pablo Berasaluze and Aritz Begino know each other inside out; each plays with various partners throughout the year but they more often than not converge at the major tournaments, and have joined forces in the past two Pairs Championships. Conversely, it was something of a novelty for Martinez de Irujo to find himself paired with Oier Mendizabal. Not only do they hail from different empresas, but Mendizabal is more used to partnering Irujo’s erstwhile greatest rival, Aimar Olaizola, with whom he won the Pairs title in 2008. The game which ensued was a close one, with frequent situations of deadlock, but in the end perhaps the greater empathy of the regular pair showed, and granted them the required edge.

Pablo and Aritz began the brighter of the couples. Mendizabal went high after a long, steady opening point, and Pablo confirmed the initial advantage with a txoko, wrong footing Irujo expertly. Irujo showed that he was not to be outcome by copying Pablo’s trick in the next point, but another Mendizabal error restored the two-point advantage. Irujo pulled out a ganxto, but then committed three errors in a row, going low, wide, and fluffing another gantxo entirely, to give the blue pair a decided spring in their step. An error born out of a moment of slight confusion by Begino and a stunning rebote from Irujo closed the reds’ deficit to two at 4-6, but the blues surged ahead again. Oier squandered a point in which his pair did everything right, going wide as he searched for space to clinch it, and in the next play he went low from the back of the court. The local boy looked classy at times under the high ball, and retrieved some stunning long shots excellently, but the errors began to blot his copybook. Pablo sealed a 9-4 lead with a stinging cross court airez, and it looked to all the world as if he and Begino were in absolute control.

However, Irujo and Mendizabal, gelling better than they had, slowly worked themselves back into the match, taking the next four points. Pablo followed his superb winner in the previous play with a miscued txoko in the next, and a service winner from Irujo followed by an error from Begino brought them to within a point. Pablo and Aritz pulled two back to steady the ship, but their opponents came again, Irujo now asserting his class to draw his pair level for the first time at 11-11. In the next passage of play, the couples could not be split, finding themselves tied at 12, 13 and 14 apiece, Irujo and Mendizabal taking the lead for the first and only time at 14-13.

Somebody needed to break the stalemate, and it was Pablo who took the helm. Both he and Irujo produced play from the top drawer at various points throughout the game, but it was Pablo’s greater potency, and perhaps his unbreakable will in this latter passage of play which proved the game breaker. His pair, finding themselves behind, reacted by taking seven of the next eight points, six of them winners for the irrepressible Berasaluze. Two virtuosic forward scraps went the way of the man from Berriz, before an unreturnable serve, a gantxo and two beautiful airez winners put him and Begino on the verge of victory at 20-15. Irujo found himself outmanoeuvred and out hit, attacking an empty chair in fury. There was a hint of a comeback from Irujo and Mendizabal, helped by two Begino errors and a flash of tactical brilliance from the Aspe forward, but Pablo fought tooth and nail to match point before sealing it with a serve.

The pairs were for the most part extremely evenly matched but in the final analysis the right side won. Begino and Mendizabal were much of a muchness in their defensive roles, at times classy but prone to error. The difference came in the forward battle, where Berasaluze got the better of the Manomanista champion, turning in twelve winners to Irujo’s nine. He also made half the number of mistakes of his illustrious rival. The winning pair was also, unsurprisingly, the better oiled partnership, more a single unit than a duo of talented individuals. They will now proceed to play Xala and Apraiz on Tuesday, for a place in the final.

Scoring sequence: 0-2, 1-2, 1-3, 2-3, 2-6, 4-6, 4-9, 8-9, 8-11, 11-11, 11-12, 12-12, 12-13, 13-13, 14-13, 14-14, 14-17, 15-17, 15-20, 18-20, 18-22.

Winners: Berasaluze VIII 12, Irujo 9, Begino 0, Mendizabal II 2

Errors: Berasaluze VIII 2, Irujo, 4, Begino 5, Mendizabal II 6

Balls played: 438

Total match time: 1:01.49

Playing time: 20.44

Begino (left) and Berasaluze are well acquainted

Begino (left) and Berasaluze are well acquainted

Image from: navarrasport.com

Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian: Line up announced

From one beautiful seaside setting to another, the summer round of festivals moves from Zarautz to San Sebastian later this week. Five pairs will compete for the title, and three of them will feature an Asegarce player paired with an Aspe one. The line up will be as follows:

Martinez de Irujo (Aspe) – Mendizabal II (Asegarce), Berasaluze VIII – Begino (both Asegarce), Titin III – Zubieta (both Aspe), Bengoetxea VI (Asegarce) – Barriola (Aspe), Xala (Aspe) – Apraiz (Asegarce)

Berasaluze VIII and Begino are the defending champions, having beaten Bengoetxea VI and Mendizabal II 22-11 in the 2009 final. This year’s matches will take place on 20th, 23rd, 24th and 27th August at Atano III.

(Image is mine)

Manomanista: Ruthless Irujo makes short work of Oinatz

Sunday 16th May, San Sebastian


Manomanista Group A

On Sunday, Manomanista favourite Juan Martinez de Irujo made short work of Oinatz Bengoetxea to make absolutely sure of his place in the last four. Bengoetxea, the 2008 champion needed a big victory to progress, but he came up against an Irujo in a typically aggressive mood, and never came close. The result also means that Asier Olaizola is assured of his semi final slot. He will probably play Xala, while Irujo will face either Patxi Ruiz or Retegi Bi.

As if to state his intent to finish his opponent off as quickly as possible, Irujo raced to a 5-0 lead. Bengoetxea rallied to 5-4 but that was as close as he got to the tournament favourite, who surged to 13-5 and 20-6. He relaxed a little as he reached the finishing line, but he had plenty breathing space, and though he moved on to 10, Benogetxea was in an inferior league to Irujo here. The former champion committed ten errors, and the lack of competition between the two was reflected in the short duration of many of the rallies. Irujo simply had too much power and played with too much speed, and only 117 balls were required to seal the win.

This is the third consecutive visit to the Manomanista semi finals, and he has arrived at this point with three wins from three in the contest. He must now be the favourite, although Asier Olaizola uncovered weaknesses in his armoury. Xala may have something to say about the supposed top status of the man from Ibero, and as the form pelotari of the year as a whole, may prove his most formidable rival. A final between the two would be a match to savour.

Scoring sequence: 5-0, 5-4, 13-4, 13-5, 13-6, 20-6, 20-7, 21-8, 21-10, 22-10

Oinatz is out

Oinatz is out

Image from Noticias de Alava, by Javi Colmenero