Tag Archives: Retegi Bi

Cuatro y Medio: the Qualification Fight Intensifies

The Cuatro y Medio Championships, both the main competition and its Promocion counterpart, and nearing their endgame. As the semi-finals approach, we take a look at what happened this week. Who is through, who is out and who must play for their survival?

There were two thrillingly close games in the main championship last week. The first of these took place in Leitza on Friday, where BENGOETXEA VI beat XALA 22-20. The Navarrese town of Leitza, which sits a short distance over the border from Gipuzkoa, is something of a pelota hotbed. Bengoetxea is one of three current professionals who hail from there (the others being Barriola and Jaunarena). Home support can act in one of two ways, either putting further pressure on a player or pushing him to greater heights, and fortunately for Bengoetxea, the latter scenario played out. It was, however, desperately close; neither player managed a lead of more than three. In the middle portion of the game, Xala briefly threatened to put Bengoetxea on the rack with a quick fire run of four points, consisting of two errors from his opponent and two crunching hooks of his own. However, just as at every point where one or other pelotari found themselves with a lead, it was cancelled out. The game was not a vintage one from the point of view of consistently staggering shot play, although both proved why they are top tier professionals on various occasions, but for sheer tension it would have been hard to beat. The home favourite looked like he had finally broken from the shackles in the closing stages, going ahead 20-17 with the line in sight, but Xala fought back to 20-21 before a commanding txoko sealed the day. Bengoetxea now has one win and one loss in the quarter final league, so his fate depends on what happens this weekend. Xala, with two defeats, is out.

In Pamplona on Saturday, affairs were even tighter when BERASALUZE VIII pulled a 22-21 triumph against MARTINEZ DE IRUJO out of the fire. Whatever Berasaluze’s multitudinous merits, this result ranks as an upset, especially given the circumstances of the play which unfolded. Irujo went ahead 10-1 and 14-4 and to fall this far behind to a player of his quality should be terminal. However, Berasaluze, proving once more that in tenacity he is second to nobody in the world of pelota, came roaring back with a display littered with stinging hooks and audacious volleys. Irujo appeared utterly powerless as his Bizkaian rival took an unlikely 18-14 lead. There was a further twist when Irujo looked to have restored order, seizing the lead back at 19-18, but having come so far, there was no way Berasaluze would let the victory slip away. The players tied on 19, 20 and 21 but it was the underdog who dealt the final blow, winning by the smallest possible margin before the crowd rose in a standing ovation richly deserved by both. This result means Berasaluze is assured of a place in semi-finals, having defeated Barriola last weekend. Irujo, with a narrow victory and a narrow loss to his name, must beat Barriola on Sunday to go through.

Things were rather easier for the defending champion OLAIZOLA II, who was pushed hard in the early stages but in the end registered a comfortable 22-13 win over ARRETXE II.  Iker Arretxe has been something of a revelation in these championships, reaching the quarters by beating Titin and then backing this up with an easy win over Xala. Keeping pace with Olaizola at the mid-point of this game alone would have represented an improvement on his Pairs Championship form of earlier this year, but Aimar found a fifth gear when pressed and eased into the semi-finals with his second win, having beaten Bengoetxea by the same margin last week. Arretxe and Bengoetxea will play off this weekend for the second semi berth from Group A.

Back in Group B, BARRIOLA fought off RETEGI BI, winning 22-15 in Bilbao. The match was extremely tight in the early stages, with the protagonists locked together at 11-11. However, from this juncture it was the defender, unusually in Cuatro y Medio, who imposed himself. Barriola took seven points in a row to lead 18-11 and although Retegi closed to 18-14 he found the route back barred to him. Barriola therefore lives to fight another day, though he must defeat Irujo this weekend, while Retegi is out whatever the result of his game with Berasaluze VIII.

This weekend’s fixtures are:
Friday 9th November, Beasain: Berasaluze VIII v Retegi Bi
Saturday 10th November, Pamplona: Bengoetxea VI v Arretxe II
Sunday 11th November, Eibar: Barriola v Martinez de Irujo
Monday 12th November, Tolosa: Olaizola II v Xala

In the Promocion Championship, the semi-finalists are all set. From Group 1, Elezkano and Rico IV go through. Elezkano won his place thanks to an impressive 22-8 win over a far more experienced opponent in Jon Apezetxea. His only defeat in the tournament has been a narrow loss to Olazabal, and making it to this stage is quite a coup for the teenager who has only been a professional since September. Rico IV beat an off-colour Olazabal 22-12 to book his berth. In Group 2 everything came down to the final weekend but it was Jaunarena and Untoria who received their tickets to the last four. Gorka needed a win over Lemuno to progress but he fell three points short, losing 22-19. Jaunarena, playing in his home town of Leitza as a curtain raiser to fellow local Bengoetxea, did what he needed to do in defeating Untoria, but needed to wait until the other match was completed before absolute confirmation of his progression. Untoria goes through despite his loss, thanks to Gorka’s defeat. Both the semi finals take place next weekend. Rico IV plays Untoria in Najera on Friday 16th while the details of Jaunarena v Elezkano are yet to be confirmed.

Cuatro y Medio: the week that was

Shell shocked Xala beaten 22-12 by Arretxe
The quarter final rotations got underway last Friday, across the bay in Iparralde, when Arretxe II took on Xala in Hendaia. Nobody would have made Arretxe favourite for this game; Xala is by far the more decorated, the more experienced at this level and had near home advantage to boot. However, the upset happened. Xala was simply never in the game and looked utterly lacklustre, but nothing must be taken away from the underdog, for this was not a simple case of the favourite being dramatically off colour. Arretxe bossed almost every point, finishing with a whopping sixteen winners. That Xala made only six errors in a match where he was so comprehensively beaten is testament to Arretxe’s dominance. The final score is flattering to Xala, and came about thanks only to a relatively late rally from the former Manomanista champion, who mustered six winners in a row on the way from 3-18 to 12-19. However, any hope of an extraordinary comeback was dashed by some further Arretxe shot play. Xala appeared stunned, along with his legion of fans, and now has work to do to make the semis.
Scoring sequence: 0-5, 1-5, 1-10, 2-10, 2-14, 3-14, 3-18, 10-19, 12-19, 12-22.
Winners/errors: Xala 8/6, Arretxe 16/4
Balls hit: 197
Match time: 39:42 with 7:13 of actual play



(Image by Patrick Janicek under Creative Commons)

Olaizola II beat Bengoetxea VI 22-13. The following day it was the turn of the defending champion to take the stage in Pamplona, and he demonstrated to the public in no uncertain terms why he has won this title on five occasions. Bengoetxea, although he has never been Cuatro y Medio champion, is a great exponent of the short court game, having won the Navarrese title twice, including the last two editions, but he found the going tough here, despite fighting every inch of the way in his customary style. Olaizola punished him with a physical game, littered with trademark left handed hooks, and although Bengoetxea pushed him close in the mid part of the game, closing to 8-10, he had little answer in the latter stages.
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 6-3, 10-3, 10-8, 13-10, 15-10, 17-11, 18-13, 22-13
Balls hit: 259
Match time: 46 minutes



On Sunday, the pelota cognoscenti gathered in Eibar, where Martinez de Irujo beat Retegi Bi 22-18. In contrast to Friday’s game, this one appeared to be matching the form book from the start, when Irujo stormed into a 10-1 lead. Playing with more speed and vigour than Retegi could handle, the man from Ibero was in complete control. However, spurred on by his great father in the botillero’s chair, the less lauded player fought his way back, first to 4-10 and from thence to 5-13, 13-14 and 15-15 before seizing the lead at 15-16 with his second service winner in a row. His lead grew when Irujo hit low for 15-17 and an upset looked on. However, Irujo snapped into action when it really mattered, breaking his opponent’s heart with a run of five straight points. Retegi pulled on back at 20-18 to restore a little hope, but when he hit high in the next point, Irujo wasted no time in producing a winning serve to take a win which was far less comfortable than it should have been.
Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-1, 10-1, 10-2, 10-4, 12-4, 12-5, 14-5, 14-13, 15-13, 15-17, 20-17, 20-18, 22-18
Winners/errors: Irujo 16/10, Retegi Bi 8/6
Balls hit: 234
Match time: 40:40 with 9:51 of actual play



Berasaluze VIII beat Barriola 22-11. On Monday it was the turn of Abel Barriola and Pablo Berasaluze to strut their stuff as they clashed at Santanape in Gernika. This looked on paper to be a potential close run thing, but Berasaluze proved by far the stronger. He prevented Barriola from unleashing his left arm by taking many balls on the volley and defended like a terrier. With the score at 20-5 in Berasaluze’s favour, Barriola looked to be in for an embarrassing evening but the Leitzarra managed to rally to a degree, saving face by adding six further points. This was nowhere near enough however to prevent the Asegarce player from seizing the day.
Scoring sequence: 1-1, 2-2, 3-2, 3-7, 4-11, 5-20, 11-22
Balls hit: 200
Match time: 52 minutes



In the Promocion Championship, the results were as follows:
26th October, Arrigorriaga: OLAZABAL beat ELEZKANO II 22-19

27th October, Pamplona: JAUNARENA beat LEMUNO 22-16
27th October, Ezcaray: UNTORIA beat GORKA 22-18
28th October, Eibar: RICO IV beat APEZETXEA 22-12

This week, the main championship fixtures are:
Friday 2nd November, Leitza: XALA v BENGOETXEA VI
Saturday 3rd November, Pamplona: BERASALUZE VIII v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO
Sunday 4th November, Bilbao: BARRIOLA v RETEGI BI
Monday 5th November, Tolosa: OLAIZOLA II v ARRETXE II

The Promocion Championship games are:
Friday 2nd November, Leitza: JAUNARENA v UNTORIA
Saturday 3rd November, Pamplona: GORKA v LEMUNO
Sunday 4th November, Bilbao: APEZETXEA v ELEZKANO II
Monday 5th November: Tolosa: OLAZABAL v RICO IV

Wins for Bengoetxea VI, Berasaluze VIII and Retegi Bi in the Cuatro y Medio second round

It was a busy weekend of Cuatro y Medio action. As discussed in my previous post, Arretxe upset Titin to make the last eight and three others also booked their places in the quarter final league.

The first of these was Oinatz Bengoetxea, who beat Mikel Urrutikoetxea 22-7 in Balmaseda on Friday. It was an easy win for the former Manomanista chamopion, who had far too much pace for his less experienced rival. He barely needed to stretch in order to control the fronton and send Urrutikoetxea running in all directions to little avail. Despite the overwhelming superiority of his vanquisher, especially in the volleying department, Urrutikoetxea fought until the very last, showing flashes of the talent which will surely make him a more important player in years to come. The match statistics were as follows:

Bengoetxea: 14 winners, 4 errors
Urrutikoetxea: 3 winners, 5 errors
Strikes of the ball: 243
Match time: 44.56 with 10.00 of actual play

In Bilbao on Saturday, Pablo Berasaluze beat Asier Olaizola 22-11. Olaizola, so impressive in destroying Idoate the previous week, had no match for the bustling pace of Berasaluze. The man from Berriz volleyed with great aplomb and his serve proved lethal, netting him nine points outright. Olaizola played well with his right but in every other way was found wanting as Berasaluze ran out the comfortable winner.

Scoring sequence: 0-2, 3-2, 3-3, 3-8, 6-8, 6-10, 8-13, 9-14, 11-14, 11-22
Berasaluze: 9 service winners, 1 service error
Olaizola: 2 service winners
Strikes of the ball: 153
Match time: 38 minutes

Retegi Bi defeated Ekaitz Saralegi 22-13 on in Tolosa on Monday to become the final recipient of a place in the last eight. Saralegi got off to a flying start and all looked set fair when he led 11-4, a lead established by means of some scintillating cross court play. However, he failed to drive home his advantage as Retegi settled into the match. As he closed to 8-12 and then 12-12, Saralegi looked increasingly fatigued and at a loss as to how to stop the momentum of his opponent. From 13-14, Retegi seized eight points in a row to reach 22 and end the hopes of the man from Amezketa.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-4, 11-4, 12-8, 12-12, 13-14, 13-22
Saralegi: 1 service error
Retegi Bi: 3 service winners
Strikes of the ball: 294
Match time: 56 minutes

The draw for the quarter final league is now complete. Olaizola II (defending champion), Martinez de Irujo, Xala and Barriola qualified as of right and are joined by Arretxe II, Bengoetxea VI, Berasaluze VIII and Retegi Bi. Group one consists of Olaizola, Xala, Bengoetxea and Arretxe, with the others in group two. The first rotation’s fixtures are as follows:

Friday 26th October, Hendaye: XALA v ARRETXE II
Saturday 27th October, Pamplona: OLAIZOLA II v BENGOETXEA VI
Sunday 28th October, Eibar: MARTINEZ DE IRUJO v RETEGI BI
Monday 29th October, Gernika: BARRIOLA v BERASALUZE VIII

Pablo Berasaluze is into the last eight

Pablo Berasaluze is into the last eight

Photo: mine

Manomanista: Aimar overcomes Retegi test to make the last four

Sunday 27th May, Pamplona


Manomanista Quarter Final

These were nervous times for the supporters of the supreme Aimar Olaizola. His mere participation in this game had been in grave doubt earlier in the week owing to an injury to his right arm, the same problem which probably cost him the title in 2003. He was cleared to play following extensive physical tests but worries persisted as to how he would handle a high octane championship encounter. Under normal circumstances he would have been odds on the defeat Retegi Bi but this situation was anything but ordinary. That Aimar came through in the end must be a considerable relief to him and all his connections, for the route to victory was far from comfortable.

Right from the off it was clear that Aimar was not on top of his game. Before he had had any time to settle his worries, Retegi was leading 4-0 with Aimar defending well but lacking the edge to move from rear-guard action into attack mode. He got himself off the mark at 4-1 when he forced Retegi short after an aerial bombardment and it seemed as if he would come back into it. He closed to 4-3 to establish some sort of status quo but then fell behind again, allowing Retegi into an 11-4 lead. Aimar was physically troubled only by his right arm, but he seemed unable even to get the left going, his classic weapon appearing blunted. Retegi knew his rival was on the ropes and played his part to perfection, doing the basics extremely well and putting enough pressure on him until he offended. Twice he hit wide attempting cross court winners and even when he had the serve, produced a falta. All was not right in the Olaizola camp and twice he retreated to the chair in the hope that his brother Asier may have some words of wisdom. A beautiful low skimming dejedaz winner for 6-11 seemed to imply that he had found his touch but in the next play, tactically as well as technically he was all at sea, wasting a chance at an easy winner directly from serve. Retegi began to believe.

However, injured or not, Aimar Olaizola is a great champion and as such never lies down without a fight. Just as the belief that he would come back at Retegi sooner rather than later started to wane, he found some momentum and with it some form. From 7-12 down he advanced to take the lead for the first time at 14-13 and from then on, despite what had gone on before, a sense of inevitability descended upon Labrit. For the first time, he controlled the space of the fronton and it was Retegi who found himself repeatedly pushed back, desperately trying to escape from the salvo of high balls Aimar sent his way. When that tactic failed to finish him off, he produced an array of winners both into the corner and from left to right and now that he was on song, Retegi was blown out of the water. The underdog did manage a further two points thanks to a txoko on 18-13 and a subsequent service winner, but when he hit wide in the next play it was game over. Aimar sealed his semi-final place with an authoritative left armed swipe, showing all concerned that the real Olaizola II was back.

According to statements released today, Aimar is still in discomfort. The worries will not have been entirely banished by his quarter-final display. He does however have two weeks to rest and prepare for his match in the last four which will take place on 10th June. His opponent there will be the 2008 champion Oinatz Bengoetxea, who although not enjoying the best year of his career looked untouchable in his defeat of Aimar’s older brother in his quarter-final. If Aimar is fit he will be the clear favourite, but if not, Oinatz will make sure to exploit every weakness.

Scoring sequence: 0-4, 3-4, 3-7, 4-7, 4-11, 6-11, 6-12, 9-12, 9-13, 18-13, 18-15, 22-15.
Winners/errors: Olaizola 16/7, Retegi 8/6
Match time: 53:53 with 14:12 of actual play
Balls hit: 275

Manomanista wins for Gonzalez and Retegi Bi

Sebastien Gonzalez, who had to come from behind to beat Urrutikoetxea in the last round, took his win rather more comfortably this week, beating Pairs champion David Merino 22-14 in Bilbao. It was Merino’s first visit to Bizkaia since his remarkable triumph with Titin at the end of April and on this occasion it failed to prove such a happy hunting ground for the Riojan star. The first half of the match was extremely tight but from 12-10, Gonzalez forged ahead and had too many weapons for his opponent who defended manfully but could not keep him down. Merino came back in the latter part of the game but by then it was too late and it is Gonzalez who proceeds to the quarter finals, where he will face 2008 winner Oinatz Bengoetxea.

Meanwhile, at Beotibar in Tolosa, Retegi Bi made short work of Mikel Olaetxea. The Aspe forward took the match 22-8 and will now play Aimar Olaizola in the quarter finals. Olaetxea found himself in an almost perpetual defensive position and had no answer to the grip which Retegi asserted on the game, although to his credit he fought hard until the final ball.

Beotibar, scene of Julen Retegis triumph

Beotibar, scene of Julen Retegi's triumph

In the Promocion Championship, Ezkurdia beat Rico IV 22-6, Untoria beat Mendizabal III 22-16, Jaunarena beat Ibai Zabala 22-16 and Zabaleta beat Lemuno 22-10. In the semi finals, both of which take place on May 27th, Untoria plays Ezkurdia and Zabaleta plays Jaunarena.

Irujo and Barriola put substitutes to the sword

Sunday 11th March, Eibar


Pairs Championship

We were faced on Sunday afternoon with the unusual situation of a pair made up of two substitutes. Zubieta has now been out for several weeks with ongoing hand problems, and last week his regular partner Aritz Lasa joined the ranks of the ill and infirm. It fell therefore to Retegi Bi and Pascual to represent them, and although they were already out of the running for a place in the last four one could not help but conjure up visions of the injured duo watching this match from behind the sofa. The statistics make it look like a virtuoso showcase for Irujo, finishing as he did with fifteen winners to two errors, but in reality he had to do very little as Retegi Bi and Pascual looked utterly out of their depth and sealed their own fate.

The result was really never in any doubt. Right from the start, Irujo made his pressure tell and the opposing pair appeared to have no strategy for dealing with it and no cohesion. It appeared briefly as if a contest may be on the cards when Irujo made two careless mistakes in a row to turn 0-4 into 2-4, but that was as good as it was going to get for Retegi and Pascual. Irujo did not make another error in the match and Barriola, but for one low strike when falling backwards on 17-4, was faultless. Retegi had his chances but proved utterly incapable of making them count. On 2-9 for example, he had the easiest possible chance to seize a winner with a cross into the left wall but totally blew it, the ball clattering low. Too often he threw away position through a lack of imagination and an inability to break through Irujo’s control. Pascual meanwhile made matters worse and with every error he committed looked more and more disgruntled at having to be there at all. He was easy pickings for Barriola in the tactical stakes. The game was neatly summed up by the final point, in which Retegi hit the ball wildly wide directly from a disciplined and excellently directed Irujo serve.

It was expected that Irujo and Barriola would win this but the scale of their triumph must have filled them with considerable delight. They are embroiled in a close fight for a semi-final spot and a win plus a positive points difference of eighteen has done them the world of good. Having been out of the qualifying spots, they have leapfrogged Xala and Laskurain into fourth. Everything hinges on the next two weeks.

Scoring sequence: 4-0, 4-2, 10-2, 10-3, 18-3, 18-4, 22-4.

Winners/errors: Irujo 15/2, Barriola 0/1, Retegi Bi 1/2, Pascual 0/5.

Match time: 35:27 with 16:21 of actual play

Balls hit: 318

Cuatro y Medio: Barriola into the last four as impressive Retegi Bi falls short of the line

Friday 20th October, Beasain


While Julen Retegi might never the scale the dizzy heights of his great father Julien, his recent progression as a championship player has been plain to see. The 26 year old has three second tier championships to his name, the Manomanista in 2008 and the pairs in 2008 and 2007 and subsequently made the step up to the major league. He got to the quarter finals in his first attempt at the main Cuatro y Medio draw in 2008 and progressed to greater things a year later, making the semi final league with an unlikely but deserved win over Olaizola II in the quarters. Last year he fell to Barriola in the last eight and this time around he had a golden opportunity to make amends in a repeat fixture. That this introduction has discussed the loser rather than the winner is testament to the fact that Retegi was the orchestrator of this match, the hare which Barriola was forced to chase. The younger man played as if possessed, only undone by the cool head of his desperate elder at the last. Credit is due to Barriola, but it is hard to imagine him ever having been pushed as hard.

Retegi came out of the blocks like a lightning bolt, making it abundantly clear that this game would not be Barriola’s by right. He won the first six points with ease, and his opponent was shut firmly out of the fixture. Uncharacteristic errors from Barriola played their part in this early meltdown, but Retegi showed enormous tactical skill in pushing him into places from which he could not escape. He sealed the early lead with a clever shot into the side wall in reply to a Barriola dos paredes which emerged as the wrong option in the circumstances. It seemed as if Barriola would come back as he took the text two points with classy winners, a skidding ball cross court and a dipping ball into the wall which caught Retegi off balance, but the early leader was anything but fazed. In taking affairs to 8-3, Retegi showed his ability to defend to death or glory, turning a point which should have gone to Barriola into a point for himself. Barriola looked to have taken it with a dos paredes but Retegi stretched for all he was worth, leaving Barriola tumbling and then sitting and slapping the floor in abject disgust.

The next passage of play belonged to Barriola, as he closed from 3-8 to 11-11. Though Retegi picked up points through a Barriola error, a wide skimming winner and another sterling defensive effort culminating in a ball of genius behind his opponent’s back, Barriola looked to have his number. His serve began to fire, as he picked up three sakez winners and he began to hit with aplomb to all corners. Retegi showed the first signs of fraying edges with a despairing wide gantxo on 9-11. Perhaps the big match experience of Barriola was paying off. However, it was then Barriola’s turn to throw away his momentum as his improving serve fell apart with a falta, possibly born of an attempt to be just a little bit too clever. Though he recovered the serve with a txoko in the next play, Retegi marched again, opening up a four point lead at 16-12. Each of these points was a stunning gem of pelota; the first saw a long dipping winner into the side wall, the second another point which Barriola should have won, was turned around brilliantly by Retegi’s dogged defence, and the gap was established with an astonishing long drop which stopped dead upon hitting the floor and a ball into acres of space out wide. Once again, Barriola was forced to respond, and respond he did, returning to level pegging at 16-16 but once again proved incapable of taking the lead. Again Retegi opened a gap, going up 19-16, once again turning epic defence into attack before pulling out a txoko and a drop of pure class.

It seemed improbable that Barriola would have the strength or resolve to recover. The line was in sight for Retegi and his morale was flying high. Barriola’s body language, in contrast, revealed a man puzzled and amazed by the tenacity of an opponent who refused to be headed. However, when it truly mattered, Barriola called upon all his nerve and all his willpower, coming through as only a champion can. From 18-19 down he went to 20-19 up with three service winners in a row, blowing Retegi’s cool confidence out of the water. It was the younger player’s turn to be rattled and it must have been with some relief that he saw Barriola’s shot in the next point dip low to regain parity. However, Barriola now moved with the confidence of a man for whom the final stages of a championship are well and truly home. When Retegi went wide to give him match point, he exhibited all the cool in the world to produce his eighth sakez. He jumped for joy as if the txapela itself were his.

Even Barriola’s most hardened fan cannot have left the fronton without a consoling thought for Retegi. Most of the memorable moments were his, and his defence was stunning in the extreme. Time and again he forced Barriola to come from behind, calling all the shots and issuing all the challenges. At times Barriola seemed lost as he tried in vain to work out a way to get past his opponent. In the end, he kept calm when it mattered most and used all his experience of crucial ties to come through. It is he who makes the final four, but the highly impressive Retegi will use this experience as ammunition for his next championship assault, and his future opponents will surely give him the respect he deserves.

Scoring sequence: 0-6, 2-6, 2-7, 3-7, 3-8, 7-8, 7-10, 9-10, 9-11, 11-11, 11-12, 12-12, 12-16, 13-16, 16-16, 16-19, 20-19, 22-10.

Barriola: 8 service winners, 1 service fault, 9 winners, 7 errors

Retegi Bi: 1 service winner, 11 winners, 5 errors

Balls hit: 318

A sigh of relief for Abel Barriola

A sigh of relief for Abel Barriola

Image from El Correo

Cuatro y Medio: Locals can’t lift Lasa as Retegi Bi progresses in Urretxu

Friday 14th October, Urretxu


Aritz Lasa was afforded the luxury of playing in his home town on Sunday, in front of his fans and friends. However, despite their best efforts to help him raise his game, he failed to progress to the third stage of the Cuatro y Medio championship. From his brief 4-3 lead onwards, he was always playing catch up to his Navarrese opponent and despite threatening a comeback in the latter stages of the game, always looked second best.

The early points were strongly contested. Despite losing the first two, Lasa fought gamely and turned his small deficit into a 4-2 lead, answering Retegi’s strong service with a sakez of his own and turning a desperate attempt to save a txoko into a cross court winner. Retegi, despite coming roaring out of the blocks, made errors, induced by Lasa’s tactic of pushing him as far back as possible to avoid close engagement at the frontis. However, Retegi then went into overdrive, winning ten points in a row to go from 2-4 down to 12-4 up. Four of these points were won with serves, which Lasa seemed incapable of reading. Retegi twice caught his opponent well out of position, driving easy winners home, and Lasa was not immune to digging his own grave, as he showed with the point on 4-4 where he completely missed the ball down the side wall with the point at his mercy. From 4-12 down, Lasa regained a modicum of composure, pulling affairs back to 7-12. A gantxo from the local boy made the crowd come alive and his serve also began to fire, but sadly for the Urretxu faithful, he wasted a golden opportunity to make progress with an aimless wide ball, ceding the momentum back to Retegi.

Lasa picked up points in ones and twos but his rival began to extend his lead, moving to 16-9 by pushing Lasa back and aiming into space with a classy overarm and a powerful drive. His confidence was clearly high and perhaps boiled over when ambition forced him wide at his next attempt. Lasa came back to within four points at 12-16, producing some textbook serves, but then once again wasted his opening, carelessly leaving a ball he thought was going long. When it did not, he held his head in his hands, along with the majority of his townsfolk, knowing full well the crucial nature of his error. He continued to keep Retegi on a tight rein, closing 14-17 with a stinging gantxo and 16-19 by means of a clever drop, but Retegi was always in control and had the power to change gear and close the match out. Feeling his rival’s breath on his neck, he won three straight points with two drops to the corner and an error from Lasa in a point where the loser put up a brave fight, just as he had all the match long. Lasa’s supporters rued his inability to rekindle the form he found to crush Urrutikoetxea the previous week, against a player full of confidence and calm. Retegi Bi will now meet Barriola for a place in the semi finals.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-4, 3-4, 4-4, 12-4, 12-7, 13-7, 13-9, 14-9, 16-9, 16-12, 17-12, 17-14, 18-14, 18-15, 19-15, 19-16, 22-16.

The victorious Julen Retegi

The victorious Julen Retegi

Image from: Noticias de Navarra, by Ainara Garcia

Manomanista Quarter Finals: Xala and Idoate through

Sunday 8th May, Eibar

XALA beat RETEGI BI 22-12

Some thought Julen Retegi might cause problems for Yves Salaberry on Sunday night, after his excellent performance against Urrutikoetxea the week before. However, while Retegi started with a flourish and showed great mettle, Xala proved beyond all doubt that he was in a different class. The classy left hander showed all the easy class that he displayed in the Pairs Championship, brushing his younger rival aside with a nonchalant sweep of the hand, calm, controlled and quietly brutal.

Retegi started the better of the pair, winning the first two points with tactical nouse and superb finishing. In the third, Xala fell short after a salvo of long shots from Retegi. However, Xala, completely relaxed, began to chip away at the three point deficit. He gifted Retegi another point by going wide after an attritional point, but with four textbook plays, wrenched the initiative firmly away. This swing in fortune was related in large part to his serve, which began to fire on all cylinders, but he also reminded his opponent and his viewers of the power of his left arm, going crosscourt with devastating power. Retegi pinned him back to 6-8 with a marvellous effort, putting the ball over Xala’s head having raced and dived from the back to reach it at all, but throughout this mid period of the game, Xala won points in batches, while his opponent stole the occasional one here and there. The power of Xala’s serve was again key, and Retegi’s inability to halt it made him seethe visibly with frustration.

Uncharacteristically, Xala served a falta to gift his serve away at 7-12, and Retegi responded with two excellent deliveries of his own, but with an advantage of only three, he slid up a gear, moving from 12-9 to 17-9 with a barrage of drops and volleys. He miscued one close to the side wall at allow Retegi his tenth point, and Retegi thought he had him again in the next rally, until he pulled a stunning crosscourt swipe out of nowhere, while pinned unceremoniously against the wall. There was no doubting the future direction of the game, as Retegi appeared a broken man. He managed two further points thanks to another Xala falta, and a dos paredes gone wrong, but Xala took no time to finish him off, with a ball over his head and a skimming canon ball past his nose. Xala proceeds to the semi finals, where he will play Idoate.

Scoring sequence: 0-3, 1-3, 1-4, 2-4, 2-5, 8-5, 8-6, 12-6, 12-9, 17-9, 17-10, 20-10, 20-12, 22-12.

Winners: Xala 16, Retegi Bi 6

Errors: Xala 3, Retegi Bi 2

Service winners: Xala 4, Retegi Bi 1

Service errors: Xala 2, Retegi Bi 0

Balls hit: 230

Match time: 47.10 minutes, with 10.32 minutes of actual play

Xala: no sweat

Xala: no sweat

In the other quarter final to be played this weekend, IDOATE beat OLAIZOLA I 22-8 (Saturday, Pamplona). The young pretender completely outclassed Asier Olaizola, who was playing his first match after returning from a knee injury sustained during the Pairs Championship. Olaizola was expected to be lacking match fitness, but he never managed to gain a foothold in the game, and the young pretender trumped him in every aspect of the game. His reward is a semi final against Xala.

The remaining quarter finals will be played this coming weekend, with Martinez de Irujo playing Olaizola II (14th, Bilbao) and Bengoetxea VI taking on Patxi Ruiz (15th, Pamplona).

In the Promocion Championship quarter finals, Jaunarena beat Lemuno 22-20 and Merino I beat Argote 22-17. The two winners will play each other in the semi finals on the 22nd.  

Image from Noticias de Gipuzkoa by Zigor Alkorta

Manomanista Second Round Results

Friday 29th April, Ascain


The Manomanista Championship moved to the home town of Sebastien Gonzalez for this second round match, and the local fans expected nothing less than a win for their man, playing under the glowering presence of a gigantic picture of himself. The match was a great spectacle, with strings of marathon rallies, each player aiming to fight the other into the ground. Gonzelez played excellently, but thanks to the skill of the classy and ever improving young Mikel Idoate, the victory eluded him.

The older player, much to the delight of his supporters, started the better of the two. The first point was long and involved, a taste of what was to come, but Gonzalez delivered a statement of intent, seizing it with a brutal gantxo. He proceeded to 3-1 and 4-2 thanks to some solid serving and an error from Idoate, but errors of his own, plus and service winner and a txoko gave his opponent the lead at 4-5. Idoate almost moved two ahead with a near inspired shot into the corner, which he seemed amazed had missed, and perhaps rejoicing in his let off, Gonzalez forged ahead once again, to 9-5. At this point, Gonzalez looked fully in charge. He showed his ability to get past his rival almost any way he pleased, whether to the left, to the right, or over his head.

However, Idoate, sensing the game might be slipping from his grasp, showed his mettle with some stunning play, winning eight points in a row to turn the match on its head. In the point on 9-5, Gonzalez appeared to have him where he wanted him, pinned back and open to the drop. Idoate though, replied with a staggering dos paredes to grab the point for himself. The next point, which he won with an inspired drive to the corner from deep, was no less virtuosic. He proceeded with a service winner and a drop, before running rings round Gonzalez with a txoko followed by a long ball when he was still sprawling by the frontis. When Gonzalez hit low, it was 9-13 and he was visibly demoralised.

Again, however, the momentum swung, as Gonzalez kick started his recovery with an airez, breaking Idoate’s sustained and impressive defence. Thanks in the most part to the strength of his serve and the resulting easy winners, he pegged the scoreboard back to 13-13. The protagonists could not be separated and found themselves tied again at 14 and 15 apiece. Once again, Gonzalez appeared to have broken the resolve of his young opponent, going ahead with a winner from a txoko he barely managed to scrape off the floor. He opened up a three point gap after a long scrap at 18-15, but Idoate would not be bowed. Showing incredible determination and no fear of Gonzalez’s greater experience he stormed back, winning six of the next seven points, and demonstrating the full gamut of winners in the process, to take the tie 22-19. He now plays Asier Olaizola, who is returning from a knee injury, on Saturday, and on this showing, may have the measure of him.

Scoring sequence: 1-0/ 2-1/ 3-1/ 3-2/ 4-2/ 4/ 5/ 6-5/ 7-5/ 8-5/ 9-6/ 9-8/ 9/ 9-10/ 9-11/ 9-12/ 9-13/ 10-13/ 13/ 13-14/ 14/ 15/ 16-15/ 18-15/ 18/ 18-19/ 19/ 19-22

Match time: 55 minutes, with 13 minutes of actual play.

Balls hit: 307

Winners: Idoate 15, Gonzalez 11

Service winners: Idoate 4, Gonzalez 1

Errors: Idoate 3, Gonzalez 7

Talented and determined: Mikel Idoate

Talented and determined: Mikel Idoate

The other Manomanista second round results, in brief, were as follows:

OLAIZOLA II beat MERINO II 22-5 (Saturday 30th April, Labrit) This was a demolition job by Aimar Olaizola, the rampant pairs champion, and David Merino looked resigned from an early stage. There was nothing Merino could do about the dominance of the Olaizola serve, and when he did manage to enter into a rally, he was more often than not sunk by the best gantxo in the game. Olaizola now plays Irujo, in a match up many would perhaps rather see in the final.

RETEGI BI beat URRUTIKOETXEA 22-15 (Saturday 30th April, Amorebieta) Asegarce’s young charge Urrutikoetxea is known for his fighting qualities, and he took the game to the more fancied Retegi Bi in some well contested rallies. However, the Aspe player showed the greater imagination, and proved the better able to deal with the pressure, moving relatively easily into the quarter finals, where he meets Xala.

BENGOETXEA VI beat ARITZ LASA 22-10 (Sunday 1st May, Eibar)This match was a harder fight than the scoreline might indicate. The first part of the encounter saw Lasa holding on gamely to Bengoetxea’s onslaught, but the latter showed himself to be in a different class thereafter, moving unimpeded from 9-8 to 17-8. There was no way back for the underdog, but he gave his many fans, who had made the trip from his home town of Urretxu, much to cheer about with his refusal to throw in the towel.

The quarter final line up now looks like this: OLAIZOLA I v IDOATE (Saturday 7th May, Pamplona), XALA v RETEGI BI (Sunday 8th May, Eibar), PATXI RUIZ v BENGOETXEA VI (Sunday 15th May, TBC), MARTINEZ DE IRUJO v OLAIZOLA II (Sunday 15th May, TBC).

In the Promocion Championship, JAUNARENA beat LADIS GALARZA 22-18, and OLAETXEA beat LEIZA 22-2. ARGOTE  proceeds by default following an injury to OLAZABAL. PENAGARIKANO and RICO IV play today in Legazpi.

Image from Noticias de Navarra