Tag Archives: Urretxu

Olaizola II and Beroiz take an historic clean sweep

Friday 23rd March, Urretxu


Before the 2012 Pairs Championship began, any commentator you care to mention had Aimar Olaizola and Mikel Beroiz down as the favourites alongside Juan Martinez de Irujo and Abel Barriola. While Irujo and Barriola have faltered as the tournament has progressed, losing half their matches, Olaizola and Beroiz have been staggering. Right from their opening win in Sestao over Berasaluze VIII and Albisu, they have looked unbeatable, and so they have since proved in winning an unprecedented fourteen from fourteen on their way to the semi finals. The next best pair, Titin III and Merino II has won only eight from fourteen. Many of their matches have been extremely one sided; they have never been pushed closer than 22-18 and finished with a points difference of +131. The next most efficient team was Berasaluze VIII-Albisu on +36. Every time they were threatened, they summoned from somewhere an extra gear which nobody else could match. Cold, clinical, spectacular.

Olaizola and Beroiz’s domination

Week Location Opponents Score
1 Sestao Berasaluze VIII-Albisu 22-10
2 Tolosa Arretxe II-Begino 22-5
3 Bilbao Titin III-Merino II 22-15
4 Pamplona Bengoetxea VI-Apraiz 22-9
5 Bilbao Martinez de Irujo-Barriola 22-15
6 Hendaye Xala-Laskurain 22-17
7 Pamplona Aritz Lasa-Pascual* 14-9*
8 Barcelona Berasaluze VIII-Albisu 22-10
9 Tolosa Arretxe II-Begino 22-11
10 Bilbao Gonzalez*-Barriola 22-18
11 Logrono Titin III-Merino II 22-16
12 Pamplona Bengoetxea VI-Apraiz 22-12
13 Vitoria-Gasteiz Xala-Laskurain 22-13
14 Urretxu Aritz Lasa-Penagarikano* 22-17

Key to their success so far has been the unbreakable purple patch of Aimar Olaizola. The great forward has lost only two matches from his last thirty and has obliterated the best in the game time and time again with his brutal strength and tactical mastery. When the ball goes to his left hand and he has room to play with out wide, the best his rivals can do is to pray that he misses, and he misses very seldom indeed. Allied to Olaizola’s wealth of experience and big match mentality has been Beroiz, the anchor from Huarte. It is easy to forget that the defender is only 22 years old, so impressive is his command at the back of the fronton. His accuracy and relentlessness wear his opponents down, his long range hitting is superb and his head is as balanced as they come.

For this, their last game in the round robin phase, Beroiz was replaced by Oier Mendizabal, with whom Aimar won the Pairs title in 2008. Even with Mendizabal, whose form of late has been anything but notable, Aimar’s pair went into this as the overwhelming favourites. This championship has been a torrid one for the pair of Aritz Lasa. Many were surprised at the inclusion of Lasa in the competition at the very start and some, such as Gonzalez, who felt he had been slighted, were downright angry. The likeable forward, here playing in his home town of Urretxu, has had spells of form surrounded by longer periods of indifference and his cause has not been helped by the ongoing injury problems of original partner Aitor Zubieta. Zubieta, champion with Xala in 2010, only played seven of the fourteen games due to hand pain, and clearly struggled when he did take to the fronton. Lasa at various times had to play with Pascual and Penagarikano and thus the partnership was never a settled one. Despite their underdog status on Friday, Lasa and Penagarikano took the fight to the table toppers and pushed them harder than anyone could have envisaged. The closeness of the score was due in part to the rather careless early play of Olaizola, who appeared to think extending himself would be unnecessary. Mixed with the brilliance we have come to expect were a handful of errors which could have been avoided with a little more attention. Mendizabal is not currently in the league of Beroiz and as he faltered on one too many occasions, Olaizola raised his game, ending with fourteen winners to five errors. Lasa’s figures of seven to eight reflect the frustrations of a player who despite his best efforts was cramped by his forward rival and was pushed into uncomfortable positions time and again. Penagarikano had the best of the defensive battle, but Mendizabal’s inconsistency was obviated by Olaizola.

Fourteen from fourteen in the qualifying stages is a record of which Olaiziola and Beroiz can and should be extremely proud. However, they cannot afford to be complacent for a moment. Any one of the other three combinations who have made the semi finals is capable of beating anyone on their day and they must therefore continue to take due care to maintain both their level and their focus. Looking back over the past three months however, it is exceedingly hard to see how anyone can get past them, so devastating is their finishing power. Their rivals for the crown have little time to ponder tactics; Berasaluze and Albisu are first into the fray, taking on the invincibles this Saturday at Bizakaia.

Xala and Laskurain hold rivals at bay as Zubieta’s hand woes continue

Friday 10th February, Urretxu


Pairs Championship

Aitor Zubieta spoke in the week of this game as a life or death encounter. He and Aritz Lasa, with two wins to their name, sat second from bottom in the table and points needed to come quickly in order to maintain any hope of qualifying for the last four. They had already beaten Xala and Laskurain, in their first match in the championship, and went to Lasa’s hometown of Urretxu with the confidence that they could strike again. However, despite a brave attempt to come from behind at the death, Xala and Laskurain had just a little bit more and Lasa and Zubieta are on the ropes. If they are to stand any chance, Lasa will have to do the job without Zubieta for the next few weeks; the defender has been ruled out with the hand problems which had plagued him throughout the championship and did so again here. For the victors, things are now looking a little more promising, and while they are still a long way off qualification, they can dare to dream.

Xala and Laskurain took the first two points, but Lasa and Zubieta gained the early advantage as they went ahead through an error apiece from the reds and two very well worked winners from Lasa. The signs looked promising; Lasa and Zubieta came out of the starting gate with pace, confidence and invention. However, this was to be the only time they led in the match. Their over ambition was perhaps the cause of their undoing in the next two points and having drawn level, the red pair kept going, building a 9-4 lead. Xala purred into form in this passage, nailing Lasa out wide , hitting a winning serve and finding an incredible angle for a dos paredes in answer to the same shot from his opposite number. He appeared calm personified in contrast to the local player, who demonstrated a will to seize points with both hands but too often rushed into shots and blew his chances. They maintained their gap and stretched it to six at 13-7, capitalising on three errors from Zubieta who after a solid and potent start, was starting to look troubled. Four points in a row from the blues, involving three errors from the leaders, two of which were largely unforced, put them back in touch at 11-13, but Zubieta was forced from the fronton for a medical timeout, lasting eight minutes.

When he returned, Xala was in no mood to be gentle, grabbing the five point lead back again almost singlehandedly, pushing a hapless Lasa around the fronton for three varied winners. 16-11 became 18-13 as Lasa and Zubieta undid the hard work of two points gained with two points thrown away. At 14-20, they looked dead in the water, but Lasa refused to die. A txoko and a service winner reduced the deficit by two and when Xala hit low, the door of opportunity opened a fraction. Lasa, all determination and fight, squeezed through the gap with a long, unreturnable serve and all of sudden they were firmly in touch. However, as he is wont to do, Lasa threw away his position of strength; a gantxo almost won him the next point and when Xala desperately pulled the return back in, all he had to do was tap a simple txoko to make it 19-20. He missed it, and instead of serving for parity found himself facing a match point. Another error, a ball hit wide, handed the game to Xala and Laskurain.

At the mid point, few can have predicted that the often frustratingly inconsistent Lasa and the ailing Zubieta would have made a game of it. Despite trailing almost throughout, they never gave up and pushed Xala and Laskurain all the way to the line. Taking the match as a whole, the eventual winners were clearly the better team, controlling the fronton with more ease and taking advantage of the chances they had. They will proceed to the next rotation with relief while Lasa sweats on the health of his partner and the daunting task ahead.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-4, 9-4, 9-5, 11-5, 11-6, 12-6, 12-7, 13-7, 13-11, 16-11, 16-12, 18-12, 18-13, 18-14, 20-14, 20-18, 22-18.

Winners/errors: Xala 10/4, Lasa 10/6, Laskurain 0/4, Zubieta 0/6

Match time: 1:17.34 with 31.56 of actual playing time

Balls hit: 632

Zubieta and Lasa face a near impossible task

Zubieta and Lasa face a near impossible task

Image: mine

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

Victory for Gonzalez and Laskurain in Urretxu

Friday 12 February, Urretxu


Pairs Championship

Oinatz Bengoetxea and Ibai Zabala journeyed to the Gipuzkoan town of Urretxu on Friday in desperate need of a result. Little has gone right for the pair involving Bengoetxea in this championship. The 2008 Manomanista champion is now on his third partner, with Beloki and then Otxandorena falling to injury. The latest in the string was Ibai Zabala who was thrown into the deep end in week six to attempt to help secure a much needed second victory. Bengoetxea, perhaps unsettled by the changes thrown his way, has rarely played his best pelota in this competition, retaining all his drive and perseverance but lacking in bite. Could the real Oinatz stand up to be counted? Sebastien Gonzalez and Aritz Laskurain were looking for their third victory here and had themselves had a topsy turvy tournament, beating their opponents here 22-9 in the second week before being crunched by Olaizola II and Mendizabal II two weeks later. Despite their inconsistency, the Aspe pair started as favourites; could they live up to this billing or could Oinatz and Ibai stop the rot?

The match started in a tight and nervous fashion as the pairs each tried to set out their stall. Bengoetxea rushed into an attempted crosscourt winner in the first point only to push his effort wide. The first four rallies, after which the scores were tied at 2-2 saw two further unforced errors, one apiece from Ibai Zabala and Gonzalez. From this early point, Gonzalez and Laskurain started to edge ahead of their rivals, and they were never overtaken, despite constant pressure. Although he managed eight winners in the course of the match, Bengoetxea seemed ill at ease, perhaps the cumulative result of a championship where he has never been at his brilliant best for more than a point here or there. There certainly were some flashes of brilliance from him in this game, such as his crosscourt bullet on 7-11, his gantxo on 13-17 and several clever drops into the corner. However, these high spots were tempered by some hurried and tense play which led to unnecessary errors. This was apparent in his attempted dos paredes on 4-6, where he seemed so desperate to make the shot and grab the point that his direction and poise quite deserted him. Tension may have been the cause of his falta on 6-9, for he must surely have realised the necessity for a win. His usual positive and strident demeanour was strangely absent for much of the match.

Ibai Zabala carried a wealth of pressure on his shoulders as the latest in a line of partners for Bengoetxea. As a win was so crucial for his side, he had no time to find his feet in the championship. He played well at times, showing impressive defensive skills and an ability to field the long ball with interest, but he committed too many errors. Some, like the ball which struck the wall high on 6-10, were either careless, or the product of nerves, or both. Neither Gonzalez nor Laskurain had stellar games but they were considerably more consistent, more measured and more composed than their opponents. Gonzalez actually scored fewer winners than Bengoetxea but he also let less through his grasp. Laskurain, who never looks happy with his performance even when he has cause to be, was solid and dependable for the most part and certainly more in control of his game than Ibai Zabala.

Despite the air of malaise hanging over the performance of the Asegarce duo, they never lost their ability to fight, and this is to their great credit. For most of the game, their opponents held them at a distance of three or four points, but much to the delight of the sizeable crowd, they mounted a comeback, sparked by an excellent skidding shot down the wall by Bengoetxea on 14-18. Their run would take them to within one point of parity at 18-19 by way of a Bengoetxea airez, a Laskurain error and a comedy of miscommunication by the red pair. However, a total miss by Ibai Zabala restored order for the eventual victors, who capitalised on two more errors, the first forced by Gonzalez, to take the tie 22-18, a close result which belies their control of the match.

Bengoetxea, and whoever his future partner may be, are now in dire straights, and can in all likelihood wave goodbye to the semi finals. In contrast, Gonzalez and Laskurain are still in the fight. If they wish to be true contenders they will have to maintain their best level over a series of weeks, something they have been unable to do thus far, but the competition is still very open as far as qualifying berths two, three and four are concerned. Their next match, against Saralegi and Apraiz, will in all probability go their way but in the final week they face the formidable challenge of Olaizola II and Mendizabal II, who pulverised them in week four. We are in for a fascinating fortnight.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, 5-2, 5-4, 7-4, 7-5, 9-5, 9-6, 11-6, 11-8, 12-8, 12-9, 14-9, 14-10, 15-10, 15-12, 17-12, 17-14, 18-14, 18-15, 19-15, 19-18, 22-18.

Ibai Zabala: in at the deep end

Ibai Zabala: in at the deep end

Image from: Noticias de Alava