4 1/2: Irujo storms into the final by frontonnews
November 23, 2009, 5:51 pm
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Sunday 22nd November, Astelena, Eibar


Sebastian Gonzalez must have girded up his loins for a tense afternoon on Sunday, as the result of the match between Titin III and Juan Martinez de Irujo had a direct bearing on whether he himself would reach the final. As things turned out, by game’s mid point, he may well have been relaxing contentedly with a cup of tea as Irujo’s dominance was never in doubt. For Titin it was victory or quits and the latter was, emphatically, his destiny.

Astelena was packed to the rafters for what many believed would be one of the matches of the championship. Irujo and Titin are both renowned for the intensity both of their play and of their demeanour and with so much at stake matters seemed set to be white hot. The crowd, who bedecked the arena in banners and Riojan flags, were primed for a fight but were left unfulfilled, for there was nothing Titin could do to quench Irujo’s fire. For at least the first four points, affairs were close as the players traded both blows and errors to find themselves locked at 2-2. From that point on however, Irujo located the accelerator and went. The man from Ibero moved from 5-4 to 17-4 with seamless ease. This period of play was peppered with errors by Titin, including a moment of clouded judgement when he left a ball he thought was long. Irujo for his part hit winners at will, mixing powerful hooks and deft drops in a display of breathtaking pace and utter confidence. Titin, who usually appears furious and incredulous when under the cosh, could muster only disbelief and resignation.

However, Titin would not be Titin without the stomach for a battle and the Riojan mustered a fightback of sorts. He broke Irujo’s incredible run of points when the latter could not scoop up a dipping ball close to the frontis, and won the next two in quick time with a dosparedes and a long service return from Irujo. Irujo took back the initiative and advanced to 19-7, almost within touching distance of the final, but his opponent was not yet done and reacted with four points in a row courtesy of a string of uncharacteristic errors from his opponent. But any doubts about Irujo’s ability to close out the match were swiftly dispelled. Titin rallied impressively but in reality the die was cast; two more errors from Titin followed by a signature hook and the game was up.

This was an impressively clinical display from Irujo who knew precisely what he had to do and did the job without a flicker of self doubt. While Gonzalez must be delighted with his final ticket, part of him must be quaking at the thought of playing an Irujo in such rampant form. Irujo finds himself in his third major final of the year and Gonzalez is the only man between him and a clean sweep. The two will meet at Atano III on 8th December.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 5-2, 5-4, 17-4, 17-7, 19-7, 19-11 and 22-11.

Irujo: clinical

Image from: El Correo Digital

4 1/2: Win takes Titin to the verge of the final by frontonnews
November 18, 2009, 10:48 pm
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Sunday 15th November, Astelena, Eibar


Astelena was full to the rafters on Sunday evening for a game of high intensity between Augusto Ibanez and Sebastian Gonzalez. It was an encounter which had far reaching ramifications for the makeup of the championship final; had Gonzalez won, his place would have been assured, but it is Titin who now finds himself in the box seat in the fight to reach the endgame. Gonzalez and Irujo are squarely in the battle while Retegi Bi is all but out.

The game hung on a knife edge for the first eighteen points, after which the protagonists were tied at nine apiece. Both had appeared nervous in the opening plays, the first three points being won through rather unecessary errors. However, both found their stride and the crowd, many of whom had made the trip from Rioja to support Titin, was treated to some scintillating shot making. As befits a match where the stakes are so high, the tussle had its fair share of controversy as the players twice collided, sparking protests of obstruction from each in turn. The drama increased when Titin was forced to leave the fronton following a blow to the head as he dived. Far from knocking his confidence, the incident seemed to spur him on to greater things as he immediately pulled a crosscourt winner right out of the top drawer. For the rest of the encounter, Titin managed to keep his nose fractionally in front of Gonzalez, who missed some key chances to take control.

Titin, as is his wont, played with seething controlled aggression and will surely trouble Juan Martinez de Irujo when they meet on Sunday in the same arena. Expect a white hot evening.

Scoring sequence: 0-1/ 1-1/ 1-2/ 2-2/ 3-2/ 3-3/ 3-7/ 8-7/ 8-8/ 8-9/ 9-9/ 13-9/ 13-11/ 14-11/ 15-11/ 15-12/ 17-12/ 17-14/ 18-14/ 18-17/ 19-17/ 22-17

Titin rampant

Image from: Diario Vasco

4 1/2: Retegi junior fails to fell Titin in semi final duel by frontonnews
November 14, 2009, 11:35 pm
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Sunday 8th November, Astelena, Eibar

It is twelve years since the famous Cuatro y Medio final of 1997. The epic duel between Retegi II and Titin III has gone down in history as one of the greatest games of all time and its shadow was never far from Astelena on Sunday. Retegi II and Titin met again but in very different circumstances, as the former coached his son, Julen, against the player he once defeated. Titin, now aged 40, has withstood the test of time and succeeded against the son where he failed against the father.

Julen Retegi looked tight and nervous from the off, a pale imitation of the player who had so spectacularly thwarted Aimar Olaizola in the quarter finals. Titin raced to a 6-1 lead while Retegi failed both in direction and positioning on the fronton. The young forward pulled two points back by way of two errors from Titin but at 13-3 to the Riojan legend, the game appeared to be up for Retegi. However, much to the delight of the Tolosa faithful, Retegi rallied, showing flashes of his quarter final dominance. In the course of the game’s middle section, in which Retegi closed to 13-16, Titin committed six errors, some more unforced than others, but Retegi also displayed some dazzling shot making prowess. This was nowhere more apparent than in the beautifully worked txoko at 13-4 and in the stunning dosparedes winner which took the score to 13-10. However, just as the game appeared to be shaping up for a battle royal, Retegi lost all his momentum after a falta which ripped into his confidence. The man from Pamplona failed to add to his score as Titin ran away with it, 22-13.

Retegi appeared utterly dejected and it is easy to see why. In his previous match he had pulled off one of the upsets of the year in totally outplaying the defending champion, the man who has dominated Cuatro y Medio in recent years. He showed tantalising glimpses of that form here but proved unable to sustain it. He needs to find an extra gear if he is to compete at this level on a consistent basis. Titin for his part played with impressive verve and his customary passion. He has the ammunition to make quite some mark on the remainder of this tournament; Irujo and Gonzalez must be on their guard when faced with the evergreen warrior from Tricio.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 6-1, 6-3, 7-3, 13-3, 13-10, 14-10, 14-11, 16-11, 16-13 and 22-13.


4 1/2: Irujo battles past Bengoetxea VI by frontonnews
November 3, 2009, 9:38 pm
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Sunday 1st November, Astelena, Eibar


On Sunday, Manomanista champion Juan Martinez de Irujo fought his way past a gallant Oinatz Bengoetxea to become the third pelotari to qualify for the semi finals of the Cuatro y Medio championship. The game was played at an astonishing high pace and neither player disappointed with some first class shot making and very few errors. In a tense and close encounter, it was the 27 year old ASPE foward who held doggedly on to a three point lead to keep the battler Bengoetxea at bay. Irujo has already won the first two major championships of the year and he must now, having overcome this examination, be counted as the favourite to add a third.

Image from: El Correo Digital

4 1/2: Asier the victor as Saralegi is left to rue missed chances by frontonnews
October 26, 2009, 6:10 pm
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Sunday 25th October, Astelena, Eibar

Cuatro y Medio Second Round


For Ekaitz Saralegi, Sunday’s match against Asier Olaizola was a case of missed opportunity. Nobody seriously expected the man from Amezketa to be in this position, playing as he did Xala in his first round match, but he defeated the overwhelming favourite in that encounter, and he had his chances here too. In the end, Asier ran out the victor by 22 points to 17 but he was forced to survive a major scare along the way.

Saralegi began the match with promise, producing a serve which Asier could not return, to the delight of his extremely vocal fan club whose chanting became the soundtrack to the night. However, things then all went wrong as Asier took the next six points by virtue of three rather aimless Saralegi errors and three easy and nonchalant winners. Such was Saralegi’s demeanour that it was hard to imagine him winning another point, let alone the match. To his considerable credit, he did recover somewhat after a much needed time out; his botillero Aratz Mendizabal must have produced some wise words. However, he proved himself again and again unable to take any advantage of the chinks in Asier’s armour. Olaizola senior played a far from perfect game but Saralegi could not drive home the knife. The first instance of this came with the score at 6-2. Asier, perhaps resting on his laurels, had hit casually and low in the previous point but Saralegi threw away his foothold into the game with total miscue. Though the gap in points shrank gradually in the early period of the game, a similar important miss for Saralegi took place with the score on 11-7 following a sloppy attempt at a drop shot by Asier; Saralegi could have taken the point with a bit more care, but hit low when under little pressure.  

Despite his underwhelming play in the first half of the match, things swung with a vengeance when Asier failed to dig out a low ball on 17-7; it was the turn of the Goizuetarra to fall apart. Saralegi won nine points in a row in a staggering turn around. He served with brilliance and speed, touching 104kph and hitting his eighth service winner to come within one point of Asier at 17-16. He also forced his opponent into errors in open play and swiped two commanding winners in a whipped dosparedes and a crosscourt airez. Asier looked stunned and turned to the counsel of his younger brother, defending champion Aimar, in the hope of stopping the rot. Saralegi had a massive chance to pull level with Asier at 17-17 which would have represented a huge psychological knock, but he blew it with an ambitious overhead attempt. He knew, from his expression, that he had missed another opportunity, this time a golden one. Again he had a chance at 18-17 but hit just long. His momentum was lost and his spirit dissolved. He failed to win another point in the match as Asier, finally, romped home on the back of two further errors from Saralegi.

So, Asier Olaizola proceeds to the quarter finals, where he will meet the evergreen Titin III on Friday. He will hope for greater consistency there, and a reacquisition of the form he showed in the first round. Saralegi has acquitted himself well in this championship; his contract at Asegarce is up for renewal in February and his performance here will surely stand him in good stead. But for a handful of opportunities missed, he could have gone further.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 6-1, 6-2, 8-2, 8-3, 8-6, 11-6, 11-7, 17-7, 17-16, 18-16, 18-17 and 22-17.

Asier Olaizola: eye on the ball

Asier Olaizola: eye on the ball

Image from: Diario de Navarra

Manomanista Championship: Aimar thwarts brave Urberuaga by frontonnews
May 14, 2009, 12:58 pm
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Sunday 10th May
Astelena, Eibar

For many, Xabier Urberuaga has been the surprise package of this championship. Entering the competition in round one, the 27 year old from Aulesti defeated Retegi Bi and Begino to win his chance to compete for a place in the semi finals. Nobody gave him much chance on Sunday where he faced Aimar Olaizola, the formidable champion who has two Manomanista txapelas to his name, as well as a further five from other championships. Urberuaga is no slouch, having won the second tier title in 2007 and the second tier pairs championship this year, but his resume was no match for that of Olaizola, and neither was his reputation. However, the underdog proved once again his fighting spirit, and despite ultimate defeat, Olaizola was made to work for his win.

The match started in predictable fashion with Olaizola dominant. The native of Goizueta showed impressive spark with his right, which augers well given his ongoing problems with his right shoulder which earlier in the year looked to have robbed him of some edge. He also defended well and volleyed excellently with both hands. From 3-4 down, Aimar reached a 13-4 with ease and composure. As his supremacy continued, 13-4 became 17-6 and then 21-7 and Urberuaga, whose numerous supporters in the upper tiers of the fronton could do nothing to lift him, appeared down and out. However, the game changed when Urberuaga won the serve in the next point and, with his choice of ball, applied his own tempo to the match. He succeeded in producing a slower game, which suited his game rather than that of Aimar, and allowed him room and time on both sides. Aimar, unexpectedly rattled, called three time outs in an attempt to regain his composure, and regain it he did; the elusive 22nd point came his way.

Urberuaga’s supporters had sensed a miracle in the air but in reality, Aimar was never threatened to the point of panic. He returns to the Manomanista semi finals after last year’s quarter final defeat to eventual winner Oinatz Bengoetxea and will have his sites firmly set on title number three. His next opponent will be Ruben Beloki, whom he will face on May 23rd at Labrit. Beloki has won this tournament on four occasions but the last of these came eight years ago and by his own admission, he now needs to rely on guile to make up for waning speed and firepower. Olaizola, five years his junior, is by contrast very much a man of the moment and if their semi final goes to the form book, it is hard to envisage him failing to reach what would be his fifth Manomanista final.

Scoring sequence: 0-2, 3-2, 3-4, 13-4, 13-5, 14-5, 14-6, 17-6, 21-7, 21-16 and 22-16.
Playing time: 63 minutes and 54 seconds, with 16.18 minutes of actual play

Aimar Olaizola, a semi finalist again

Aimar Olaizola, a semi finalist again

Manomanista Championship: Beloki’s experience tells in defeat of Agirre by frontonnews
April 20, 2009, 11:06 pm
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Sunday 19th April
Astelena, Eibar
BELOKI beat AGIRRE 22-11

Ruben Beloki can seem a quiet and rather unassuming character in comparison to the other past champions in the draw, about whom there is infinitely more fuss being made. However, of all 2009’s illustrious competitors, the 34 year old from Burlada is the most decorated, at least in manomanista terms, having been champion in 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2001. He also holds the distinction of being the youngest ever winner; he was all of 20 years old in 1995. He himself admits to the loss of some of his speed and power, but he makes up for these deficiences in his experience and guile, as Imanol Agirre was to discover to his cost.

Agirre, who is also 34, has also been around a while, having made his professional debut fourteen years ago. He is, however, far less decorated than his opponent here and on this occasion at least, far less assured. Things started positively for the man from Bilbao and the encounter was all square at 5-5. The early points were long and enthralling and the protagonists traded blows with equal venom. However, slowly but surely, Beloki exerted himself upon the game, winning the next six points at barely a canter. He served long and hard to put his opponent on the back foot from the off and then controlled the play with impressive composure. This was nowhere more apparent than in the point which took the score to 9-5, in which Beloki made Agirre run for sheer life before nonchalantly swiping to ball crosscourt while his rival was totally off the scene. Beloki also showed his prowess at turning defence into attack. For all his inability to impose himself, Agirre fought doggedly and managed to produce an exellent shot which used both walls in an attempt to bamboozle Beloki. Miraculously however, the latter reached it and broke Agirre’s spirit by producing a low crosscourt winner from a seemingly hopeless situation.

Beloki would not have everything his own way and there followed a passage of play in which Agirre showed signs of recovery, reducing his deficit to two points at 11-9. The underdog showed Beloki that he could play him at his own game by manouvering him around the fronton and rendering him out of place on three occasions. He also won a point with a barrelling serve. However, his stoical resistence was not to last and the former champion regained control to take six points without reply. Agirre, while still fighting, appeared now to be more prone to error, failing to retrieve two serves which he could not get under and miscuing two overhead volleys. Although Agirre managed to salvage two further points, the remainder of the match was all about Beloki, who composed the pattern and speed of the match before playing it to perfection. As Beloki showed his prowess in shot making and finishing points with a flourish, Agirre continued to miss when he attempted to volley and hit with unnecessary inaccuracy, a victim of his opponent’s relentless pressure.

This was a job well done by Beloki, who was not flashy but dominant nonetheless. In the fourth round he faces Asier Olaizola, who made the semi finals last year, in an encounter with no clear favourite. While Olaizola will come at Beloki with all guns blazing, his wiles could be his salvation. Beloki has not won a txapela of any kind since 2003; he has a long way to go here before another is in sight but his brand of quiet assurance could serve him well in the coming weeks.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 3-1, 3-5, 11-5, 11-9, 17-9, 17-10, 20-10, 20-11 and 22-11.

Ruben Beloki on top

Ruben Beloki on top