BBK Masters: Irujo crowns a spectacular year with victory by frontonnews
December 28, 2009, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , , , , ,

Saturday 26th December, Atano III, San Sebastian

MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat OLAIZOLA II 22-16

The BBK Masters is the last hurrah of the pelota year, a jamboree in which the finest pelotaris of the past twelve months play for pride and a big cheque. As befits a tournament which aims to crown a ‘master’, the year’s final delivered a game between the best of the best, Juan Martinez de Irujo and Aimar Olaizola. Time after time this year, these two supreme competitors have fought each other but Irujo has held sway on the biggest stages, defeating Aimar in both the pairs and Manomanista finals. Aimar redressed the balance in the summer, displaying scintillating form in the merry-go-round of festivals, but who would have the last word of 2009?

From the off, this match had the makings of an epic. It was Olaizola who held sway in the early skirmishes. In taking out a 2-8 lead, the formidable Goizuetan offered a tactical masterclass. He aimed to expose Irujo against the high ball, repeatedly taking his shots fast and early, and striking the frontis high to pin his rival back. When that tactic did not produce an immediate result, he took the rally to the front of the court where he proved able to fox Irujo just as easily. Frustration surely led to two wild and wide strikes by the Manomanista champion on 2-3 and 2-4. Irujo tried to play Aimar at his own game on 2-7 but overcooked it, hitting the side wall high.

Aimar looked poised and polished but he then proceeded to let a determined Irujo back into the game, losing six points in a row to produce a tie at eight apiece. The first two of these points stemmed from Olaizola errors but he was then forced to give way to some brilliance by his opponent who had clearly employed his radar and found his range with dosparedes and drop winners. His serve, too, looked ominous. Irujo’s run ended when he hit too high to cede the lead once again, and Aimar surged forwards to a 9-13 lead, served up by a mixture of winners and Irujo errors. Again however, the fighter from Ibero clawed his way back and stalemate was reached at 15-15. The tensionwas palpable both in the demeanour of the protagonists and in the fever pitch of the large Atano III crowd; somebody had to give.

Whether a loss of focus from Aimar or a gear shift from Irujo provided the turning point is hard to say. When Irujo lauched the ball over Aimar’s head to take the lead at 16-15 however, one sensed a sea change, encapsulated in a hard won point which Irujo may have wanted more. There was little Aimar could have done about the two excellent serves which followed, both long enough to allow Irujo nonchalant drop winners as his opponent raced forwards from the return of serve, but in the next point one sensed that he may have lost his way; Aimar clearly thought he had the point with a drop but he was far too casual and underestimated the speed of Irujo. What could easily have been 18-16 if Aimar had chosen to go wide became 19-15, and one sensed Irujo had him in his death stare. One more error from Irujo notwithstanding, it was one way traffic from here on in, Irujo even managing to play Aimar at his earlier game of hitting high and long. When Aimar failed to scoop a low ball from the floor it was game over.

This was a fitting result. Doubtless Aimar would have wished to put an end to his 2009 habit of finishing second in major finals but Irujo is the year’s number one and this prize was the cherry on his considerable cake. With the exception of his blip in the Cuatro y Medio final where he lost out to Sebastien Gonzalez, Irujo has been nigh on unstoppable this year and has played at a pace, and with a verve, that barely seems possible. The champion once again proved that against even the toughest opponent, he has the ability to call on an extra gear, fuelled both by raw talent and by imagination. Zorionak Juan Martinez de Irujo, txapeldun.

Scoring sequence: 2-0/2-2/ 2-8/ 8-8 / 9-13/ 10-13/ 14-14/ 15-15/ 16-15/ 20-16/ 22-16

Martinez de Irujo: Number One

Image from: Gara



Cuatro y Medio Final: Gonzalez Txapeldun! by frontonnews
December 19, 2009, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday 8th December, Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian

GONZALEZ beat MARTINEZ DE IRUJO 22-18

That Sebastien Gonzalez defeated Juan Martinez de Irujo in the Cuatro y Medio final last Tuesday is now rather old new; forgive me for the late telling of it, which has occurred due to foreign trips and singing work getting in the way!

This was a huge upset. Gonzalez had played excellently in the run up to the final, losing only to Titin III in the semi final rounds and indeed defeating his final opponent en route. However, the trumping of Irujo in a major final is a big deal. The man from Ibero adores the big stage and when his tail is up, to say that he is formidable is a gross understatement. Gonzalez had a mountain to climb and he scaled it with aplomb, holding his nerve and maintaining his belief to pull off by far the biggest win of his career.

Gonzalez could have become fatally disillusioned from the gun as Irujo roared to a 6-0. It looked like business as usual for the Pairs and Manomanista Champion. However, Gonzalez clawed his way back to 7-10 and seemed to pass his early nerves to Irujo, who became uncharacteristically rattled. When Gonzalez inched ahead at 12-11 it was very much game on. Irujo’s mental state was further dented by a disputed line call which sparked a heated protest, but he held his game and the players enetered deadlock at 16-16. When Gonzalez retook the lead at 18-19, the dream for the player from the Lapurdi province in the French Basque Country looked to be on. As he grew in stature, the great champion Irujo waned and with five straight points Gonzalez reached the pinacle of his career to date.

This was a first major title for the 32 year old, whose only previous championship win had come in the 2nd Division Manomanista in 2000. For Irujo it was a final hurdle failure to win all three major titles in one calendar year. He will be consoled by finishing the year with a commanding lead in the Manista.com rankings over nearest, and perennial rival Olaizola II, but this defeat surely hurt. Irujo was gracious as ever in defeat but it was Gonzalez’s evening; for this astounding coup, he deserves the freedom of Saint Jean de Luz.

Scoring sequence: 6-0; 6-1; 9-1; 10-2; 10-7; 11-7; 12-7; 12-9; 12-11; 14-11; 15-12; 16-12; 16-16; 17-17; 18-17; 18-21; 18-22.

Gonzalez: victory

Source: abc.es, Image from: La Rioja



4 1/2: Super Saralegi shocks Xala by frontonnews
October 18, 2009, 9:41 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , , , , , ,

Sunday 18th October, Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian

SARALEGI beat XALA 22-12

When 30 year old Ekaitz Saralegi crossed himself before unleashing his opening serve at Atano III today, it looked like a gesture of hope rather than confidence. Nobody seriously expected the man from Amezketa to trouble the might of Yves Salaberry. Saralegi, who has never won nor even reached the final of a major championship in his eight year career, is the 24th ranked player at Asegarce and lies 40th in the overall manista.com ranking. Xala on the other hand is the winner of two pairs championships and a past losing finalist in both the Manomanista and 4 ½ competitions, and is rated 15th by manista.com. Xala’s form has held steady throughout the summer and little suggested that Saralegi could seriously challenge the skill set of Lekuine’s finest. However, in a match where the baton of dominance passed back and forth in the early stages, it was the underdog who finally seized it for good.

If Saralegi suffered any pre game nerves at all they were soon banished as he took out the first three points with quiet ease, capitalising on Xala’s waywardness. However, Xala banished his demons and pulled his game together to take the score to 5-3 in his favour and it appeared as if the predicted result was on the cards; under pressure from his more fancied opponent, Saralegi hit wide and short, and failed to scoop out two low volleys which he perhaps should have allowed to bounce. But Saralegi once again wrested the initiative with five straight points in which he showed beyond doubt that he was in this encounter for the long haul. He went beyond his earlier mere solidity and pulled off two airez winners of pure brilliance. Though Xala pulled back points in ones and twos, Saralegi never looked under pressure form either his opponent or himself for the remainder of the match. He showed the full gamut of shots, from the gantxo on 6-10 which sent his fans into a frenzy, to the nonchalant txoko which gave him an eight point lead at 8-16. Tactically Xala had few answers; as his confidence and inspiration grew, Saralegi proved adept at manoeuvring his opponent out of position, using his serve with intelligence to send him the wrong way before striking the killer punch. Xala did threaten to regain his rhythm, pulling off four authoritative winners in a row, and in doing so reduced the deficit to four points at 12-16, but he was once again undone by his own lack of direction in the very next point when he struck too low. A time out at 12-19 could not stop the rot for Xala, who committed four errors in a row to bury, once and for all, his chances of reaching the next round.

The small but enthusiastic crowd rose to Saralegi with warmth and enthusiasm and he deserved every plaudit. He outplayed his more fancied opponent in every facet of the game and will surely meet the second round head on and full of confidence. His opponent there will be Asier Olaizola, who was in sizzling form in his first round defeat of Mikel Olazabal last weekend. If Saralegi wishes to triumph there he may need to raise his game another level, but who is to say that he might not silence the doubters once again?

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 0-3, 1-3, 5-3, 5-4, 5-8, 6-8, 6-11, 7-11, 8-11, 8-12, 8-16, 9-16, 12-16 and 12-22

Saralegi: victor

Saralegi: victor



San Sebastian round-up by frontonnews

Last night, Pablo Berasaluze and Aritz Begino became the first pair to progress to the final of the Torneo Cuidad de San Sebastian. The Asegarce pair dominated proceedings at Atano III, defeating Xala and Fernando Goñi by 22 points to 12. The victorious partnership outplayed their rivals both in attack and defence; Begino was especially impressive, showing terrific strength, accuracy and range which put the usually unflappable Goñi in the shade. Berasaluze continued in his recent vein with some stunning forward play and all of the fiery defiance for which he is known. Xala was a contradiction, playing at times with mastery and at times with baffling carelessness, stinging airez winners mixing with too great a number of txapas. The result was never in serious doubt.

 The second semi final takes place this evening as follows:

 c. 23:00 (CEST) TITIN – EULATE v BENGOETXEA VI – MENDIZABAL II

 Sadly there will be no webcast.

 The first game, a ‘special’ match, of the festivities in San Sebastian was an unusual one, pitting as it did Juan Martinez de Irujo (playing with Titin III) and Aimar Olaizola (playing with Pablo Berasaluze) against each other as defenders. As one might expect, it was an extremely atypical encounter. Neither of the ‘defenders’ seemed terribly keen to play as such with all four pelotaris at times in the front portion of the fronton. This led to a fast and furious encounter with some highly entertaining points. However, Irujo did not appear entertained in any way, shape or form. The Manomanista champion looked like a fish out of water as he made error after error and constantly found himself out of position. Confusion reigned between him and Titin. In contrast, Olaizola and Berasaluze had a ball, perhaps ironically given Aimar’s reputation as a poor back court player in his junior days. They appeared relaxed and worked swimmingly together as a team, resulting in a crushing 22-7 victory. Despite being an encounter of little importance, Aimar will surely have been delighted with yet another score over his old rival this summer. The pair will meet again, rather more conventionally, in a mano a mano game on Saturday.

Begino and Berasaluze VIII

Begino and Berasaluze VIII



Manomanista Championship: Irujo the unstoppable into the final by frontonnews

Sunday 17th May
Atano III, San Sebastian
JUAN MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat BENGOEXTEA VI 22-15

It is three years since Juan Martinez de Irujo last contested a Manomanista final but at Atano III on Sunday, Ibero’s most cherished son returned to the big time with his defeat of defending champion Oinatz Bengoetxea in a pulsating match. Both are pelotaris who wear their hearts on their sleeves and as promised, served up a contest of breathtaking exuberance and intensity. The desire of each was palpable but there could only be one victor and for all his speed and dynamism, Bengoetxea was unable to match Irujo for sheer skill and devastation.

Irujo began as he meant to go on, opening up a 6-0 lead, hitting the fronton like a whirlwind. 6-0 became 8-1 and 11-2 and many of the extremely vocal fans who had flocked to San Sebastian must have wondered whether they would see a contest. However, Leitza’s faithful lifted Bengoetxea, who is nothing if not a fighter, to parity at 11-11. But parity of scoring does not always tell the whole tale, and Irujo was keen to impress the fact of his superiority. Moving the ball with lethal speed, he wrenched the initiative from the champion, winning the next six points to proceed to 17-11. Bengoextea stemmed the tide with sotomano and hook winners to claw two points back, but none could now doubt the identity of the master. He surged ahead again to 21-15, while all hell broke loose among his supporters, and took the tie at a canter with a stinging forehand winner. In a blitzkrieg of 15 winners, Irujo was in the final again.

This will be Irujo’s third championship final of the year, having previously lost the Cuatro y Medio final in December before winning the Pairs. It was Aimar Olaizola who defeated him in December and that same player could equal Irujo’s feat by reaching the final on Saturday, having been runner up in the pairs. To do that, he will need to beat Ruben Beloki, a multiple winner whose best days are surely past. Beloki retains his guile and Aimar will not expect a walk in the park in his semi final, but the vast majority of the money will be on him. Irujo-Aimar is the dream final for which many will hope, but whoever joins him there will have their work cut out if they are contain his relentless momentum towards the txapela.

Source: El Correo

Can Martinez de Irujo be stopped?

Can Martinez de Irujo be stopped?



Manomanista Championship: Juan Martinez de Irujo pulls himself back from the brink by frontonnews

Sunday 3rd May
Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat GONZALEZ 22-16

Two weeks after beating Yves Xala into submission with a 22-4 near whitewash, the whirlwind from Ibero was back on court on Sunday, this time to face Sebastian Gonzalez, a semi finalist last year. Irujo has appeared an impregnable wall thus far this year and nobody expected Gonzalez, an excellent player in his own right, to put up a very staunch fight. Nothing could be further from the truth, for Gonzalez shocked Irujo to his very core; he looked nothing like the pelotari who steamrollered Xala. Although he pulled the cat out of the bag to take the win with an astonishing comeback, this match will have given his rivals something of a boost, for the mercurial Irujo is far from unbeatable.

In the early exchanges, Irujo showed no signs for alarm, taking three points in a row to lead 3-1. However, in bafflingly quick time, he found himself trailing 16-7. Gonzalez exceeded his rival in every area: he was metronomically consistent, his volley was lethal and his tactics superior. Irujo appeared lacking in ideas or options, struck the ball badly and made a string of errors. Gonzalez must have thought he was home and dry, but Irujo is a fighter of the highest calibre and he refused to lie down. When he regained his serve at 8-16, there was no stopping the 2006 champion who won 15 straight points to eliminate his rival. His serve was his major weapon in this dramatic about turn but he also used the walls to great effect in open play; Gonzalez had gone from hunter to hunted in emphatic style as Irujo called the shots. Irujo was also aided by his rival’s errors, which were now numerous. Gonzalez lost this game as much as Irujo won it.

So, we have the semi final for which many had hoped; Irujo will play the defending champion Oinatz Bengoetxea at a yet to be agreed location on 17th May. This promises to be an explosive match, pitching against each other two of the most physical pelotaris on the scene. Irujo cannot afford to give Bengoetxea a nine point lead of he wishes to reach his first Manomanista final in three years.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-3, 6-3, 6-5, 10-5, 10-7, 16-7 and 16-22.

Source: Diario Vasco



Mano pairs final: thrilling victory for Irujo and Goni III by frontonnews

Sunday 29th March
Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – GONI III beat OLAIZOLA II – MENDIZABAL II 22-21

Stunning Aimar almost turns the tables but Irujo and Goni show themselves to be the consumate partnership as the championship goes down to the wire

This was the final to end all finals: for a championship three months in duration to come down one point in the final match in front of a packed audience in full cry is the stuff of Hollywood. That it as a close run thing was not wholly unexpected, pitting against each other as it did the two best pairs, containing some of the very greatest players, of the bunch. For two weeks, press and public alike have discussed the relative merits and weaknesses of the protagonists; Irujo’s passion? Olaizola’s tactical intelligence? Goni’s consistency? Mendizabal’s talent for the big stage? Which would win the day? In the end, none of the four deserved to lose, but as the tournament hovered in flux, the sword of Damacles had to drop for two.

The first two points of the final whetted the appetite for the forward battle to come as the great Irujo and Aimar locked horns from the off. The first point went to the former who used both walls to wrong foot Aimar and signal his intent. But the Goizuetan showed he would not be dictated to with a brutal airez of his own. In reality though, it was the duel at the back of the fronton which was to set the pattern for the majority of the game. It seemed to all the world as if the Aspe pair would waltz away with the prize as they consistently held their opponents at arm’s length, never closer than two points. This seeming air of inevitability was brought about largely by the rock solid play of Goni III to whom the very idea of the unforced error seemed anathema. No matter how hard Aimar tried to set him up for a fall, the man from Zubiri returned with interest. It took the defending champions 17 points to knock him, briefly, from his pedestal of perfection when Aimar manipulated him back and forth until he hit wide. In contrast, Oier Mendizabal creaked almost from the off; before Goni had made one mistake, his young opponent had failed four times. The discrepancy in the defensive play was clear for all to see, not least for Irujo and Goni themselves, who milked it for all it was worth. Aimar played with assurance but for the large part was totally unable to impose himself. Irujo played with all his usual fire and more in his expert partnering of Goni. He was not immune from the odd careless error, greeted as usual but furious incredulity, but with dominance surely applied these hardly mattered.

When three Mendizabal errors in succession took the score to 16-11 in favour of Irujo and Goni, the Aspe partnership must have smelt the finishing line. However, this was to reckon without a man by the name of Aimar Olaizola who was not in a mood to let a potential eighth txapela pass him by. The Asegarce botillero called time out for his pair and when they returned to the fray, the match was very nearly turned on its head. With Aimar slightly repositioned on the fronton, the trailing attacker cut loose. A drop, an airez and a trademark lethal left handed hook ensured that the gap in points edged down, gradually, but assuredly. With the score at 18-15 to Irujo and Goni, Mendizabal hit low from the back of the fronton and one sensed that it was now or never for the Asegarce pair.

When Irujo miscued close to the side wall, Aimar pounced and attacked full on. Another hook levelled the score at 19-19. The crowd, now at fever pitch, gasped in stunned unison. This had hardly seemed possible a mere half an hour previously. When Goni could not return a long ball from Aimar, the defending champions were ahead for the first time and all hell broke loose in the Oier Mendizabal fan club, which was sizeable and deafening. However, their hero once again hit too low from far out and the score was tied again. Now the Aspe pair inched ahead and claimed a match point when Irujo left Aimar unceremoniously sprawling with his legs above his head. Surely this was it? But 21-21 came; Irujo could hardly comprehend how his shot failed to find the frontis. And so, one point to win it all. Who had the nerve and who would fall? The final point was agonising in every conceivable way. One moment of brilliance, one mistake and sporting fate would be sealed. Nobody had deserved this, but there was Fernando Goni brilliant to the last, sending a ball of beauty, low and skidding to the frontis. Aimar ran, dived, hit and watched. One inch was all it took to kill a dream. Juan Martinez de Irujo and Fernando Goni had won.

Points sequence (Olaizola II/Mendizabal II 1st): 0-1, 1-1, 1-3, 2-3, 2-5, 3-5, 4-5, 4-6, 4-8, 5-8, 5-10, 8-10, 8-11, 8-12, 9-12, 9-13, 10-13, 11-13, 11-14, 11-17, 12-17, 13-17, 13-18, 15-18, 15-19, 19-19, 20-19, 20-20, 20-21, 21-21 and 21-22.

Juan Martinez de Irujo: job done

Juan Martinez de Irujo: job done