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



Mano pairs: King Irujo plays a blinder by frontonnews

Sunday 15th February
Atano III, San Sebastian
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – GONI III beat OLAIZOLA II – ZEARRA 22-8

This was supposed to be an epic. Juan Martinez de Irujo and Aimar Olaizola are two of the greatest exponents of forward play we have seen in many years and as befits their status, they have a long and turbulent rivaly, tinged with huge respect. The last time these starry pelotaris met at Atano III, Olaizola took home the Cuatro y Medio crown at the expense of Irujo in a match which dominated the sporting media, eager to delve into the characters of the finalists. Irujo is known as an often erratic genius, one day barnstormingly brilliant, the next error ridden and off colour. In contrast, Aimar is frequently summarised as the great tactician, calculating and brutal, and cool as the proverbial cucumber. Which Irujo would we see today, and would Aimar be able to out-think him? A sell out crowd could hardly wait for the answer, but the match which promised so much turned out to be a one sided showcase for Irujo.

The forward from Ibero was simply stunning. From the off, the front half of the fronton was his territory and his alone as the winners came thick and fast. Three breathtaking gantxo winners left the Asegarce pair stranded and impotent and he employed the drop shot with impunity, manouvering his opponents with seeming ease to create a mouthwateringly open court for his purposes. He did not commit an error until the score stood at 9-2 in his favour. Two more errors were to follow but by then it barely mattered; the crucial point was all but in the bag.

And what of the usually great Olaizola II? A combination of factors led to his downfall, the first being that Irujo was so well and truly on song that he never allowed the Goizuetan to find his stride. For Aimar throughout his career, txapelas have seemingly grown on trees and he managed to show a few glimpses of his pedigree with three textbook crosscourt winners, but otherwise, things never went his way. On a day when the brilliant Irujo rather than the erratic one came to the party, he made too many errors to compete; his bad day conincided with his opponent’s superlative one. Olaizola may have the excuse of an abdominal problem, stories of which were doing the rounds before the match. Although there was no obvious sign of pain, he did look ill at ease and maybe this was due to more than just Irujo’s onslaught. Irujo seemed to indicate that he did not appear quite right in his post match interview, but whatever the reason, Olaizola will need to put today behind him and concentrate on next weekend, remembering the great player that he is.

The battle of the defenders was not quite so crucial but still played its part. Oier Mendizabal was replaced by Oier Zearra owing to a problem with his right hand. Commentators assumed that the absence of his usual partner would be Aimar’s major worry, but in truth, Zearra played well enough. His performance was solid at times but he did make errors, notably from the back where he was tested purposely by the Aspe pair. Goni III was the better of the two, providing an excellent and dependable foil for the attacking might of Irujo.

Next weekend will be a nailbiter for both pairs. Olaizola and Zearra, top of the standings after last week, would have had one foot in the semi finals had they pulled off a win here but they now join the plethora of pairs on four points and will almost certainly need to beat Barriola and Gonzalez next week, the only potentially saving grace being their points difference. If Irujo and Goni had lost tonight, they would have had a monumental struggle on their hands to qualify. As it is, they have given themselves the best possible chance; they lie top for the moment, level on points with Olaizola’s pair. In this topsy turvy tournament, what may happen next weekend is anybody’s guess.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 9-1, 9-2, 9-5, 10-5, 15-5, 15-6, 19-6, 19-7, 19-8 and 22-8

The unstoppable Irujo

The unstoppable Irujo

Image from: http://www.navarrasport.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/juanirujo4.jpg