4 1/2: Gonzalez triumphs but must play the waiting game by frontonnews
November 23, 2009, 5:04 pm
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Saturday 21st November, Labrit, Pamplona


This weekend was a tense affair for at least three of the pelotaris involved in the Cuatro y Medio semi finals, for the two tickets to the final depended on a series of outcomes. Sebastian Gonzalez, having lost to Titin III last week, had to beat Retegi Bi at Labrit on Saturday to progress. However, even victory there was not a guarantee, for if Titin were to beat Martinez de Irujo a day later, the cause would be lost. Retegi Bi, for his part, had a mathematical chance of qualification but it would have taken the miracle of a 22-2 victory for this to come to pass. Realistically he knew this was a task beyond the herculean, but he was understandably determined to have at least one victory to show for his time in the semi finals.

Gonzalez delivered on his side of the bargain and there was nothing Julen Retegi could do to stop the rot. Within two minutes, Gonzalez had raced to a 3-0 lead and condemned his young opponent to a winless exit. The result was never in serious doubt as the man from Donibane struck cleanly and dominated with his well practised combination of deep serve followed by hook winner. The match suffered from predictability and only seriously caught fire when a collision between the two players sparked a three way protest between the two players and Julen’s father and botillero, Julian Retegi, leading to a replay of the point. But this was of transient importance as Gonzalez took the victory 22-12.

Gonzalez therefore was left in limbo, having done all he could. An Irujo victory on Sunday would put him through to the coveted final but a win for Titin would send him packing. Retegi must surely be disappointed at his performance in the semi finals but must take heart from the way he got there, beating a bafflingly off colour Aimar Olaizola with play worthy of his eventual position. There is surely more to come from the promising son of the famous father.

Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-2, 8-2, 8-4, 11-4, 11-5, 14-5, 14-7, 16-7, 16-9, 19-9, 19-12 and 22-12.

Written with the partial help of Noticias de Alava

Gonzalez won but was forced to wait

Image from Diario Vasco

4 1/2: Retegi Bi pulls off massive upset to oust Aimar by frontonnews
November 1, 2009, 10:12 pm
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Saturday 31st October, Labrit, Pamplona


In what must count as one of the shocks of the year, 24 year old Retegi Bi has defeated defending champion Aimar Olaizola in the quarter finals of the Cuatro y Medio Championship. Olaizola has been the king of this format in recent years having won the championship on four occasions, equalling the record set by Retegi Bi’s father. The man from Goizueta has been in storming form for the majority of the past few months, notably beating Martinez de Irujo to take the Navarrese Cuatro y Medio title, but here he had no answer to the masterclass of the undoubted underdog. Unfortunately, as this was such a seminal point in the championship, I am not able to bring you an eyewitness report as there was no webcast, but reports state that Retegi Bi was simply superior in every facet of the game. Aimar, a shadow of his usual self, was out of the game from the word go, finding himself down 0-8 in quicktime. From there, there was no way back as the young forward hit his way to victory. Retegi Bi won the second tier pairs championship in both 2007 and 2008 but he now has a shot at something infinitely bigger; he takes his place in the semi finals by right.

Retegi Bi played the match of his life

Image from: El Correo Digital

Manomanista Championship: Beloki scrapes past Asier to set up semi final with Aimar by frontonnews
May 12, 2009, 10:47 pm
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Friday 8th May
Labrit, Pamplona

Ruben Beloki, who at 20 was the youngest ever winner of the Manomanista title, will return to the semi finals of the tournament for the first time since 2006. He achieved his passage at Labrit on Friday, beating one of last year’s semi finalists, Asier Olaizola by the smallest possible margin. This victory sets up a tie against Asier’s younger and more decorated brother Aimar, to take place on May 23rd, again in Pamplona.

This was a topsy turvy encounter filled with drama. Olaizola, whose participation had been in some doubt owing to a leg injury, started badly, to the extent that one feared he may face humiliation. He seemed unable to counter Beloki’s opening surge which took the man from Burlada to a 4-0 lead. It was however to prove a false alarm as Olaizola turned his game to take the lead 6-4 by means of a solid serve and a right arm more powerful than that of his opponent. There followed a period when the two protagonists seemed evenly matched, each taking advantage of the other’s mistakes to bring the score level at 10-10. Although Olaizola was again to pull ahead to a two point lead, the next passage of play belonged firmly to Beloki who used his serve to excellent effect and passed Olaizola crosscourt with ease. He won eight straight points to wrestle the initiative from the Goizuetan. Olaizola again closed on his opponent but an error on his part allowed Beloki to move to the brink of victory. It was then that a potentially match changing incident occurred in which sprained his right thumb in an attempt to hit a forehand volley. Clearly in pain, he lost the next two points and retired to the dressing room for treatment but his fears of a fracture were unfounded and he was able to continue, albeit somewhat handicapped. Olaizola took advantage of his rival’s plight with ruthlessness to draw the game at 21-21, but Beloki did not waver and when Olaizola failed to retrieve a ball at the front, he leapt to the heavens in pure joy.

Although Beloki should be fit to play his semi final in two weeks, the younger Olaizola will surely pose a greater challenge. Aimar has won two of the last four editions of this championship and will be eager to make up for last year’s surprise quarter final defeat at the hands of Bengoetxea. He was made to work in his 22-16 quarter final victory over Xabier Urberuaga but logic indicates his firepower will be too much for Beloki. However, in sport nothing is certain and if Beloki can show the same fight as he displayed against Olaizola senior, and if Aimar has an average day, who is to say that the final might not beckon?

Scoring sequence: 4-0, 4-6, 5-6, 5-7, 8-7, 8-10, 10-10, 10-12, 18-12, 18-16, 21-16 and 22-21

An injured thumb could not stop Ruben Beloki

An injured thumb could not stop Ruben Beloki


Manomanista Championship: Irujo destroys Xala by frontonnews
April 19, 2009, 8:48 pm
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Saturday 18th April
Labrit, Pamplona

Yves Salaberry, known in sporting terms as Xala, stood bodily in the path of a hurricane on Friday night. That hurricane originated in Ibero and made its way to Labrit to wreak havoc in the form of one Juan Martinez de Irujo, pelotari supreme. Xala must have come into this match with some confidence, despite the reputation of his opponent. The man from Lekuine played an excellent pairs championship, despite his lack of defensive support hindering his chances of making the knockout stages, and Irujo, while brilliant, can be eminently beatable. Nobody, least of all Xala, can have expected this.

Xala started well, his strong left arm winning him the first point, but Irujo, amazingly, won the next twenty. He was unable to do anything as Irujo served with aplomb, volleyed brilliantly and used the two walls as his play things. Only in the dying moments of the match did Xala manage to offer any kind of meagre resistance, winning three points in a row to save a little face. Irujo has won the Manomanista title on two previous occasions, in 2004 and 2006, and few would bet a large sum against him here. There will be sterner tests ahead but on the strength of this performance, he must surely be the man to fear. The only slight worry for Irujo came in the penultimate play of the match when he twisted his ankle. However, the injury is not thought to be serious and he hopes to resume training on Monday or Tuesday. He has until 3rd May to prepare for his quarter final against Sebastian Gonzalez, to whom he lost last year at the same stage. Gonzalez will need to muster all his resources if that result is to be repeated.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-20, 4-20, 4-22.

Martinez de Irujo: unstoppable

Martinez de Irujo: unstoppable

Manomanista Championship: Urberuaga upsets the form book in defeat of Retegi Bi by frontonnews
April 5, 2009, 10:40 pm
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Saturday 4th April

Labrit, Pamplona


Julen Retegi was the undisputed favourite at Labrit on Saturday as he faced Xabier Urberuaga in the first round of the Manomanista Championship. Retegi surely hoped he could take his first footsteps on the path of his great father, Julian, who won this tournament an astonishing eleven times between 1980 and 1993 but in his way stood Urberuaga, who had obviously committed to mind the adage that it is never over until the fat lady sings.

From the outset, Urberuaga, winner of the second division title in 2007, showed that he would be no pushover for the young pretender and he was soon up 8-3. However, Retegi showed his growing maturity in bringing his impressive armoury of resources to bear, and took the match to 8-8, then 12-8 and 19-8. Especially impressive were his left arm and his serve. His father, playing botillero, must have been well pleased.

However, things were to change in emphatic style. Urberuaga found his rhythm and never looked back, playing like a man possessed to pass and crush the dreams of his rival. Retegi managed only one further point as Urberuaga cruised past him at barely a canter to reach victory at 22-19. It was a triumph based on hard work, sweat, toil and determination for the man from Aulesti, who also exhibited a veritable pick and mix of shot making prowess. Retegi for his part looked one dimensional; he was impressive with his left but power elsewhere seemed lacking. Still, there are many years ahead for the talented son of his famous father, and surely much success too. Urberuaga will face Aritz Begino next Sunday for a place in the third round.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 5-2, 5-3, 8-3, 8-12, 9-12, 9-18, 17-18, 17-19 and 22-19

Sources: Diario Vasco, El Correo

Xabier Urberuaga: through to face Begino

Xabier Urberuaga: through to face Begino

Mano pairs: Irujo and Goni win the dead rubber and head to the final in style by frontonnews
March 16, 2009, 1:59 pm
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Saturday 14th March
Labrit, Pamplona

Juan Martinez de Irujo and Fernando Goni have completed a clean sweep in the semi finals by defeating Pablo Berasaluze and Aritz Begino at Labrit. The victors had already claimed their place in the final on 29th March but served to bolster both their confidence and their status as probable favourites. For the losers, this was their chance to leave the competition with their heads held high; instead, the pair who have illuminated this competition on more than one occasion finish bottom of the last four.

In a game where both forwards played with spirit in attack and competitive determination, it appeared as if the Asegarce pair would fold in all too dramatic fashion, finding themselves down 3-9. However, in an exciting run of play, they turned the scorecard on its head to lead 11-9, making the game more competative than the Pamplona public can have hoped. It was not to last; step forward Irujo, who pulverised his opponents with a startling display of winners to which the ever lively Berasaluze had no answer.

In the end, the Asegarce competitors could do nothing but salute Irujo’s mastery but although disappointed, they must take encouragement from the form which saw them qualify in first place at the end of the quarter final rounds. Their contribution to this championship has been as a welcome gust of fresh air. Irujo and Goni will both play next weekend as they aim to fine tune their game to face the defending champions in San Sebastian in the ultimate showdown.

Dominant: Juan Martinez de Irujo

Dominant: Juan Martinez de Irujo

Image from: http://manista.blogs.com/bitacora/images/2008/11/17/irujo_adarraga.jpg

Mano pairs: Aimar and Oier show that defence is as good as attack by frontonnews
March 8, 2009, 10:25 pm
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Saturday 7th March
Labrit, Pamplona

Two Asegarce pairs entered the fray at Labrit on Saturday knowing that a loss would mean elimination. Pablo Berasaluze and Aritz Begino had already suffered heavy defeat in the semi final stage at the hands of Begoetxea VI and Beloki whereas the defending champions, Aimar Olaizola and Oier Mendizabal had lost slightly more narrowly to Irujo and Goni III. Such crucial encounters are rarely matches to write home about in terms of pure quality and so it proved in Pamplona, but it was Aimar and Oier, true big match performers, who survived this war of attrition and retained the golden chance of a final berth.

Many of the almost 1000 spectators in the Navarrese capital must have trained their eyes on Begino, whose Herculean strength had catapulted his pair into the semi finals two weeks ago. There are few pelotaris physically stronger from the back of the fronton and with direction added to brute force Begino had the potential to dominate here. However, that was to reckon without the guile of Oier Mendizabal who refused to be bowed. The young Gipuzkoan hit with strength and assurance everything that Berasaluze sent his way from the front and his relentless pressure began to tell on Begino, who kept pace initially but increasingly lost his way. Mendizabal committed only two errors in the 34.51 minutes of playing time; Begino hit eleven and by the closing stages looked shattered both mentally and physically.

Olaizola was not in vintage form. The Goizeutan’s normally lethal hook shot simply did not fire, for reasons best known to himself, but he was able to bring other strengths to bear. It is Aimar’s special gift to see the game from afar even when he is in the midst of it; he is unsurpassed as a reader of the game, a cool headed tactician who can judge a situation and act accordingly. Sensing his partner’s excellent form, Olaizola turned defender, both handing the initiative to Mendizabal and pressurising Begino until he cracked. It was a tactical master stroke on the part of the defending champions who did just enough to keep their hopes of overall glory alive.

The biggest loser in all of this was undoubtedly Pablo Berasaluze, who played like a man possessed. In hitting a succession of winners he demonstrated his full range of attacking skills and hit with impressive precision. Although he lacked a certain amount of presence at the tail end of the game, when it really mattered, his unceasing efforts earnt him the biggest cheers of the night. Ultimately though, defence rather than attack won the day; Aimar’s skills in this department combined with a Mendizabal who was at his very best snuffed the life both from Pablito and from the red pair’s championship dreams.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-3, 4-3, 4-4, 7-4, 7-5, 9-5, 9-7, 10-7, 10-10, 12-10, 12-12, 14-12, 14-16, 15-16, 15-19, 18-19, 18-21, 20-21 and 20-22.

Mendizabal II on fire

Mendizabal II on fire

Image from: http://www.diariovasco.com/prensa/noticias/200803/29/fotos/018D6COMP1_1.jpg

Sources: Diario Vasco, Diario de Navarra

Mano pairs: Irujo and Goni take first blood as semi finals get underway by frontonnews
March 1, 2009, 12:36 pm
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Saturday 28th February
Labrit, Pamplona

With the drama of the quarter finals now a distant memory, the first encounter of the semi finals took place in Pamplona last night where the defending champions, Aimar Olaizola and Oier Mendizabal took on the mercurial Juan Martinez de Irujo and Fernando Goni. These pairs played each other twice in the quarter final rounds, emerging with one victory apiece, so anticipation was high for the opening game in the last four. What transpired was a game full of errors, largely decided by the relative performances of the two defenders, Mendizabal and Goni. Goni had a near perfect game, committing no errors in the entire hour and eighteen minutes. Mendizabal on the other hand committed seven, and this was the essential difference between the sides. The Aspe pair made it their clear policy to bombard Mendizabal, in the realisation that his form has been erratic in the championship thus far, thus neutralising the threat that Aimar might pose in attack. It was a plan which worked to perfection; Aimar could find no way to break free. The forward battle was more evenly matched, Aimar making seven errors to Irujo’s nine, but the die had been cast in the tactical success of the Aspe pair.

Points sequence: 0-2 2-2 4-4 5-6 5-10 9-10 10-12 15-13 16-14 16-20 17-20 17-22

Duration: 1:18 min.
690 strikes of the ball
Olaizola II: 0 seques, 7 tantos, 3 errores.
Mendizabal II: 7 errores.
Mtz. de Irujo: 3 saques, 8 tantos, 9 errores.
Goñi III: 1 tanto, 0 errores.

Goni III was the star of the show

Goni III was the star of the show

Image from: http://www.larioja.com/prensa/noticias/200901/03/fotos/648073.jpg

Sources: Diario de Navarra, Asegarce

Mano pairs: Irujo and Goni qualify after epic comeback at Labrit by frontonnews
February 23, 2009, 1:53 pm
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Saturday 21st February
Labrit, Pamplona

On Saturday, Juan Martinez de Irujo and Fernando Goni became the second pair to qualify directly for the semi-finals, defeating Manomanista champion Oinatz Bengoetxea and Ruben Beloki at Labrit. As befits the situation of the championship at this crucial stage, this was another tense and error strewn encounter where winning was the sole object, often at the expense of flair and daring. The match was characterised by a fascinating forward duel in which the two protagonists displayed both brilliance and frailty in equal measure. Bengoetxea pulled out of the bag some particularly extraordinary moves, but it was to no avail as the Aspe pair revelled in the relief of direct progression.

Matters initially looked rosy for Bengoetxea and Beloki, who raced into a 14-6 lead with determination and dominance. Even when the Aspe pair closed to 14-10, they looked outclassed by their opponents, but that is to reckon without the power of Irujo who is nothing if not a fighter. The Asegarce lead gradually closed until Irujo and Goni had squared the match at 19-19, to the thunderous delight of the Pamplona public who clearly relished the fight. Irujo broke the deadlock with a perfectly timed and placed hook to put his partnership ahead for the first time in the game. He then took control with his serve and the comeback was complete.

Irujo and Goni can now sleep easy; they are through and can recharge their batteries for the dramas ahead. Bengoetxea and Beloki must sit at home and wait. They will surely be glued to their television sets tonight, for if Xala and Zubieta beat Olaizola I and Patxi Ruiz, they too will be through. If the bottom pair can pull of an upset, their tournament is over.

Irujo and Goni march on

Irujo and Goni march on

Image from: http://www.diariovasco.com/prensa/noticias/200901/18/fotos/2423911.jpg

Source: El Correo Digital

Mano pairs: Bengoetxea and Beloki in the ascendent by frontonnews
February 15, 2009, 1:03 pm
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Saturday 14th February

Labrit, Pamplona


Oinatz Bengoetxea and Ruben Beloki last night made it three wins out of three to climb to third place in the championship standings. While the Asegarce pair have overcome their slow start to take their place among the favourites to progress, Titin and Pascual are heading in the other direction; they now lie seventh and should be very worried indeed, especially given their points difference only of +1. They could still qualify for the semi finals but they have not made it easy for themselves.

The Asegarce partnership triumphed not by whitewashing their opponents but through hard work and intensity of effort. Despite finding himself on the losing side, Pascal was the best of the four pelotaris on show. It was Titin who allowed the victors their upper hand; the man from Tricio played without inspiration or spark and as the confidence of the Aspe pair gave way, Bengoetxea pounced. Although the manomanista champion committed six errors, he was able to keep his forward opponent at bay, and together with the solid hitting of Beloki from the back, was able to keep Pascal contained by applying sustained pressure rather than searching for out and out winners. Although the match was a close one, Bengoetxea and Beloki showed impressive composure to take the spoils, turning a 19-20 deficit into a 22-20 triumph.

Scoring sequence: 0-2, 1-2, 1-3, 3-3, 3-5, 5-5, 5-6, 8-6, 8-9, 9-9, 9-11, 10-11, 10-13, 12-13, 12-14, 17-14, 17-16, 18-16, 18-19, 19-19, 19-20 and 22-20.

Bengoetxea VI at full stretch

Bengoetxea VI at full stretch

Image from: http://www.deia.com/cache/fotos/ce93333186e184bb13a55e5ff2799d8b.jpg

Source: Diario Vasco