The power and the glory: stunning Irujo sweeps to Manomanista crown by frontonnews
June 8, 2009, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , ,

Sunday 7th June

Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian

MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat OLAIZOLA II 22-12

This match, the Manomanista final, the crowning point of the pelota mano year, had all the makings of a classic. In the blue corner was Juan Martinez de Irujo, the whirlwind from Ibero who had swept all before him in the year up until this point. He was the standout player of the pairs championship, where he and Fernando Goni got their hands on the prize and had obliterated all comers in reaching this showpiece final, slaying defending champion Bengoetxea VI, Xala and Gonzalez with a sweep of his arm and the eyes of a tiger. In red was his arch rival Aimar Olaizola, the cool assassin from Goizueta. Aimar had run Irujo close in the pairs and while not at his brilliant best this year, is never a man to be brushed aside. His route to the final was a little less conventional, proceeding as he did after only one match following the respective withdrawals of Barriola and Beloki, but his steely gaze which has struck fear into the hearts of so many was firmly fixed on victory. Irujo and Aimar are by far and away the greatest assets of their opposing empresas, their presence raising the box office takings of any given festival by at least 5000 euros, and Atano III sold out within the hour for this seminal match. However, when their eyes met, amidst the chants and the cheers, Aimar’s steel proved no match for the passion and power of the rampant Irujo.

Irujo’s victory, by 22 points to 12, was a demonstration of physical might. In the opening exchanges, the pair seemed evenly matched and battled toe to toe. Irujo served first but Aimar immediately wrestled the initiative from his rival, taking the serve from him and going up 2-0. He looked sharp and determined, fist pumping and brimming with intensity; all the worries about his lack of match preparation seemed unfounded. He continued to live with his rival, showing power and verve in the sotomano and serve, and displaying tantalising glimpses of his tactical intelligence in the way he moved Irujo back and forth. The Asegarce star found himself ahead at 4-3 and 5-4. However, any slight edge he may have held was slowly but surely whittled away as the hurricane of Irujo gradually picked up pace. Aimar, as a result of the withdrawals of both his quarter final and semi final opponents, was inevitably somewhat short of competitive preparation, and the warmer Irujo’s engine became, the more it showed. For a time, Aimar valiantly hung onto the coat tails of his opponent, pulling himself from 9-14 down to 12-14, but the remaining two point gap could not be bridged.

Irujo knew that a frenetic match would suit him better than Aimar and as he slipped into top gear, the pace rose accordingly. From 12-14, the Navarrese champion won a string of eight points to make the title his. Aimar, though he tried, could not live with him. As the panic became apparent in his normally serene demeanour, Aimar strove to slow the match by calling a string of time outs to allow him recovery. Even when an official break was not in progress, he paused to speak to his brother Asier on the sidelines, to have a drink and to catch his breath. Irujo meanwhile, sat for as little time as was possible before returning to the battle field to keep both his mind and his limbs warm. Body language told the story of who was the more comfortable, both in the course of play and out of it.

As a display of dominance and unquenchable power, this was a match for the ages, but as a contest it fell well short of expectations. Aimar, twice champion here and conqueror of Irujo back in December’s Cuatro y Medio final, was a shadow of what he can be; at no point was Irujo forced to feel the pain of his mighty left arm and his ability to read and change the flow of play was all but absent. He has clear excuses in his enforced five week break from competitive play, and the lingering effects of a troublesome right shoulder, but nobody can argue with the right of the champion to lift his prize. Aimar was outhit, out thought and overpowered by a man who can truly take his place among the greats, and left the arena of play drained of all his reserves. This is Irujo’s third Manomanista title, and his seventh major title in all, at the age of 27. It is the third championship final of his extraordinary season and his second txapela. If Irujo continues in this vein, how many more may follow? The pure life force that is Juan Martinez de Irujo, pelotari supreme, shows no sign of abating.

Irujo supreme

Irujo supreme

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The Manomanista contenders: Olaizola II by frontonnews
June 6, 2009, 12:33 am
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: ,

In preparation for the Manomanista final on Sunday, we take a close look at the two protagonists, arguably the greatest brace of pelotaris the 21st century has seen. The spotlight turns first on Olaizola II.

29 year old Aimar Olaizola hails from Goizueta, in north-eastern Navarre, where Basque tradition dies hard and where Euskara dominates. Bars in the small town are awash with photographs of the local hero and his signed shirts, along with those of his older brother Asier, also a top player, but Aimar it seems is still very much the boy next door. In an interview before his last Manomanista final in 2007, Goizueta’s parish priest recalled the pelotari as a “good boy” who always knew his catechism better than his teachers, and who has since remained humble and close to his roots despite his celebrity status. As a child he had a reputation for composure and level headedness on the fronton, in contrast to Asier who was rather more given to shows of temper. Despite being one of the weakest back court players at his club as a junior, his technique, temperament and close range power marked him out as a pelotari of searing potential.

The young Aimar

The young Aimar

Aimar turned professional in 1998 after an impressive amateur career which included wins in the Spanish Individual under 20 Championship and the Navarrese Pairs Championship. Within a year, he had won his first major tournament, the 2nd Division Manomanista Championship, and in 2002 he broke into the big time with the first of his four Cuatro y Medio txapelas. Only the great Retegi II has won as many. In addition to his domination in this form of the game, Aimar has also been Manomanista champion on two occasions, in 2005 and 2007, beating Irujo and Barriola respectively in the finals. In addition, he and Oier Mendizabal were pairs champions in 2008. He has also been a losing finalist in major championships on five occasions, meaning that in the 26 major championships since 2002, he has reached the last stage in almost half.

Aimar has faced Irujo in four major finals and their record stands at two apiece. The last of these came in the Cuatro y Medio final in December where the Goizuetarra triumphed 22-17. Historically, they are pretty evenly matched. However, the circumstances which surround Sunday’s Manomanista final are somewhat out of the ordinary in that Aimar has reached this stage after playing only one game. Abel Barriola’s knee injury, which occurred prior to the tournament, meant Aimar was only to have played two qualification matches anyway, but when Ruben Beloki sprained his thumb in winning his quarter final, the path was open for him to proceed to the final after a single victory, against Urberuaga. This chain of events has left Aimar worrying short of match practice. In his four matches since the pairs final he has not lost, but he has not played for five weeks. By all accounts his training has been going well, but he must surely worry about his lack of competitive speed in the face of Irujo, who is quite capable of blasting anyone off a fronton given half the chance. A major question mark hangs over his head in this his 13th major final, for nobody has any idea as to the state of his form.

The other niggling doubt concerns the state of his long term fitness. Since last summer he has played with tendinitis in his right shoulder, and this ailment appeared to have dampened his attack somewhat in the pairs championship earlier in the year. After the final, which he and Mendizabal II lost (to Irujo and Goni III), Asegarce spoke of a long term rehabilitation programme to be built around competition. He cannot afford to be below his best on Sunday. However, Aimar Olaizola is a great champion, and champions have a way of pulling out the stops when it matters. While Irujo will head to Atano III as favourite, he cannot afford to underestimate his rival. Aimar is a man for the big occasion. So often he has turned a match around when all has seemed lost and that never say die attitude is what marks him out. He is a master tactician who possesses an uncanny knack for reading a game and changing his style accordingly, and also has the power to dictate the pace of a match so that it suits what he wishes to do. Added to his sporting intelligence comes an armoury of physical weapons. His cuatro y medio victories are testament to his power close to the frontis and his left arm is especially feared. Given half an opening, Aimar can and will twist the knife with utter ruthlessness. His form is an enigma and his state of match readiness is open to question, but in any situation this Basque boy next door is never to be taken lightly.



Manomanista Final: the defining dual of our era by frontonnews
June 4, 2009, 1:38 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , ,

Atano III, San Sebastian, 18:00 (CET) OLAIZOLA II v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO

 Live on ETB-Sat: http://www.eitb.com/television/etb-sat

 At 6pm on Sunday, the world of pelota mano will stand still. The Basque Country over, time and place will become an irrelevance as fans young and old turn their minds and hearts to a world within a world, a world bounded by green walls and baying crowds, banners and television cameras. On Sunday, the two men who have ruled and defined pelota mano in the 21st century compete for the holy grail of their sport, the Manomanista title, in San Sebastian. Both Aimar Olaizola and Juan Martinez de Irujo have been here before and know the sweet taste of success but each will lay their entire being on the line in the quest for txapela number three. It is the dream final; since the turn of the century, 28 major championships have been held, and between them, Aimar and Irujo have won 13 of them, this despite the presence of other towering figures of the modern game such as Titin III and perennial bridesmaid Barriola. Their qualification for the Manomanista final means that they have reached every major final this season, Aimar having beaten Irujo in the Cuatro y Medio final in December and Irujo (with Goni III) having got the better of Aimar (with Mendizabal II) in the pairs final in the spring. It is divine justice that they should meet again.

 The defining duel of our era continues on the greatest of all stages; if you watch only one match of pelota mano this year, let this be it.



Manomanista final: Aimar and Irujo choose their playing material and discuss their chances by frontonnews
June 4, 2009, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , ,

The two great pelotaris poised to clash in the Manomanista final on Sunday met at 12 noon today to select the balls they will use at Atano III. Aimar Olaizola selected balls weighing 106.4g and 105.3g, while Irujo went for heavier choices at 106.7g and 105.9g.

At a press conference which followed the selection, Olaizola declared his satisfaction with his balls and looked ahead to another meeting with his arch rival. He declared Irujo “hard to beat”, due to the pace of his play and his strength in the air. He highlighted lack of recent match practice as his major problem heading into his meeting with Irujo but seemed satisfied with his training and stated that the speed of the fronton at Atano III would suit him. Aimar is in the unusual position of having reached the final after playing only one match, this due to the injuries of his would be opponents, Barriola and Beloki. He professed that it felt ‘weird’ to reach the final in this way and stated that Irujo is the clear favourite owing to his greater competative experience of late. Aimar, due to the misfortune of cancelled games, has not played a competative match in over a month, and despite not having lost a game since the pairs final, the nature of his form is anybody’s guess. The Goizuetarra admitted his own doubts, declaring his fear at his possible lack of top end pace as a result of his enforced lay-off.

However, Irujo is in no mood to underestimate his opponent, who whatever his form, remains a great champion. He acknowledged the sense behind his favouritism with the bookmakers, having overcome three potential banana skins in Xala, Gonzalez and Bengoetxea VI, with barely a hair out of place. However, the man from Ibero does not place any store by odds, insisting that he will play the game as if his chances are 50-50. He recognised Aimar’s ability to rise to the big occasion, as well as his ruthlessness, given half an opportunity to impose himself. Irujo declared him “hard to beat” and a pelotari at the pinnacle of the game, who will come out and play “100 or 120%” to claim the top prize.

Sources: Asegarce, Diario de Noticias

 

Aimar and Irujo, ready to lock horns again

Aimar and Irujo, ready to lock horns again



Manomanista Championship: injured Beloki forfeits semi final by frontonnews
May 26, 2009, 8:46 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , ,

After a test of his fitness this morning, Ruben Beloki has informed his empresa, Asegarce, that he will not be fit to contest his Manomanista semi final, which would have taken place on 30th May, against Aimar Olaizola. 34 year old, Beloki, the youngest ever Manomanista champion back in 1995, sprained his thumb in his quarter final match against Asier Olaizola on 9th May. Two time champion Aimar Olaizola will now proceed to the final against Juan Martinez de Irujo on 7th June.

Beloki: forced to withdraw

Beloki: forced to withdraw



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 Semi Final live on ETB-Sat, Sunday: BENGOETXEA VI v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO by frontonnews
May 16, 2009, 11:52 am
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , ,

Sunday 17th May
Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian
18:25 (CEST) BENGOETXEA VI v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO

Live on ETB-Sat: http://www.eitb.com/television/etb-sat

Sunday sees the first semi final of the 2009 Manomanista Championship and it promises to be a cracker. Oinatz Bengoetxea (24, Leitza) is the defending champion and has reached the last four this time around with consummate ease. His rival is Juan Martinez de Irujo (27, Ibero) who was champion in 2006 and currently leads the Manista.com Rankings. Both appear to be on white hot form and look set to produce one of the most exciting encounters of the year so far.

The semi final will be preceeded on ETB-Sat by the following doubles match:
17:15 (CEST) XALA – ZUBIETA v GONZALEZ – LASKURAIN

Irujo and Bengoetxea, Manomanista rivals

Irujo and Bengoetxea, Manomanista rivals