Mano pairs: Asier and Patxi crash out in Tolosa by frontonnews
February 17, 2009, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday 16th February

Beotibar, Tolosa


Asier Olaizola and Patxi Ruiz yesterday became the first partnership to exit the Pairs Championship, losing 22-20 to Sebastian Gonzalez and Abel Barriola in an error-strewn encounter at Beotibar. Both pairs committed multiple infelicities but a win was all that the Aspe pair needed to maintain their standing in the table, and it was with grateful hearts that they must have welcomed the continuing poor form of their rivals. Asier and Patxi have won only two matches from seven attempts but even in their victories have failed to set the competition on fire. Both are former txapela winners and more chances may come to them, but this, emphatically, has not been their year.

Abel Barriola had some considerable excuse for his less than exciting play; with the score at 4-3 he requested a break, complaining of pain where the ball had struck the base of his right forefinger. With qualification on the line there was nothing to be done but continue as best he could when his allotted two minutes was up, with modified protections on the offending hand, but it was clearly a hinderance. However, Asier and Patxi were ultimately unable to capitalise on his misfortune. They created their chance to take the match, clawing their way to a 20-16 lead, but errors were their downfall and the Aspe pair managed to find a way back before registering one gantxo apiece to take their point with grateful relief.

So, we bid farewell to Patxi Ruiz and Asier Olaizola, but Barriola and Gonzalez must now concentrate all their energies on next weekend and their critical encounter with Asier’s younger brother Aimar Olaizola and Oier Mendizabal, the defending champions. Barriola’s hand injury must be a major worry; there will be prayers said at Aspe HQ for its speedy recovery. The defender from Leitza will now have until Sunday for healing however, as the match, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been moved to avoid a clash with a Real Sociedad football game, their ground being a stone’s throw from Atano III.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 4-3, 4-4, 5-4, 5-6, 6-6, 6-8, 8-8, 8-9, 9-9, 9-14, 11-14, 11-15, 13-15, 13-16, 14-16, 14-19, 16-19, 16-20, 19-20 and 19-22.

Abel Barriola (left, with Oier Zearra) will need to keep an eye on that hand

Abel Barriola (left, with Oier Zearra) will need to keep an eye on that hand

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Mano pairs: Asier and Patxi finally hit the high notes by frontonnews
February 7, 2009, 1:04 am
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , , , , ,

Friday 6th February


This has been a long time coming. For much of this tournament, Asier Olaizola has been forced to watch little brother Aimar scale the heights while he and his partner, an out of form Patxi Ruiz, plunged the depths. They remain lowly in terms of the overall table but they can now rejoice in a performance which has saved their faces. They hang onto a mathematical chance of qualification for the semi finals thanks to this win over fifth placed Titin and Pascual, although they would need a miracle. Their opponents for their part have failed to gain a crucial point as the fight to reach the last four hits fever pitch and will wait anxiously on other results this weekend to find out where they will stand as they enter the penultimate week.

The first four points of the match seemed depressingly like business as usual; Patxi hit short from the back, as has been his wont in almost every encounter so far. Asier then hit short down the wall and was beaten by Titin before the pair found themselves comprehensively out-manouevred. Asegarce eyes must have rolled. But then in what seemed a most unlikely turnaround, Patxi and Asier took the next eight points and had their opponents yelling and stamping in fury. The Aspe rot started when Titin miscued carelessly from close in to the frontis, and Olaizola pounced, bossing the great Riojan without any regard for his exalted status. While the man from Goizueta seemed inspired, Titin’s attempted winners appeared bafflingly lacking in bite. Pascual played his part by hitting carelessly short, in stark contrast to a rejuvinated Patxi Ruiz. A mishit from a disgusted Patxi halted the Asegarce run and onlookers must have been tempted to assume that Titin and Pascual would now stamp their authority, but despite their own run of points, Asier fired his pair ahead once again to 9-8. The underdogs built another lead, taking the score to 13-9 in their favour. Olaizola managed to partially nullify the Titin factor by hitting long, thus avoiding an ill advised forward battle and Pascual delivered the hoped for errors. However, yet again Titin and Pascual hit back and with the score at 16-16, hearts were in mouths on both sides. When the Aspe pair raced to a 20-16 lead, owing largely to some wayward defensive play from Patxi, surely the die was cast? Titin ensured that this was not the case as his two errors returned Patxi’s favour. With the glimmer of victory only just out of reach, Asier hit again, sending Titin into an undignified full frontal slide into the corner. The final two points were protracted, virtuousic and almost unbearably tense. The advantage ebbed and flowed like an angry river as neither pair would give a centimetre, but once again, Asier, dark curls flying, proved to have the coolest head; a beautifully executed drop shot and an opportunistic long smash sent Titin and Pascual reeling, terminally.

And so, not before time, Olaizola I and Patxi Ruiz have a pulsating win in the bag, to add to their somewhat dismal victory over Xala and Zubieta. Titin and Pascual must surely have viewed this match as an opportunity to regain their composure after last week’s rout at their expense by Olaizola II and Mendizabal II. They should perhaps have recalled the hackneyed adage of the wounded but dangerous beast, for the whipping boys tonight put in jeopardy their very survival in this championship.

Asier Olaizola rampant

Asier Olaizola rampant

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Mano pairs: Irujo rains on Patxi’s parade by frontonnews
January 31, 2009, 1:40 pm
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Friday 30th January
Remontival, Estella

This has been a horrible tournament for Asier Olaizola and Patxi Ruiz. Coming into this match they had three losses to their names and one solitary win which they managed simply because their opponents were even worse than they were. This may seem harsh but one might have expected more from this Asegarce pair who have clear championship pedigree: Olaizola is a former pairs champion, albeit ten years ago, and Patxi has a manomanista title to his name, but despite these seeming stamps of quality they have looked disorganised, ill at ease and out of sorts. What would it take to lift them? Their supporters were surely hoping that this match would give them some form of home advantage; Patxi Ruiz was born in Estella and clearly, judging by some vociferous chanting of his name, he still has his fans in the Navarrese town. But if a homecoming victory were to be enacted, Juan Martinez de Irujo had clearly not read the script.

Honours appeared even in the first two points. Irujo tested Patxi by hitting long but in contrast to previous weeks, the local boy seemed solid despite eventually ceding the point when he found himself too far forward. In the next play, Irujo missed a wide open space and an obvious winner to tie the game. Would this most mercurial of pelotaris have another off-night? The answer was unequivocally in the negative. Irujo ruled the front half of the playing area and suffered nobody to encroach on his territory. He served superbly and swiped the ball in all conceivable directions throughout the encounter, hitting with such arm swinging force that one almost feared for his shoulder. Whether slinging the ball into the corner and sending Patxi skidding on his front in a hapless dive or repeatedly whipping it past Olaizola at an impossible angle, Irujo ran rings around his adversaries. It would be unfair to say that Olaizola was bad; he did prove able to beat Irujo at his own game with a stinging gantxo of his own and in many of the long points which characterised the middle section of the game appeared to be a match for him, but he did not seem capable of shutting him down or outmanouvering him. He also made significantly more errors than his opponent, and often at extremely unfortunate moments; instead of making the Aspe pair fight for the final few points, two Olaizola misses made a present of the win.

Aspe also held all the aces in the defensive play, where Fernando Goni was simply stunning. His long range hitting was so accurate and powerful that he had a nonchalant answer to everything Asier and Patxi could throw at him. After Irujo’s opening salvo, kudos must be given to the Asegarce pair for their change in tactics. Realising that they needed to nullify the Aspe forward, they began hitting long to pressurise Goni, a similar ploy to that adopted by Xala and Laskurain in their recent defeat of the defending champions. However, whereas Oier Mendizabal succumbed to the pressure, Goni continued in his role as human metronome and returned everything that came his way, with interest. Asier and Patxi won two mammoth points in a row during this passage of play, but as a consequence of hard work and determination rather than any mistake from Goni. They looked elated to have troubled the scoreboard but the effort it had taken must have registered in their minds. In contrast, the Aspe pair won points almost at will.

Patxi Ruiz was not in the same league as Goni, although he played rather better than in recent weeks. As the game proceeded, more and more of his long balls bounced short. He did show quite some determination, notably with the score at 2-5 against him when he returned two seemingly impossible balls to the delight of the crowd but ultimately, the consistency was lacking. In the face of Irujo, it was no wonder that he succumbed to demoralisation and it was thanks to him that the game went out with a whimper; his half-hearted effort to retrieve a ball hit down the wall betrayed a man who knew he was beaten.

So, Estella’s own could not stop the rot and he and Olaizola remain firmly rooted at the bottom of the table. Meanwhile, given the scale of this victory, Irujo and Goni are now primed to climb higher. They will have to wait for this weekend’s remaining matches to see whether this will become reality, but if Irujo continues in this vein, the sky could well be the limit.

Irujo was on song in Estella

Irujo was on song in Estella

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Mano pairs: Olaizola I and Patxi Ruiz record first win in dismal game at Beotibar by frontonnews
January 27, 2009, 10:54 pm
Filed under: Pelota Mano | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Monday 26th January
Beotibar, Tolosa
Olaizola I/Patxi Ruiz beat Xala/Laskurain 22-21

Asier Olaizola and Patxi Ruiz can afford themselves a sigh of relief at finally opening their account in this year’s championship but there will be little satisfaction in it, for this was one of the worst matches the competition has seen in some time. The crowd at Beotibar witnessed a catalogue of errors, numbering 23 across the four competitors, from start to finish. The worst of the play came from the two defenders, Patxi and Laskurain. Laskurain did however have something of an excuse, having injured his right hand with the score at 13-13, leaving Xala working overtime in a futile attempt to compensate. This was the chance that Asier and Patxi craved; surely all they had to do was to wait for the afflicted and increasingly despondent Laskurain to make errors? But they could not capitalise, failing to exert any meaningful pressure on their labouring opponents. A string of errors from Patxi Ruiz took the score to 18-13 in Aspe’s favour but Laskurain then took his turn to miscue, allowing the gap to close to 21-20 before he gave the victory away. Even his uninjured hand could not save him from a very public purgatory. The Asegarce pair took the winners’ point simply because someone had to be the first to reach 22.

Aritz Laskurain will be out of action for at least a week and possibly two. His place will be taken in the next round of matches by Aitor Zubieta.

Scoring sequence (Olaizola I/Patxi Ruiz first):
0-6, 6-6, 6-7, 7-7, 7-10, 9-10, 9-11, 11-11, 11-12, 12-12, 12-13, 13-13, 13-18, 16-18, 16-20, 20-20, 20-21 and 22-21

Aritz Laskurain, in happier times

Aritz Laskurain, in happier times