4 1/2: Super Saralegi shocks Xala by frontonnews
October 18, 2009, 9:41 pm
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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

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Matches this weekend by frontonnews
October 16, 2009, 12:45 pm
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There are three further first round matches in the 4 1/2 Championship this weekend. Tomorrow, Saturday 17th October, Oinatz Bengoetxea and Mikel Beroiz enter the fray. On paper, this should be Bengoetxea’s to lose. The 25 year old from Leiza was Manomanista Champion in 2008 and is a ferocious fighter close to the frontis. Despite a summer disrupted by a finger injury, he is sure to come out all guns blazing at Labrit. Beroiz however does have a shot at the prize, ever since winning the 2nd tier Manomanista title earlier in the summer, the 20 year old talent has been in excellent form. He is a star in the making and Oinatz will have to be on his guard. Also in the spotlight tomorrow are Mikel Olaetxea and Retegi Bi who play in Renteria.

Sunday 18th October sees the turn of Yves Sallaberry (Xala) and Ekatiz Saralegi, whose match will be live on ETB-Sat. Xala has proven 4 1/2 pedigree having been the runner up in this championship in 2005, and is experiencing a more than solid run of form. he should have the measure of Saralegi here. The 30 year old from Amezketa has little track record in the upper echelons of the 4 1/2 version of the game and there are few indictions of how he will cope. He will however surely be determined to prove his mettle on this exalted stage.

Saturday 17th October, Labrit, Pamlona: c. 19:00 (CEST) BENGOETXEA VI – BEROIZ

Saturday 17th October, Renteria: 17:00 (CEST) RETEGI BI – OLAETXEA

Sunday 18th October, Atano III, San Sebastian: 18:05 (CEST) XALA – SARALEGI Live on http://www.eitb.com/television/etb-sat, preceeded at 17:00 (CEST) by a doubles game between Titin III – Cecilio and Berasaluze IX – Eulate

Mikel Beroiz

Mikel Beroiz



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



Virgen Blanco Final: Xala and Goni III weather the storm at Ogueta by frontonnews
August 9, 2009, 8:50 pm
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Sunday 9th August
Ogueta, Vitoria-Gasteiz
XALA – GOÑI III beat BERASALUZE VIII – MENDIZABAL II 22-17

Battles locked in attritional stalemate are wont to turn with sudden and brutal force. On 21st June 1813, Joseph Bonaparte found this to his cost as his French defences crumbled at the hands of Arthur Wellesley at the Battle of Vitoria, signalling a virtual British victory in the Peninsula War. Today another battle was fought in Vitoria, which though less deadly in a literal sense, followed a similar pattern. For an hour or more, four of the best pelotaris the Basque Country has to offer flew at each other hammer and tongs until one side cracked. For Bonaparte read Mendizabal and for Wellesley read Xala, who in an ironic twist, if our metaphor is to be played out, hails from the French side of the Pyrenees. In a match of searing quality, it was the forward from Lekuine who turned the tide.

Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1813

Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1813

Both partnerships had won their respective semi finals with consummate ease and happily for the enthusiastic but not overly large crowd at Ogueta, all four players carried their excellent form forward to the showpiece match. Matters began in whirlwind fashion with Pablo Berasaluze unleashing a txoko and two hooks to stamp his authority. Xala could only stand by and admire. However, if this early dominance by the pocket dynamo from Berriz appeared total, his rivals had other ideas as from 0-3 down, Xala produced two hooks and a devastating smash on his way to a 4-3 lead. And so the battle proceeded, neither side ceding a significant advantage for point after point. Berasaluze and Mendizabal perhaps held the marginal upper hand for the majority of the game, but only by a proverbial hair’s breadth. Berasaluze in particular displayed white hot form. The Asegarce forward is nothing if not a fighter and time and again he rescued points when all seemed lost. On several occasions, he dug out what should rightfully have been txoko winners from Xala and turned defeat into victory. Focussed and indefatigable, he threw himself in all directions, even finding the energy to encourage his partner mid point, all taut muscles and pumped fists. Particularly extraordinary was his return of Xala’s hook in the point which took his pair’s lead to 10-6 and his stinging airez following a brief but vicious forward battle at 13-11. Oier Mendizabal too played his part, managing some towering returns from Xala’s considerable serve and showing tremendous willingness and skill in coming forward to cover for Berasaluze when it was required.

The scores drifted upwards in the favour of the pair in red but Xala and Goni were always in comfortable touching distance with the gap never growing beyond four points as the tally moved from 4-4 to 16-15. In style, Xala and Berasaluze are chalk and cheese. Berasaluze appears to play on pure adrenaline and desire, but Xala’s more measured, almost brooding approach is no less effective. Despite a pair of faltas, he served clinically, inducing two consecutive errors from Mendizabal, which brought the score to 7-6. His tactical intelligence led to perfect placement in the three points which brought his pair to parity at 11-11, two txoko winners and a whipped crosscourt volley leaving an out of position Berasaluze with no chance. Goni, as he was in the semi final and as he has been almost all year, was extremely solid. He was also marginally less error prone than Mendizabal, and proved once again the perfect partner in a battle where no inch can be lost.

Despite this near stalemate, the feeling persisted that the Asegarce partnership would come through, such was the firepower of Berasaluze. However, as with military warfare, one seminal moment is often all it takes for well founded conviction to be blown out of the water, and so it was when Xala stepped forward to serve with the score at 17-17. He had hinted at his growing confidence with a devastating dosparedes winner in the previous point and he now produced two long dipping serves just as required. Mendizabal swung and struck but could not make good contact. Twice he tried and twice he failed. All of a sudden, the ASPE pair was ahead for the first time since the score stood at 4-3. Mendizabal’s double failure triggered meltdown for the duo in red; Berasaluze hit wide and Mendizabal mishit completely before Xala caught him napping with an innocuous looking txoko while he loitered far too far back. When Beraslauze hit low the game was up. As the curtain fell on this modern Battle of Vitoria, blue was the colour of victory.

Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2009

Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2009

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 3-0, 3-1, 3-4, 4-4, 7-4, 7-5, 7-6, 8-6, 10-6, 10-7, 10-8, 11-8, 11-11, 13-11, 13-12, 14-12, 14-13, 15-13, 15-14, 16-14, 16-15, 17-15, 17-16 and 17-22.



Virgen Blanco Semi Final: Xala and Goni through after show of strength by frontonnews
August 8, 2009, 9:20 pm
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Wednesday 6th August
Ogueta, Vitoria-Gasteiz
XALA – GONI III beat BENGOETXEA VI – BEGINO 22-9

Ogueta was strangely under-populated for the first Virgen Blanco semi final on Wednesday. Whether this was due to the lack of star attraction on the fronton or to more attractive happenings elsewhere at Vitoria-Gasteiz’s fiesta is anybody’s guess, but these pelotaris deserved better. However, despite the absent sense of occasion, Xala and Goni III put on a display worthy of the largest possible stage.

For nine points, the match was a tight affair, characterised by some superior play by Aritz Begino, who initially had the better of his opposite number, Fernando Goni. However, with the score at 5-4 to the eventual losers, the game blew apart with eight unanswered points from Xala and Goni. Begino suffered an all too obvious errosion of confidence and went on to commit eight errors. In contrast, Goni was unflappable and as solid as the proverbial brick wall, maintaining the form he showed in partnering Martinez de Irujo to pairs championship glory earlier in the year. Xala took some time to hit his stride but when an astonishing hook from the ASPE forward took the score to parity at 5-5, the die was cast for the remainder of the match.

At the front of the court, Xala moved the ball at will, toying with both the walls and his forward opponent Oinatz Bengoetxea. The former Manomanista champion has been absent through injury for the past two months and sadly for him, it showed. He fared well in the flow of play but lacked any kind of closing power when it came to striking winners, something which came naturally to his opposite number. There was also an apparent lack of teamwork in the play of the Asegarce pair, who have not played together at all in recent months. On several occasions, Bengoetxea left balls for Begino which he should rightfully have taken himself, resulting in confusion and mishits. All in all then, this was a night to forget for Bengoetxea and Begino, but one which will provide Xala and Goni with a massive boost ahead of Sunday’s final.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 3-2, 3-3, 4-3, 4-5, 12-5, 12-6, 14-6, 14-7, 17-7, 17-8, 20-8, 20-9 and 22-9.

Xala on song in Vitoria-Gasteiz

Xala on song in Vitoria-Gasteiz



Manomanista Championship: Irujo destroys Xala by frontonnews
April 19, 2009, 8:48 pm
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Saturday 18th April
Labrit, Pamplona
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO beat XALA 22-4

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



Mano pairs: win for Xala and Zubieta sends Bengoetxea VI and Beloki through by frontonnews
February 25, 2009, 12:22 am
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Monday 23rd February
Beotibar, Tolosa
XALA – ZUBIETA beat OLAIZOLA I – PATXI RUIZ 22-6

The final scoreboard tells us that Asier Olaizola and Patxi Ruiz lost once again at Beotibar on Monday. This in itself was hardly important, or startling, news. However, the result of this match meant so much more and a seemigly pointless encounter between two pairs, already eliminated from the championship, took on the status of one of the strangtest and most important matches of the year so far. The fate of two couples, Bengoetxea VI/Beloki of Asegarce and Gonzalez/Barriola of Aspe hung on this evening; a Xala/Zubieta win would see the former qualify for the semi finals and an Olaizola I/Patxi Ruiz win would see the latter pair go through. Whatever happened, a win for either side would result in elimination for a pair from their own empresa. Certain elements of the press spent the week discussing the potential ramifications of this situation; could either pair be tempted to play at ‘worse than their best’ for the good of their own empresa? In the end however, fair play was the only sporting option and there was nothing remotely suspect about the outcome as Asier and Patxi were once again outplayed by a better pair. Xala and Zubieta have won their last three matches in commanding style and Monday was no different. Xala must consider himself unlucky to be leaving the tournament at this stage given the recent exalted level of his play. Despite being one of the players of the competition, he has never quite had the defender to back him up and head to head record against the other pairs in contention was his undoing in the finals standings. He did however bid farewell with a flourish to which Asier Olaizola, who gave everything he could muster, had no answer. Zubieta, on this occasion, supported him consumately, outplaying Patxi Ruiz with ease.

And so, Oinatz Bengoetxea and Ruben Beloki will be back for more as the championship moves into the semi final stage. Gonzalez and Barriola suffer from Asier and Patxi’s failure to perform and leave the competition. They will be joined in the next stage by defending champions Olaizola II and Mendizabal II, Martinez de Irujo and Goni III, and Berasaluze VIII and Begino.

Bengoetxea and Beloki are through

Bengoetxea and Beloki are through

Image from: http://beta.eitb.com/multimedia/images/2009/02/01/59300/59300_bengoetxea_beloki_dest_2.jpg