The schedule for the Pairs Championship, which starts on Wednesday 6th, has been announced. The final will take place on Easter Sunday, 4th April, at Ogueta in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Visit Asegarce for the full timetable.
The presentation for the 2010 Pairs Championship took place today in San Sebastian. In a new development, the coming tournament will see a trophy awarded for sportsmanship, to be given to the pair who show outstanding respect, and reflect the values which the empresas and tournament sponsors, La Kutxa, would wish to see reported. The tournament will feature a quarter final league in two rounds, the top four pairs progressing to a semi final league to decide the finalists. The participants, not including Fernando Goni, who won with Juan Martinez de Irujo last year, are as follows:
For Asegarce: Olaizola II-Mendizabal II, Olaizola I-Patxi Ruiz, Bengoetxea VI-Beloki, and Berasaulze VIII-Begino
For Aspe: Titin III-Pascual, Gonzalez-Laskurain, Martinez de Irujo-Beroiz, and Xala-Zubieta.
Sunday 29th March
Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – GONI III beat OLAIZOLA II – MENDIZABAL II 22-21
Stunning Aimar almost turns the tables but Irujo and Goni show themselves to be the consumate partnership as the championship goes down to the wire
This was the final to end all finals: for a championship three months in duration to come down one point in the final match in front of a packed audience in full cry is the stuff of Hollywood. That it as a close run thing was not wholly unexpected, pitting against each other as it did the two best pairs, containing some of the very greatest players, of the bunch. For two weeks, press and public alike have discussed the relative merits and weaknesses of the protagonists; Irujo’s passion? Olaizola’s tactical intelligence? Goni’s consistency? Mendizabal’s talent for the big stage? Which would win the day? In the end, none of the four deserved to lose, but as the tournament hovered in flux, the sword of Damacles had to drop for two.
The first two points of the final whetted the appetite for the forward battle to come as the great Irujo and Aimar locked horns from the off. The first point went to the former who used both walls to wrong foot Aimar and signal his intent. But the Goizuetan showed he would not be dictated to with a brutal airez of his own. In reality though, it was the duel at the back of the fronton which was to set the pattern for the majority of the game. It seemed to all the world as if the Aspe pair would waltz away with the prize as they consistently held their opponents at arm’s length, never closer than two points. This seeming air of inevitability was brought about largely by the rock solid play of Goni III to whom the very idea of the unforced error seemed anathema. No matter how hard Aimar tried to set him up for a fall, the man from Zubiri returned with interest. It took the defending champions 17 points to knock him, briefly, from his pedestal of perfection when Aimar manipulated him back and forth until he hit wide. In contrast, Oier Mendizabal creaked almost from the off; before Goni had made one mistake, his young opponent had failed four times. The discrepancy in the defensive play was clear for all to see, not least for Irujo and Goni themselves, who milked it for all it was worth. Aimar played with assurance but for the large part was totally unable to impose himself. Irujo played with all his usual fire and more in his expert partnering of Goni. He was not immune from the odd careless error, greeted as usual but furious incredulity, but with dominance surely applied these hardly mattered.
When three Mendizabal errors in succession took the score to 16-11 in favour of Irujo and Goni, the Aspe partnership must have smelt the finishing line. However, this was to reckon without a man by the name of Aimar Olaizola who was not in a mood to let a potential eighth txapela pass him by. The Asegarce botillero called time out for his pair and when they returned to the fray, the match was very nearly turned on its head. With Aimar slightly repositioned on the fronton, the trailing attacker cut loose. A drop, an airez and a trademark lethal left handed hook ensured that the gap in points edged down, gradually, but assuredly. With the score at 18-15 to Irujo and Goni, Mendizabal hit low from the back of the fronton and one sensed that it was now or never for the Asegarce pair.
When Irujo miscued close to the side wall, Aimar pounced and attacked full on. Another hook levelled the score at 19-19. The crowd, now at fever pitch, gasped in stunned unison. This had hardly seemed possible a mere half an hour previously. When Goni could not return a long ball from Aimar, the defending champions were ahead for the first time and all hell broke loose in the Oier Mendizabal fan club, which was sizeable and deafening. However, their hero once again hit too low from far out and the score was tied again. Now the Aspe pair inched ahead and claimed a match point when Irujo left Aimar unceremoniously sprawling with his legs above his head. Surely this was it? But 21-21 came; Irujo could hardly comprehend how his shot failed to find the frontis. And so, one point to win it all. Who had the nerve and who would fall? The final point was agonising in every conceivable way. One moment of brilliance, one mistake and sporting fate would be sealed. Nobody had deserved this, but there was Fernando Goni brilliant to the last, sending a ball of beauty, low and skidding to the frontis. Aimar ran, dived, hit and watched. One inch was all it took to kill a dream. Juan Martinez de Irujo and Fernando Goni had won.
Points sequence (Olaizola II/Mendizabal II 1st): 0-1, 1-1, 1-3, 2-3, 2-5, 3-5, 4-5, 4-6, 4-8, 5-8, 5-10, 8-10, 8-11, 8-12, 9-12, 9-13, 10-13, 11-13, 11-14, 11-17, 12-17, 13-17, 13-18, 15-18, 15-19, 19-19, 20-19, 20-20, 20-21, 21-21 and 21-22.
Aimar Olaizola Apezetxea
Date of birth: 13/11/79 in Goizueta, Navarre
Debut: 12/04/1998, Lekunberri
Championship pedigree: Manomanista Champion in 2005 and 2007; Cuatro y Medio Champion in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2008; Pairs Champion in 2008; Manomanista runner up in 2003 and 2006; Pairs runner up in 2003 and 2006.
Oier Mendizabal Huitzi
Date of birth: 21/05/83 in Donostia-San Sebastian, Gipuzkoa
Debut: 18/06/05, Zarautz
Championship pedigree: Pairs Champion in 2008
Juan Martinez de Irujo Goñi
Date of birth: 04/11/81 in Ibero, Navarre
Debut: 06/06/03, Pamplona
Championship pedigree: Manomanista Champion in 2004 and 2006; Cuatro y Medio Champion in 2006; Pairs Champion in 2005 and 2006; Manomanista runner up in 2005; Cuatro y Medio runner up in 2008; Pairs runner up in 2004.
Fernando Goñi Erice
Date of birth: 05/02/73 in Zubiri, Navarre
Debut: 27/02/98, Pamplona
Championship pedigree: Pairs Champion in 2001, 2004 and 2005
Paths to the final
Olaizola II/Mendizabal II
Beat Titin III/Pascual 22-21
Lost to Xala/Laskurain 10-22
Beat Martinez de Irujo/Goñi III 22-16
Beat Olazabal/Barriola 22-10
Beat Titin III/Pascual 22-7
Lost to Xala/Zubieta 17-22
Lost to Martinez de Irujo/Goñi III 8-22 (Mendizabal II substituted for Zearra due to injury)
Beat Gonzalez/Eulate 22-19
Lost to Martinez de Irujo/Goñi III 17-22
Beat Berasaluze VIII/Begino 22-20
Beat Bengoetxea VI/Beloki 22-16
Martinez de Irujo/Goñi III
Beat Olaizola I/Patxi Ruiz 22-13
Lost to Berasaluze VIII/Begino 10-22
Lost to Olaizola II/Mendizabal II 16-22
Beat Bengoetxea VI/Beloki 22-18
Beat Olaizola I/Patxi Ruiz 22-8
Lost to Berasaluze VIII/Begino 20-22
Beat Olaizola II/Zearra 22-8
Beat Bengoetxea VI/Beloki 22-19
Beat Olaizola II/Mendizabal II 22-16
Beat Bengoetxea VI/Beloki 22-18
Beat Berasaluze VIII/Begino 22-15
Olaizola II v Martinez de Irujo: head to head record in finals
2005 Olaizola II beat Martinez de Irujo 22-18
2006 Martinez de Irujo beat Olaizola II 22-17
Cuatro y Medio
2008 Olaizola II beat Martinez de Irujo 22-17
2006 Martinez de Irujo/Martinez de Eulate beat Olaizola II/Zearra 22-11
Mano Pairs Championship Final
Sunday 29th March
Atano III, Donostia-San Sebastian
18:00 (CET) Olaizola II – Mendizabal II v Martinez de Irujo – Goñi III
Live webcast on ETB-Sat from 17:00 (after a curtain raising match featuring Bengoetxea VI/Patxi Ruiz and Xala/Laskurain)
After nearly three months of competition and 38 matches, two elite pairs have risen to the top and won the right to face each other in what should be a pulsating final at Atano III on Sunday. In a match which was sold out within the hour, defending champions Olaizola II and Mendizabal II will take on Martinez de Irujo and Goni III for the ultimate prize.
Aimar Olaizola and Juan Martinez de Irujo face each other in a major final for the fifth time in their stellar careers and the forward battle between the two great rivals will have the word of pelota on the edge of their seats once again. Irujo had been in imperious form of late, cruising through the semi finals and getting the better of three of the very best in the process. He played last weekend in an effort to hone his form ahead of the crunch match and hardly broke sweat in driving Titin into the ground. Afterwards he expressed a desire for the final to come quickly; he is in quite some shape, both mentally and physically. Olaizola has never been quite at his brutal best in this competition, hampered at various times by back pain, sickness and tendinitis in his right shoulder which has prevented him from fully cutting loose. However, there have been flashes of brilliance, notably courtesy of his famed left arm, and he has shown his customary skill in reading and dictating matches, seizing the initiative when the chips are down. Much will depend on who can exert their authority in the early points. If Irujo hits his stride early, it will take all of Olaizola’s composure to rein him in. Similarly, if Olaizola gets his nose ahead, Irujo may be liable to wobble as he did in the Cuatro y Medio final in December when he never recovered from going 5-0 down to the Goizuetan. It is all or nothing for these two gladiators of forward play.
Despite the fact that most eyes will be trained on the forwards, matches are often won or lost from the back of the fronton and the long range duel of Mendizabal and Goni has the potential to be every bit as enthralling. Goni has been the epitome of solidity throughout the tournament, the perfect foil for the attacking might of Irujo. The man from Zubiri, winner of three pairs txapelas in his long career, has undoubtedly been the more consistent of the two of late but his opponent, almost ten years his junior, has raised his game beyond all recognition in past weeks. His striking from the back of the fronton has been mesmerising and his maturity in controlling points admirable. If Mendizabal can maintain this form, Goni may well have his hands full.
So, who has the crucial edge? Irujo and Goni must start as favourites due to their excellent form in the semi final rounds, where they remained unbeaten. Irujo is on fire at the moment and it is hard to envisage him losing his way. However, he has been known to be erratic when the pressure is on. Which Irujo will we see on Sunday? Olaizola and Mendizabal have been beaten twice by their final opponents already in this tournament but did manage to beat them in the course of the quarter finals, in a game where Olaizola clearly had the upper hand. Question marks remain over Olaizola’s fitness but if he and Mendizabal can play as they have at times, the celebrations could well be theirs. Tune in to ETB-Sat on Sunday to watch the drama unfold.
Saturday 21st March
BERASALUZE IX – URBERUAGA beat MENDIZABAL I – IBAI ZABALA 22-6
In front of a capacity audience in Amorebieta, Asier Berasluze and Xabier Urberuaga were crowned champions in the second tier pairs competition on Saturday. The Aspe pair totally outclassed the Asegarce partnership of Aratz Mendizabal and Ibai Zabala. Zabala played a solid match but could not dent the armoury of 27 year old Bizkaian Urberuaga. The latter gave invaluable support to his attacking partner Beraslauze who used speed and guile to both outwit and out-hit Mendizabal and was especially deadly with his right hand and in his serve. This was a first pairs triumph for the victors, who have both previously won the second tier manomanista title, Beraslauze in 2006 and Urberuaga in 2007. Urberuaga has the added pleasure of going to the top, for the time being, of the manista.com rankings.
Sunday 15th March
Atano III, San Sebastian
OLAIZOLA II – MENDIZABAL II beat BENGOETXEA VI – BELOKI 22-16
As the curtain fell on the last semi final match of the 2009 championship, San Sebastian seemed to resound with song. This was not the passionate swell of sound from the home of Real Sociedad, nor was it the celebrated Orfeon Donostiarra choir in rehearsal; indeed, it was not homegrown song at all. Oier Mendizabal was born in San Sebastian but he had seemingly brought a fan club from his adopted home of Hernani, all of eight kilometres to the south of the Gipuzkoan capital, for the noise came from the upper reaches of Atano III, where the local Azeri dance was in full cry. Their municipal hero was in the final and they meant to let everyone know it. Whether a similar contingent had made the trip from Goizueta in honour of Aimar Olaizola was harder to tell but it was the Navarrese master striker who turned this game in the blink of an eye. Aimar, or more precisely, his fabled left arm, ensured the champions a chance to defend their crown.
Facing Aimar and Oier in the melting pot of Atano III was a pair who might, but for Martinez de Irujo, already have booked their place in the final. Oinatz Bengoetxea and Ruben Beloki had the chance to qualify outright last weekend but lost out to a combination of errors and an opponent on fire after a game which had balanced on a knife edge. The first phase of this match, their second and final chance, must have given them an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu; not even a hair’s breadth could split the two sides. In a proverbial war of attrition, point was traded for point in a grinding stalemate of long and gruelling points. It took 476 strikes of the ball to reach 11-11, after the pairs had found themselves locked together, all square at 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10 apiece. This period was characterised by the duel of the two defenders. Bengoetxea knew he could count on the best defender in the tournament thus far in Beloki and set about attacking Mendizabal with abandon but to no avail; Oier played an excellent match last week against Berasaluze VIII and Begino and here stepped up to yet another level. He and Beloki traded blow after blow, sending the ball like a rocket to the frontis from seemingly impossible positions. Neither seemed willing or likely to crack.
The early battle between the forwards was every bit as absorbing, pitting as it did two outwardly very different characters into conflict. Bengoetxea is like a whirlwind on the fronton, never resting, always bustling both in play and in respite. Seeing that Mendizabal would not break, the manomanista champion threw all his attacking power at the door of Olaizola. Particularly impressive was the low skidding ball which took the score to 2-2 and a pair of hook winners, the second of which sent Aimar sprinting headlong into the a cameraman. Olaizola, in contrast, appears as the clinical destroyer. Only occasionally does he let his emotions show through his facade of control. While Bengoetxea looked fit to burst with fight, Olaizola displayed a quieter but no less obvious determination, hitting a succession of winners to nullify those of his rival. Bengoetxea looked to have the slight edge in their early fight, although the score remained in deadlock.
With the score at 11-11, the game moved into a new and different phase which spelt danger for the defending champions. A combination of two winners from Bengoetxea, and an error apiece from Oier and Aimar meant that the pair in blue found themselves four points adrift. Although no sense of panic was evident in their demeanour, something clearly had to be done. Step forward Aimar Olaizola. Although brilliant at times, Aimar has rarely been at his exalted best in this tournament. The Goizuetan was dangerously close to pulling out of the Cuatro y Medio championship in December owing to a painful right shoulder and the fact that he stayed and went on to win it is testament to both his wide armoury of skills and his determination. He may however have paid the price, having played with tendonitis in that same shoulder ever since. His right arm is therefore not as potent a weapon as it should be and has in all likelihood contributed to his rather less than vintage form. However, his left arm, his most feared attribute, worked at Atano III like the hammer of Thor and there was nothing Bengoextea could do to stop it. In a masterclass of hooks, peppered with drops and smashes, Aimar ripped the prize from the hands of his oppoents and beat them into submission. While he cut loose, the pressure on Beloki told as he made four errors, a blot on an otherwise textbook game. When Bengoetxea struck too high, the game was up, and Goizueta, like Atano III, surely burst into song.
So, we return to Atano III on March 29th for a final which promises much. Juan Martinez de Irujo and Fernando Goni, both of whom have been in white hot form of late, await the defending champions who will do everything within their power to contain and better them. If Oier Mendizabal can maintain his stellar run, the defensive battle will be enthralling and any match which pits Aimar against Irujo is enough to set the juices racing. Who has the nerve to strike for glory on the biggest of all stages only time will tell.
Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-3, 3-3, 3-5, 6-5, 6-7, 7-7, 7-8, 10-8, 10-10, 10-11, 15-11, 15-15, 16-15 and 16-22.
Saturday 14th March
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – GONI III beat BERASALUZE VIII – BEGINO 22-15
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.
The Pairs Championship has reached the last week of the semi final stage. Martinez de Irujo and Goni III have already qualified for the final following wins over Olaizola II/Mendizabal II and Bengoetxea VI/Beloki. They play Berasaluze VIII and Begino tomorrow (Saturday) in a dead rubber. Sunday is when fingernails will be bitten to the quick; the destination of the second final berth depends entirely on the game between the two Asegarce pairs Olaizola II/Mendizabal II and Bengoetxea VI/Beloki. The winner takes it all.
The final is to be held at Atano III, San Sebastian, on 29th March
Saturday 14th March
18:00 (CET) BERASALUZE VIII – BEGINO v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – GONI
Sunday 15th March
Atano III, San Sebastian
18:05 (CET) BENGOETXEA VI – BELOKI v OLAIZOLA II – MENDIZABAL II
Webcast on ETB-Sat
Sunday’s game will be preceded on ETB-Sat by a match at 17:00 (CET) between GONZALEZ – PASCUAL and XALA – EULATE
Sunday 8th March
MARTINEZ DE IRUJO – GONI III beat BENGOETXEA VI – BELOKI 22-18
What can one write about a match which had it all? At stake in this titanic struggle in Eibar was none other than a place in the final of the Pairs Championship for 2009, the culmination of a tournament which started in January and is still going strong. Both pairs wanted the prize more than they could express. Even as the players were presented to the crowd and the coin was tossed to determine serve, the protagonists looked liable to explode with tension, variously jumping and flexing their muscles like prize fighters preparing for mortal combat. But passion and desire must meet with composure and nerve to produce a winning formula and the partnership who found a way to create this mixture would win the day.
In Juan Martinez de Irujo and Oinatz Bengoetxea, this game featured two of the most volcanic and fearless forwards in the game and the two Navarrans went for each other hell for leather from the first service to the last. The first four points were a flurry of attacking brilliance featuring all four players in mesmorising harmony. When Irujo hit low from close in to the frontis, he appeared to curse the world and everything in it; that one point could elicit this reaction indicated the path the match would take. Tension boiled over again with the score at 3-2 to Bengoetxea and Beloki when a ball from the former appeared high. An enraged Irujo protested mid point with arm waving fury before remembering the need to play on. The point was won when Bengoetxea hit low; open warfare may well have ensued had it gone the other way. Bengoetxea too was in a high octane state, both in his ferocious striking of the ball and his general demeanour, not least when a miscue led him to hurl the ball against the wall in abject frustration. The defensive battle, while less vocal, was every bit as intense with both Beloki and Goni pulling off miraculous long range strikes almost at will, to the thunderous applause of the Astelena crowd. Surely something had to give?
At 10-10 the pairs appeared glued in fierce deadlock and there was a growing sense that someone had to impose themselves on the game if glory were to come to them. Two Bengoetxea miscues gave Irujo and Goni an opening which one felt could have been the start of a surge of both confidence and points for the pair in blue but a low hook from Irujo and a beautifully executed smash into the corner from Bengoetxea dispelled that notion. Two points followed in which the defensive play of both sides was jaw dropping. As the forwards were forced out of position their places at the front were taken by Beloki and Goni who found themselves duelling at the frontis while Irujo and Bengoetxea chased and dived in a mesmerising ballet of action. When Goni slipped and failed to retrieve a long ball, some may have been led to believe that the gods of pelota would smile on Bengoextea and Beloki who eased ahead with the finishing post in sight. However, Irujo, sensing last chance saloon, stepped up to the plate. With the aid of a smattering of errors from his opponents, 14-16 became 18-21 and a brutal smash won the day. Irujo kept his head at the death while a desperately tense Bengoetxea let the victory slip from his grasp by attempting to hit winners too hastily. Perhaps experience told for Irujo, who has been here so many times before. Passion coupled with composure is indeed the perfect recipe.
So, Irujo and Goni are through to the final but will have to wait for next week to learn the identity of their opponents. Bengoetxea and Beloki may yet be there themselves, with the chance to overturn this result on the biggest possible stage; they have proved they have the potential. In their way stand Aimar Olaizola and Oier Mendizabal. The form of the defending champions has been rather less than consistent but Mendizabal was white hot on Saturday, and to quote Irujo, Aimar is Aimar. Everything is on the line.
Scoring sequence (Bengoetxea and Beloki first): 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 2-2, 3-2, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 5-4, 6-4, 6-5, 7-5, 7-6, 7-7, 7-8, 8-8, 8-9, 8-10, 9-10, 10-10, 10-11, 10-12, 11-12, 12-12, 13-12, 13-13, 14-13, 14-14, 15-14, 16-14, 16-15, 16-16, 16-17, 16-18, 16-19, 17-19, 18-19, 18-20, 18-21 and 18-22