Mudge and Mathur Go Undefeated in 2017-18 Season

May 13, 2018 —- The 2017-18 Squash Doubles Association (SDA) pro doubles tour featured 17 sanctioned tournaments, an all-time high number of faces in the winner’s circle and, notwithstanding that latter phenomenon, the dominant and undefeated season-long performance of Manek Mathur and Damien Mudge, who swept through all seven of the tournaments they entered and came away with the most important titles that doubles squash in North America has to offer. After barely losing in the final round of their partnership debut 20 months ago —- by a 15-13 fifth-game score to Michael Ferreira and Yvain Badan at the 2016 Maryland Club Open, the first event of the 2016-17 season — Mathur and Mudge have now won 16 straight tournaments and 54 consecutive matches, including the 24 they played this past season. It was the first time that a team has gone undefeated throughout an entire pro-doubles tour season in the seven years since Mudge and Ben Gould did so in 2010-11, and all five times that this has occurred in the 18 years since the pro doubles association was formed in 2000, Mudge has been a team member. He achieved this feat with Gary Waite in 1999-2000, 2001-02 and 2004-05 and once each with Gould and now with Mathur.

Damien Mudge (l) and Manek Mathur

To be sure, Mathur and Mudge had to navigate their way through several treacherous predicaments, especially during the autumn portion of the schedule, beginning with their very first match of the season, when they fell behind Zac Alexander and Raj Nanda, 2-1, 12-7 in the Big Apple Open, before responding with an 8-1 surge that rescued that game, leading to an anticlimactic 15-7 fifth. Mathur and Mudge then straight-gamed Whitten Morris and Eric Bedell (one of several teams during the course of the season to advance to main-draw semis after first having to fight their way through qualifying rounds) and won the final, 15-14 in the fourth, over Bernardo Samper and Chris Callis, semis winners over second seeds Ferreira and Badan. At the Westchester Country Club event less than a week later, the bottom-half semi again matched up the Samper/Callis and Ferreira/Badan pairings, with Ferreira and Badan prevailing this time before losing to Mudge and Mathur in the final.

At the following event, the PDC Cup at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta, John Russell and Scott Arnold made a highly successful season debut appearance as partners by achieving consecutive five-game victories over first Jonny Smith and Viktor Berg in the semis and then Ferreira and Badan in the final, in each case after trailing two games to one, and in the final due to a match-ending four-point run from 11-12. In their only prior foray together, they had won the 2016-17 season-ending event in Buffalo, so the Atlanta win made them two for two. Arnold then teamed up with Robin Clarke in the Bentley Cup in Toronto, where they took The Champs to the very brink, earning a 14-13 fifth-game advantage, double-match-ball, in a riveting semifinal that ended with Mathur nicking a deep cross-court behind Arnold and Mudge then nicking a shallow cross-court that rolled out in front of Clarke. Their final-round opponents, Berg and Thomas Brinkman, had been forced to weather a multiple-match-balls-against moment of their own in their quarterfinal match against Fred Reid Jr. and Aaron Luque, who led 12-8 and 14-12 before grudgingly ceding the last three points. Berg and Brinkman then out-played Smith and Nanda in the semis but were subdued by a Mathur and Mudge in the final. It was already the third time in the young season that an eventual SDA tournament winner had to fend off at least one match-ball against them: at the SDA-sanctioned but non-ranking biennial World Doubles in September in St. Louis, Russell and Leach successfully defended their 2015 title with a simultaneous-championship-point win over Robin Clarke and Brinkman (who hit a forehand rail back to himself for a stroke call at 14-all), and in the Mixed Doubles portion of the Worlds, Callis and Natalie Grainger rallied from 2-1, 14-10 and overtook Berg and Stephanie Hewitt.

(l-r) Viktor Berg, Stephanie Hewitt, Michael Puertas, Natalie Grainger, & Chris Callis at the 2017 World Doubles Championships in St. Louis

The final tournament before the Christmas-holidays break was the biennial Briggs Cup at the Apawamis Club in early December. Adam Bews and Will Hartigan, who had lost in the first round of the qualifying the last time this event was held in 2015, this time came up with a pair of praiseworthy five-game wins over first Reid and Bobby Burns and then Ferreira and Badan to advance to the semis. There they lost in four games to Russell and Arnold, who then took the first game of their Mathur/Mudge final (despite Russell severely spraining his right ankle late in that game) and led 13-10 in the second before Mathur and Mudge engineered their third successful comeback effort of the fall with a 5-0 run to salvage that pivotal game in their eventual 3-1 triumph. Though Russell was able to get through the remainder of the final on adrenaline, he was subsequently found to have torn ligaments in his ankle, putting him in a boot-cast for the next month and sidelining him from competitive play until March.

(l-r) Scott Arnold, Will Hartigan, John Russell, & Adam Bews at the 2017 Briggs Cup

It is a tribute to how extensive the tour’s top tier had become that Mathur and Mudge had played — and won — their four autumn finals against the theoretical maximal four completely different teams (i.e. eight players), namely Samper/Callis, Ferreira/Badan, Berg/Brinkman and Russell/Arnold. Furthermore, through the six Autumn 2017 pro tournaments, there had been no fewer than 22 players attaining at least the semifinal round, an unusually high number for that juncture of the season and a sign of the depth among the playing membership. What is truly extraordinary is that that number would nearly double by season’s end, with 19 additional players reaching the semifinal stage during the winter and spring months for a total of FORTY-ONE overall, which is by a substantial margin the most in the nearly two-decade history of the professional doubles tour. Similarly the total of 25 players advancing to an SDA final (12 before Christmas and 13 in the Calendar 2018 portion of the tour) is an all-time single-season high, as virtually every weekend it seemed as if one or more teams or players came up with a breakthrough result.

The field was wide open during the first few events in January 2018, since Mathur spent several weeks in his native India while attending a friend’s wedding, during which time Mudge was traveling in Thailand. The tournament at the University Club of Boston during the first few days of the year was nearly capsized by a ferocious snowstorm that pounded the entire northeast corridor and prevented some of the entered teams from participating. There was plenty of on-court drama as well, with both the opening match on a snowy Thursday night (in which the Graham Bassett/John Roberts Boston pairing eked out a 15-14 fifth-game win over the Tyler Hamilton/Rob Nigro Toronto duo when Bassett mis-hit a winner on the last exchange) and the closing match on a much more temperate Sunday afternoon (in which reigning four-time Canadian National Doubles champs Clarke and Arnold out-lasted Ferreira and Badan) coming down to a fifth game. Having been denied on match-point in Boston, Hamilton and Nigro weathered a match-point AGAINST them one week later in Wilmington in winning their quarterfinal with Bobby Burns and Hamed Anvari. They then lost to Smith and Badan, who won the ensuing final against Will Mariani and Greg Park. Then at the Challenger event hosted by Pittsburgh Golf Club one week later, Graham Bassett and Adam Bews defeated first-time SDA finalists Clinton Leeuw and Omar El Kashef.

(l-r) Adam Bews, Omar El Kashef, Clinton Leeuw, & Graham Bassett at the 2018 Pittsburgh Golf Club Challenger

Mathur and Mudge resurfaced in Greenwich to defend the North American Open title they had won in 2017 (and, in Mudge’s case, to try to win this flagship championship for a milestone 15th time) and they rolled through the draw with a four-game final-round tally over Ferreira and Badan, who then reached the final of the Baltimore Cup one week later, only to be turned away by 2013 World Doubles finalists Smith and Leach. It was the fifth and last final-round advance of the season for the Ferreira/Badan pairing, none of them victorious, and they seemed listless both in the 15-3 close-out third game of this match and in a round-of-16 elimination at the Heights Casino Club in Brooklyn at the hands of James Stout and Greg McArthur in the next tour stop, which turned out to be their last joint appearance of the season. Stout and McArthur then followed up with a four-game win over Bews and Hartigan before losing in the semis to Samper and Callis, whom Mathur and Mudge then beat in the final. It was, incredibly, the 17th time that Mudge has won this, the longest continuously held doubles tournament in the world, all of them in a row. This figure is more than twice as long as the total compiled by any other player, past or current, in any pro-doubles tour stop in the history of professional doubles squash on this continent.

(l-r): Manek Mathur, Damien Mudge, Juaquin & Bernardo Samper, Chris Callis

Mathur and Mudge then missed the next three events on the SDA schedule, each of which was distinctive in its own way. At the Denver Athletic Club, Burns and Bedell strung together a trio of 15-14 games at the expense of 2017 U. S. National Doubles champs Bassett and Preston Quick to reach the final, where each of them secured his first-ever SDA title when they defeated Park and Matt Jenson, rebounding from losing the third game 15-14 to win both the fourth and fifth 15-6. One week later in Germantown, Samper and Callis, runners-up several times in recent years, were able to break through with wins in the semis over Jenson and Park and in the final over Russell and Arnold. Then at the Challenger event hosted by the Racquet & Tennis Club in midtown Manhattan, at the outset of which Ned Marks and Travis Judson shocked top seeds Reid and Leach in the opening round, Stout and McArthur built upon their excellent showing in Brooklyn by conquering recently-crowned U. S. National Doubles champs Ed Garno and Alex Stait in the semifinals and first-time partners Jacques Swanepoel and Jordan Greenberg (semis winners over Marks/Judson) in the final. Swanepoel was making his first SDA appearance since the end of the college season, during which the Columbia men’s squash team, which he has coached for the past nine years, won the Ivy League pennant for the first time in the history of the program.

Russell experienced success as a coach this past winter as well when he guided the Episcopal Academy boys team to its first Philadelphia-area Inter-Ac pennant in six years in a performance highlighted by a 6-3 dual meet win over a Haverford School team that was the reigning U. S. High School Championships title-holder at the time. He and Arnold then reached the final at the Tavern Club in Cleveland, defeating Greenberg and John Roberts in the semis, before losing to Mathur and Mudge in a four-game final that swung on the forehand drive that Mathur lashed down the left wall for a clear winner at 14-all in the third game that put his team ahead to stay. During the weekend, Roberts and 2011 Intercollegiate Individuals winner Colin West (who with partner Bews lost the top-half semi to Mudge and Mathur) became the 40th and 41th SDA semifinalists of the season.

Russell and Arnold were expected to successfully defend their 2017 Buffalo Club title and consolidate their standing as the second-best SDA team behind Mathur/Mudge in the season-ending tour stop, all the more so when second seeds Reid and Leach were ousted right away by Burns and El Kashef. Russell and Arnold earned their spot in the final with a pair of four-game wins over first Leeuw and Harvard assistant coach Hameed Ahmed and then Mariani and Brinkman. But there they encountered a buzz saw in Stout and McArthur, who were still riding the wave of their three-week-old championship run in New York and their three convincing pre-final wins (over Hamilton/Nigro, Bews/Alexander and Burns/El Kashef) in Buffalo. They were razor-sharp and brutally efficient throughout their 15-8, 7 and 6 sprint through the final, the effectiveness of their attacking style abetted by their growing confidence as the score swiftly mounted in their favor, as well as by Russell’s hobbled state in the wake of an early-match back strain that clearly affected his mobility and effectiveness.

(l-r): Scott Arnold, John Russell, James Stout, Greg McArthur, Tom Hayes at the 2018 Buffalo Club Pro Doubles

It was yet another surprising ending to a season that had more than its share of them and, with several of the tour’s top 10 players planning to pair up with new partners next season, it is anybody’s guess as to which new or returning team will emerge as the foremost challenger to the supremacy that Mathur and Mudge (fully worthy successors to the M&M salutation bestowed 57 years ago on Yankee sluggers Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris when both chased Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 61 home runs during the 1961 baseball season) have established during the past two seasons.

Stout & McArthur Finish SDA Season With a Flourish in Buffalo

(l-r) Greg McArthur, Scott Arnold, James Stout, John Russell

One month after their triumph at the R&T Challenger, James Stout & Greg McArthur closed out the 2017-2018 SDA season with a flourish, by claiming their first SDA Gold title at the second Buffalo Pro Doubles at the Buffalo Club in New York.

Stout & McArthur’s only lost game of the tournament came in the first round against Canadians Tyler Hamilton & Robert Nigro, who were dispatched in four games. The R&T Challenger champs then upset four seeds Adam Bews & Zac Alexander in a decisive three-game quarterfinal. Elsewhere in the draw’s bottom half, Bobby Burns & Omar El Kashef knocked out two seeds Fred Reid & Clive Leach in four games to reach their first career SDA Gold semifinal together. Stout & McArthur ended Burns & El Kashef’s surprise run in the semis to reach their second consecutive final.

In the top half of the draw, both seeds advanced to the semifinals where defending champions and top seeds John Russell & Scott Arnold held off Will Mariani & Thomas Brinkman in four games.

The final proved to be a one-sided affair as Stout McArthur dethroned Russell & Arnold 15-8, 15-7, 15-6.

“We were playing well heading into the tournament, having won the R&T Challenger, but knew there would be stiffer competition with Russell and Arnold looking to defend their title, and four or five other strong pairs playing,” Stout said. “Greg and I played well on the court and felt confident that we could slow down the pace of the game with high lobs and soft shots to the front of the court, whilst also taking the ball early and injecting pace when necessary.”

Stout & McArthur first made a statement this season by reaching the semifinals of the David C. Johnson Memorial, which they followed up with another strong performance in New York City by winning the R&T Challenger–their first title together in five years.

The Buffalo Pro Doubles was just the fourth SDA appearance of the season for the Stout & McArthur partnership with both players juggling other responsibilities outside of the tour. Stout is also a full-time Rackets professional, while McArthur is a professional at Sleepy Hollow.

(l-r): Bill Cleary, Scott Arnold, John Russell, James Stout, Greg McArthur, Tom Hayes

“It’s exciting to win our first SDA Gold event,” McArthur said. “It definitely felt like we were continuing our momentum from the previous two events and did well to execute our game plan again this weekend. It’s been tough for James and I to regularly play on the tour over recent seasons, and to be honest I wasn’t sure of playing many SDA events in the future, but these last three tournaments have really given us a confidence boost and proven that we can compete with and beat the top teams. Hopefully we can continue to improve next season.”

“It feels great closing out the season with a win in Buffalo, especially with it being an SDA Gold event,” Stout said. “The 2017-2018 season was really positive for Greg and I, as we played well in all the tournaments and managed to win the last couple of events as a bonus. We hope to keep moving forward next season.”

2018 marked just the second edition of the Buffalo Pro Doubles, which was initially held as an SDA Silver event last season.

“This was my first time playing in Buffalo and I was impressed by how well run it was,” McArthur said. “Credit to the organizers for raising even more prize money to make it a gold event this season. All of the pros appreciated the hospitality and it was great to see such a knowledgeable and passionate doubles membership. I’m looking forward to coming back next year to defend our title.”

With the Buffalo Pro Doubles, the 2017-2018 SDA season comes to a close. Next moth, the third annual SDA combine will introduce new prospects to the game on June 2 at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York.

Watch live stream replays below. View images in the SDA Smugmug gallery.

May 2018 Rankings

1-May Name Country Tournaments Average 1-Apr
1 Damien Mudge Australia 7 4387.500 1
1 Manek Mathur India 7 4387.500 1
3 Scott Arnold Australia 7 3422.500 3
4 John Russell England 5 3022.500 4
5 Yvain Badan Switzerland 9 2968.750 5
6 Mike Ferreira England 9 2750.000 7
7 Chris Callis USA 7 2432.500 6
8 Jonny Smith England 7 2370.000 8
9 Bernardo Samper Colombia 9 2327.083 9
10 Clive Leach England 11 2108.929 10
11 Greg Park USA 10 1685.714 12
12 Will Mariani Canada 7 1680.000 14
13 Raj Nanda Australia 9 1658.333 11
14 Adam Bews Scotland 8 1633.333 13
15 James Bamber England 7 1546.250 16
16 Thomas Brinkman Canada 4 1480.000 17
17 Viktor Berg Canada 4 1365.000 15
18 Freddie Reid Canada 7 1331.875 19
19 Clinton Leeuw South Africa 11 1265.179 22
20 Zac Alexander Australia 6 1251.875 24

 

Complete Ranking List

Mathur & Mudge Complete Undefeated SDA Season in Cleveland

Damien Mudge (l) and Manek Mathur

Manek Mathur & Damien Mudge accomplished an undefeated season when the world No. 1’s successfully defended their SDA Gold Tavern Club Invitational title in Cleveland, Ohio.

Mathur & Mudge’s 2017-2018 season ends with a fifty-four match unbeaten streak, six titles and retaining the joint world No. 1 ranking.

While the final was no surprise between the top two seeds, the twelve-team draw produced two shock quarterfinal results that sent both the three and four seeds out of the tournament.

The top half of the draw saw Adam Bews & Colin West dispatch four seeds Clinton Leeuw & Omar El-Kashef in three games to reach their first semifinal together, where they would ultimately fall against Mathur & Mudge.

In a familial affair, John Roberts & Jordan Greenberg opened their tournament by defeating Joey Roberts & Gavan Hitchenor. Roberts & Greenberg nearly squandered a two-game lead in their quarterfinal against four seeds Mike Ferreira & Zac Alexander, who just won a doubles gold medal at the Commonwealth games. After dropping the fourth on simultaneous game/match ball, Roberts & Greenberg pulled off of the upset 15-11 in the fifth to reach the semis.

Two seeds John Russell & Scott Arnold reached their third final of the season without dropping a game, ending Roberts & Greenberg’s run in a three-game semifinal.

Russell & Arnold carried their momentum into the final against the top seeds in their first match up since the Briggs Cup, decisively winning the first game 15-6. Mathur & Mudge regained their composure during the break, however, tipping the match in their favor to claim the title 6-15, 15-10, 15-14, 15-10.

“Russell & Arnold are a great team,” Mudge said of the PDC Cup champions. “They have good ball control and good structure on court, so we had to adjust our games in order to come back from the first game loss. If you are going to beat that team it will take patience and precise structure.”

“Matches against them are always well contested and we were ready for a battle,” Mathur said. “The first game was them really finding their groove and us being on our heels and not pushing up in the court. We had to slow the ball down a bunch and really be disciplined with our game plan for the next few games.”

Mudge now marks his fourth career undefeated season on the pro doubles circuit, having previously recorded one undefeated season with Ben Gould and two with Gary Waite.  Mathur marks his first career undefeated season.

“It’s always great to win, but to finish an undefeated season with Manek was really special,” Mudge said. “These things don’t happen that often in ones career, so to have the opportunity to do it was amazing! It is a pure pleasure playing with Manek. He is such a strong player and such a good person. I feel privileged to be with him for the last two years.”

While the undefeated season is his first, Mathur has now won three consecutive titles at the Tavern Club, the first of which came with Gould in 2016.

“This is my first undefeated season and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it headed into Cleveland,” Mathur said. “Cleveland is a special place for me. I have always enjoyed going out there to see family and in turn, made a lot of great relationships with the members at the Tavern Club. Quick shout out to my pro/am partner, Matt Brinn, who has played with me for the last four years. We finally clinched the coveted title! I am lucky to have Damien on my side and he’s a great mentor and friend through the process. We faced a lot of adversity this season and to manage staying undefeated means a lot to the two of us.”

The Tavern Club Invitational has been held annually since 2006. Mudge has now won all but four of the events with a total of nine titles.

“Big thank you to Ian Sly,” Mudge said. “He does an amazing job at the tavern club and really takes care of the pros.”

“Ian Sly and his team deserves a massive kudos,” Mathur said. “They run such a special tournament, members are very enthusiastic and the club on the whole is very welcoming and respectful to the pros. I speak on behalf of all my fellow pros that we can’t wait to be back out in Cleveland. Rumor has it that soon there will be a Mudgie poster on the building to replace Lebron!”

The 2017-2018 SDA season comes to a close with the SDA Gold Buffalo Pro Doubles, May 10-13.

Stout & McArthur Win First Title Together in Five Years at R&T

(l-r) Manek Mathur, Jordan Greenberg, Jacques Swanepoel, James Stout, Greg McArthur, Liam Culman

Five years and one month after capturing the 2013 Graham Company Challenger title, James Stout & Greg McArthur have won their second SDA Tour Challenger event together—the Racquet & Tennis Club Challenger in New York City.

Stout & McArthur entered the eight-team main draw as the two seeds, while Fred Reid & Clive Leach opposed them as the top seeds.

The first round saw three of the four top seeds advance to the final, not including top seeds Reid & Leach who crashed out 15-12 in the fifth at the hands of Travis Judson & Ned Marks.

In the semis, Stout & McArthur dispatched U.S. doubles champions Alex Stait & Ed Garno in three games, while four seeds Jacques Swanepoel & Jordan Greenberg reached their first final of the season—also in three games—against Judson & Marks.

In the final, Stout & McArthur pulled ahead in the first two games 15-8, 15-10, but Swanepoel & Greenberg pulled one back in the third 15-10. Stout & McArthur regained control in the fourth to clinch the title 15-8.

“The spirit in which the final was played was really great,” McArthur said. “Jacques and Jordan are good friends of ours. Kudos to those guys for being good competitors and good sports. It was a competitive match, but we all had a great time out there. I think the spectators saw that and appreciated it.”

“We played well all weekend and knew if we could do that, we would be in with a chance of winning the event,” Stout said. “It feels great to have won the tournament and means even more being able to do it with Greg, at the Racquet Club, my home club. Can’t believe it has been five years since we won the Graham Company tournament. Hopefully it won’t be another five years before our next win.”

Stout, who also doubles as a full-time Rackets professional, and McArthur, a pro at Sleepy Hollow, normally only play a handful of SDA events throughout the season due to schedule constraints. The R&T Challenger was just their third event of the season, but not their only successful one.

“This season James and I have played a few tournaments together, and it’s been a relatively good run,” McArthur said.” We had a really good run in Brooklyn reaching the semis, and this felt like we were continuing that momentum. It’s nice to win again, I didn’t realize it’s been five years since our last win. We just haven’t played that many tournaments together in that time. James is such a great partner. He’s such a great athlete, he has great hands. He’s also an easy going guy, which makes him fun to play with. It’s always nice to get a win with someone you consider to be one of your best friends.”

The 2018 R&T Challenger was just the third iteration of the biennial event, which is helmed by R&T head pro and SDA world No. 1 Manek Mathur and R&T’s Liam Culman.

“It’s such a fantastic venue,” McArthur said. “Arguably, they have the most visually-stunning doubles court out there. With the sky lights and everything, it’s a beautiful place to play. A big thank you to Manek Mathur and his pro staff for the job they did running the tournament. It’s never an easy ask, and we really appreciate the work they have to put in to make the event happen. It’s just a fun place to play. The membership is a really knowledgeable group so it’s fun to play in front of them.”

“I personally really enjoyed the event, but that is because it is my home club and I know everyone involved, including all of the pro-am players,” Stout said.

The SDA season moves on to its penultimate event this weekend, the Tavern Club Invitational in Cleveland, April 26-28.

Watch live stream replays below.

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