A dozen top college graduates and singles professionals convened at the Apawamis Club to take part in the inaugural SDA Pro Tour combine, Saturday June 10, in Rye, New York.
The first event of its kind aimed to expose experienced singles players to professional-level hardball doubles in hopes of attracting future competitors to the SDA Pro Tour.
“The SDA Board of Directors realized how difficult it is for newcomers to join the tour,” said Graham Bassett, SDA Pro Tour Director. “The purpose of the SDA Combine is to remove some of the roadblocks from joining. Participants are given a chance to earn SDA points, receive coaching from the game’s best, and play some high quality matches. They are also introduced to a pool of prospective partners in the same position as themselves and given a feel for the comradery of the tour. This year’s pool was exceptional. They were all enthusiastic and there was some terrific talent. The future of the tour looks bright!”
“The energy and enthusiasm at Apawamis was contagious,” Mathur said. “It was great to see such powerful singles resumes battle it out and be so receptive to advice and constructive criticism. I think this was a great idea for the growth of the SDA and the tour is headed in the right direction. The level of potential was extremely high for all the guys that played. If all these guys go back to the drawing board and spend some time on court this summer, we might see some new names in the top rankings next season.”
Leach, a veteran of both the ISDA and SDA eras for more than a decade, praised the format and goal of attracting new players to the tour.
“The players really responded well to our coaching and advice, and I felt there was really good intensity from all players,” Leach said. “Some had more experience than others, but overall they really did try and execute what we were asking of them. This format worked really well and I hope to see this type of event again soon. This is definitely the way forward to attracting and encouraging more players to this great game. Personally, I enjoyed the day sharing my knowledge to the next generation of players.”
Heights Casino professional and first place finisher Omar El Kashef said his doubles game improved over the course of the day thanks to the professional coaching exposure.
“One of the amazing things about squash doubles is that every time I play with or against someone new, there is a different perspective that I wasn’t even considering,” El Kashef said. ” I spoke to my partner Julian a lot before and during the match. We worked together on finding the harmony we aimed for. Also, Manek and Travis were watching every single point. They made sure they talked to us between games and matches. It was very good to hear their constructive feedback on how to adjust our game to hardball doubles instead of playing ‘singles in the doubles court.'”
“I would like to thank Graham and the SDA for this tremendous idea,” Mathur added. “I want to encourage all prospective players to mark the next SDA combine on their calendars as it was a great opportunity for all those that attended.”
Dateline June 5th — The 2016-17 SDA pro doubles tour promised a markedly changed competitive landscape even before it began due to the fact that that no fewer than six of the top eight ranked players from the previous campaign were entering the season-opening Maryland Club Open with first-time-ever partners, and one of the two exceptions was the retired Ben Gould. This situation was most graphically symbolized that weekend in Baltimore when Manek Mathur and Yvain Badan, former Trinity College teammates whose seven years of partnership (from 2009-16), many of them as the No. 2 team behind Gould and Damien Mudge, had finally culminated in their ascent to the No. 1 team ranking during the spring of 2016, were presented with the 2016 Team of the Year Award — less than 24 hours before they then competed AGAINST each other in the final! A certain amount of interpersonal tension understandably animated the ensuing extremely closely contested action, from which Badan and his first-time partner Michael Ferreira emerged triumphant, albeit barely (15-13 in the fifth), over Mathur and his first-time partner Mudge. This was the first of two tournament wins (Atlanta being the other) amassed by the Ferreira/Badan pairing, with five runner-up finishes as well, making them the second most successful team on the circuit.
But that one late-September setback was to be the only one that Mathur and Mudge sustained all season, as after this initial misstep they then embarked on a nine-tournament, 30-match winning spree during which they were never pushed to a fifth game and won all but five of their matches three games to love. Mudge, returning to the right wall — on which he had played with Gary Waite from 1999-2007, winning 75 tournaments, the most ever for one duo, and compiling three wire-to-wire undefeated seasons — after nine extraordinary years on the left, played with a level of power and fitness that belied his May 2016 fortieth birthday, while Mathur’s athleticism and deadly shot-making led to countless front-court winners throughout their blemish-free run. Their final-round opponents included Ferreira/Badan at the Big Apple Open in Manhattan, Bentley Cup in Toronto, MFS Pro-Am in Boston and David C. Johnson Jr. Memorial Doubles in Brooklyn (which latter event Mudge won for the 16th consecutive year with his fourth different partner); John Russell and Viktor Berg in St. Louis and at the North American Open in Greenwich; Russell and Badan in Germantown; Jonny Smith and Chris Callis (another first-time pairing this season) at the Kellner Cup in New York; and Russell and Raj Nanda in Cleveland. Even the arthroscopic right-knee surgery that Mudge underwent immediately prior to the month-long Christmas holidays break seemed to make virtually no discernible impact on his mobility or effectiveness, given the no-nonsense efficiency with which he and Mathur blew through the draw when the schedule resumed in early January in Boston, where they yielded only 24 total points in their 3-0 final with Ferreira and Badan.
Other tournament winners in addition to the top two teams were Bernardo Samper and Baset Chaudhry (two of six Trinity College alumni ranked in the SDA top 13) at the Missouri Athletic Club Open in St. Louis (over Matt Jenson and host club pro Adam Bews in the final), Smith and Chaudhry in the Challenger event in Pittsburgh, Jenson and Scott Arnold (over Callis and Smith) at the Baltimore Cup, Samper and Callis (over Ferreira and Badan) at the Tompkins Invitational in Philadelphia, Russell (who played in a total of five finals with a tour-leading four different partners) and Arnold (over Will Mariani and Thomas Brinkman) in the season-ending event in Buffalo, and Chaudhry and Whitten Morris (over James Stout and Eric Bedell) in the Long Island Open Challenger event in which both final-round teams had had to earn their way into the main draw by first winning several rounds of qualifying matches, one of many signs of how deep the SDA tour has become in recent years. All told, 11 of the top 13 ranked players won at least one sanctioned SDA tournament, 19 players attained at least one final and more than two dozen players made it to at least the semis, all of which figures represent all-time highs during the 18 ISDA/SDA years of North American professional doubles squash. And of the seven sanctioned tournaments this past season which Mudge and Mathur didn’t enter, only twice — in Atlanta and Buffalo — did the No. 1 seed wind up in the winner’s circle.
The Mathur/Mudge dominance aside, there were noteworthy breakthrough wins and a number of near-misses throughout the season, beginning right with the opening weekend, when Ferreira and Badan let a fourth-game match-ball get away in their semifinal with Berg and Nanda before winning the fifth game and then taking the aforementioned route-going final, in which four of the five games were decided by two points or less. Before autumn had ended, Ferreira (who the prior year had similarly been involved in a trio of simultaneous-match-point matches) and Badan had had to save two quarterfinal fourth-game match-balls against them (courtesy Samper/Chaudhry) en route to winning the tournament in Atlanta, then rallied from 7-11 to 15-14 against Nanda and Smith at the same stage of the very next tour stop in Toronto. A few months after that pair of narrow escapes, they survived a 15-14 fifth game with Nanda and Russell at the Philadelphia Racquet Club in the semis.
In addition to their advance to the Buffalo final (featuring solid victories over Nanda/Samper and Imran Khan/Greg Park), Mariani and Brinkman, winners of the Ontario regional championship in December and runners-up to Arnold and Robin Clarke each of the past three years in the Canadian National Doubles, scored impressive victories over first Chaudhry and Clive Leach and then Jenson and Arnold to reach the semifinal stage at the University Club of Boston. In Brooklyn, Bobby Burns and James Bamber accentuated their already-praiseworthy qualifying-round win over Morris and Stout and round-of-16 four-gamer over Nanda and Hamed Anvari by then triumphing, and doing so convincingly (15-8 in the fourth) in their quarterfinal with Berg and Russell, who just a few weeks earlier had reached the North American Open final. Burns also reached the quarterfinals in both Greenwich (when he and Bamber prevailed over Khan and Park) and Germantown, where he and Travis Judson out-lasted Alex Stait and Ed Garno in one of nearly a dozen matches this past season that had a 15-14 fifth-game conclusion. The emergence of these and other newly-forming partnerships was one of the foremost themes of this past season, as were the return to the SDA schedule after a several-years hiatus of tour sites in Philadelphia, Long Island and Buffalo, and both of these phenomena should augur well for the 2017-18 season and beyond.
Rob Dinerman served as the Official Writer for the ISDA/SDA Tour throughout the 12-year period from 2001-13 and for the past six years has been the Editor of the DailySquashReport.com web site. He has authored several books, including two squash anthologies, “Selected Squash Writings” Volumes I and II on Amazon.com, as well as Histories of squash at Harvard and Deerfield published in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and is currently researching a History of squash at Princeton University.
The event will feature the best professional teams from around the world competing in Men’s, Women’s, and Mixed divisions. Additionally, all amateur players are encouraged to get in on the fun. Men’s A, Women’s B, a full slate of age groups and Mixed 35+ are all open for play. All teams must represent the same country.
The twelfth biennial edition of the championships, featuring Men’s, Women’s and Mixed events and organized by the Squash Doubles Association (SDA) and Women’s Squash Doubles Association (WSDA) Pro Tours under the auspices of the World Squash Federation.
England’s John Russell & Clive Leach are expected to defend the Men’s title they won in 2015. It was also an English pair, Suzie Pierrepont & Carrie Hastings, who claimed the Women’s title in the same championships, while Canadians Viktor Berg & Stephanie Hewitt are the defending Mixed champions.
“St. Louis has a rich history of promoting squash in the U.S., having hosted the U.S. National Championships in 1950, 1960, 1968, 1977, 1985, 1992, 2000, 2006 and 2013,” said Michael Puertas, Head Squash Professional of the Racquet Club of St. Louis. “We are well prepared and proud to play host to the 2017 World Doubles Squash Championship.”
“We are delighted to welcome the World Championship Doubles to St Louis,” added Adam Bews, Head Squash Professional at Missouri Athletic Club. “The Missouri Athletic Club and Racquet Club of St. Louis members have been hugely supportive of squash and doubles every year and we are so happy to be able to host this for them at their home clubs. St Louis has become one of the most popular destinations for the Doubles tour and we cannot wait to have all of the pros back in September.”
John Russell & Scott Arnold ended the 2016-2017 SDA season on a high note with a perfect run to the inaugural SDA Silver Buffalo Club Pro Doubles title in upstate New York.
The Buffalo Club’s doubles court is only four years old, and in addition to hosting the 2016 National Doubles, brought professional doubles back to Buffalo for the first time in the SDA era with this $25,000, eight-team main draw event.
Russell, world No. 6, & Arnold, world No. 9, led the draw as the top seeds and ran away with the title with three, three-game victories. The draw did have a big upset in the form of Canadian’s Will Mariani & Thomas Brinkman, who upset two seeds Bernardo Samper & Raj Nanda in a five-game, first-round comeback after going down 2-0. The Canadians needed another five games in the semifinals to upset three seeds Imran Khan & Greg Park. In the final, Russell & Arnold halted their run 15-12, 15-3, 15-12.
The title marks Russell’s first title of the season in his fourth final appearance, and Arnold’s second in addition to February’s Baltimore Cup.
“It felt great finishing the season with a victory,” Russell said. “Scott played great all weekend and we gelled very well considering we’ve never played together before. Buffalo is a great squash town and we were treated like kings. Tom Hayes, head pro at the buffalo club, did a fantastic job organizing the event with all our possible needs catered for.”
Russell faced his fellow Englishman and 2015 World Doubles partner Clive Leach in the semifinals and will hope to defend his title at the 2017 World Doubles in St. Louis, September, 21-24.
“I’m looking forward to getting some summer training under my belt to get in the best possible shape to try and retain the world championship in September,” Russell said.