The David C. Johnson Memorial already had significant historical context entering 2018 as the world’s oldest professional squash doubles tournament celebrated its octogenarian anniversary at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn, New York. The weekend concluded with even more historical weight as world No. 1 Damien Mudge extended the sport’s longest winning streak with a seventeenth consecutive title—and second consecutive with partner Manek Mathur.
Mathur & Mudge’s road to the 2018 title proved to be more arduous than their 2017 campaign, in which they didn’t drop a game all tournament. With a full draw of sixteen teams and no first round bye, Americans Alex Domenick & Aaron Luque nicked a game off of the top seeds 15-14 in the third, ultimately falling in four games.
The bottom half of the draw saw a dramatic first-round upset when James Stout & Greg McArthur came back from 2-1 down to defeat two seeds Mike Ferreira & Yvain Badan in five games. The unseeded pairing continued their main draw push with a quarterfinal victory against Adam Bews & Will Hartigan to reach the partnership’s first career SDA Platinum semifinal.
Stout & McAthur’s run came to an end in the semis, where three seeds Bernardo Samper & Chris Callis advanced to their second final of the season to set up a rematch of the 2017 Big Apple Open final against Mathur & Mudge.
As Samper & Callis did in New York City, the three seeds proved to be difficult opponents for the title favorites losing a close two opening games 12-15, 14-15. Samper & Callis kept their hopes alive taking the third game 15-13, but Mathur & Mudge regained control in the fourth, clinching the title 15-11.
“Bernie and Callis played some of the best squash I have seen them play!” Mudge said. “It took some of our best squash to fend them off. Not only was the quality high, but the camaraderie, respect and sportsmanship was second to none, which made the match that much more enjoyable to play and I would assume to watch.”
“Both of those boys played extremely well,” Mathur added. “They pushed the ball around and create openings well, but more importantly capitalized on those openings and put us under a bunch of pressure. We had to stick with our plan and make sure we countered their attack well, which luckily proved to be positive for us.”
With his streak spans back to 2002, the Australian has won nearly a quarter of the Johnson titles in the tournament’s eighty years. It is the longest title winning streak in squash doubles history. The streak has involved four partners: Gary Waite (2002-2007), Viktor Berg (2008-2010 and 2016), Gould (2011-15) and Mathur (2017-2018). Waite comes in as the second all-time title holder with ten since the tournament’s inception in 1938.
“I hold this tournament very close to my heart,” Mudge said. “Growing up and playing with all the experienced older guys like Waite, Talbott, etc., they said this was the one to win and I’ve always felt that way myself. I really don’t have the words to describe winning this event seventeen consecutive times. It’s kinda surreal and it also shows how old I am. Just to be a part of this tournament that’s been going for eighty years is just incredible, and I feel privileged just to be involved with the history of the event. There are so many familiar faces over the years and there’s a certain comfort level I feel at the Heights Casino and especially on the court that is difficult to explain.”
In 1938, Ned Bigelow started an open doubles championship at the Heights Casino. It was the first tournament that allowed professionals to participate and paid them if they won. Until the 1960’s, the Heights Casino tournament was the only open professional doubles tournament. In 1965, it was renamed after the early death of David C. Johnson, Jr., who was one of the tournament’s driving forces.
“The Heights squash community is second to none,” Mathur said. “They have a stellar junior program but the camaraderie and passion for the game is what truly stands out. What Bobby has done and achieved over there with his doubles program is remarkable, and I look forward to seeing that program grow even further.”
“Big thank you to Bobby Burns, Will Bunn, Emily Lungstrum, John Osnato, Christian Petrina the General Manager for the amazing trophies which he supplies,” Mudge said of the hosts. “They are literally the best trophies I have seen in sport. Congratulations to Christian and his wife who had a child on last Friday. Last but not least my stud partner Manek Mathur! He is such a close friend both on and off the court. The relationship that we have developed is one of the reasons why I play this great game. He is an exceptionally talented player and will have a lot of years to continue the dominance that he deserves.”