Continuing their momentum from an impressive run to the David C. Johnson Memorial final last month, Chris Callis & Bernardo Samper went one better at the 2018 Graham Company Cup, claiming their first title of the season this weekend at the Germantown Cricket Club.
The twelve-team draw played out according to seeding with the top four seeds advancing to the semifinals.
The weekend saw the return of John Russell following an injury spell that kept the Englishman off tour since December’s Briggs Cup.
Russell & Scott Arnold slotted into the draw as the top seeds, progressing to the final courtesy of a four-game victory against four seeds Clive Leach & Jonny Smith in the semis.
Callis & Samper moved through the bottom half of the draw with two clinical 3-0 wins against Bobby Burns & Hamed Anvari in the quarters and three seeds Matt Jenson & Greg Park in the semifinals.
In the final, Callis & Samper controlled the match to claim their first title of the season against Russell & Arnold 15-9, 13-15, 15-9, 15-10.
“I think our success in the Johnson was a gradual progression we were working towards all year,” Callis said. “We had played well in a few spots early in the season, but it took us a while to figure out the pace we needed to play at and to build confidence moving the ball to all four corners at that pace. We had a lot of confidence coming off of the Johnson, so we put extra effort into imposing our own game this weekend.”
The final was the first match up of the season between Russell & Arnold and Callis & Samper.
“JR and Scott are two of the best players out there, so we knew we would have to play really well to get by them,” Callis said. “We were disciplined with our game plan and Bernardo played really well up and down the left wall. It’s great it have JR back from injury and I look forward to playing those guys once JR is back to the top of his game.”
Callis & Samper have enjoyed their SDA tournaments in Philadelphia, with the Graham Company Cup following up their most recent title–the 2017 Tompkins Cup at Racquet Club of Philadelphia last April.
“Chris and I came this week with more confidence after having a great week in Brooklyn,” Samper said. “As the season went on we manage to improve little things in our games that lead us to winning our first tournament this season. As a team we did great at backing each other all season. If I had a flat day on the court, I knew I could count on Chris to perform, and vise versa. Scott and JR are great players and it’s really nice to see JR back. They’ve had a great season so far and I am looking forward playing more matches against them.”
One of the youngest teams on the SDA Tour, Bobby Burns & Eric Bedell, upset the 2018 Hashim Khan seeding to claim their first career SDA title this weekend at the Denver Athletic Club, while local Meredeth Quick successfully defended her WSDA title with fellow Coloradan Suzie Pierrepont.
The SDA Challenger eight-team main draw saw the return of two retired pros and former partners Matt Jenson and Denver local Preston Quick. Jenson progressed through the top half of the draw with Greg Park as top seeds, while Quick & Graham Bassett upset two seeds Will Mariani & James Bamber in the first round.
Burns & Bedell, who played together at Bates, began their surprise SDA title run with a first-round upset against three seeds Clinton Leeuw & Aaron Luque, coming back from losing the first game to advance in four.
Burns & Bedell then edged Bassett & Quick in the semifinals, sneaking out all three games on simultaneous game balls to reach the final 15-14, 15-14, 15-14.
In the final, Jenson & Park took a 2-1 advantage 15-12, 8-15, 15-14, when Burns & Bedell completely turned the final on its head, dominating the fourth and fifth games 15-16, 15-6.
“To win our first SDA title feels fantastic, absolutely fantastic,” Bedell said. “This is the culmination of all the hard work, determination, and heart that we put into this sport. We approached each match with the focus of playing to our strengths, fighting for every rally, and trusting each other. Our abilities to extend rallies, pressure our opponents, and improvise allowed us to capitalize on attacking opportunities throughout the weekend. It is a great feeling to see our preparation pay off!”
“I couldn’t be happier,” Burns said. “Obviously, the goal is to win every match you play but it’s hard to envision winning tournaments. We were fortunate that it all came together this past weekend and the result makes me want to do it again.”
Since first playing in an SDA event together in 2014, Bedell—twenty-six years old—& Burns—twenty-eight years old—have learned from SDA veterans such as Jenson and Quick.
“Both those players have accomplished so much in their careers, it’s hard to quantify everything they bring to the table as opponents,” Burns said. “Personally, I love watching Matt play squash. As a right-handed left-waller, I’m not as tall as Mudgie or as fast as Bernardo and don’t shoot as well as John Russell, so Matt was someone I studied to learn a lot from. His racquet prep and positioning are consistent and aggressive—that, coupled with a dynamic shot selection makes him a very dangerous player. Preston strikes such a clean ball but the take away playing against him, is his on-court attitude. He competes so hard but appears to have a collected, mindful presence at all times. Both players have had exceptional careers. I am happy to see both on tour when their time allows for it.”
“For me personally, it was a pleasure to share the court with both Matt and Preston,” Bedell said. “I actually try to model some of my game after each of their play styles. Preston’s movement, positioning and shot selection on the right wall are superb. He always positions himself in the right place at the right time and effortlessly moves the ball around the court. As for Matt, I am in awe of his precision into the front of the court. His racquet preparation and technique allow him to fire the ball in with pinpoint accuracy. Even if you read the shot, it seems to be up to him if you will be able to get it.”
After playing together in college, Bedell & Burns honed their squash doubles game while stationed at their home club, the Heights Casino, in Brooklyn.
“Eric and I played our first pro tournament together, I think four years ago at the NAO,” Burns said. “We played opposite walls in that match. Needless to say, we have both worked hard at our games since then. While we had confidence in each other’s abilities, I think the best thing from the weekend was our communication. I think having more of a history, allowed us to self-assess accurately and play without fear or doubt. There is a lot of natural trust between us and it makes playing doubles squash really really fun.”
“While I thoroughly enjoyed playing alongside Bobby this weekend, it’s even greater to have him as a friend,” Bedell said. “I am very grateful to have not only grown professionally on the court with him but also personally off the court. We have been great friends since we met at Bates and that makes it so much more fun to be on court with him. Our first doubles partnership was actually a few years ago when we paired up for the North American Open, albeit with myself on the left wall and Bobby on the right wall. It certainly did not go as well as this past weekend. I think we may have found the better arrangement.”
The WSDA draw saw locals Meredeth Quick & Suzie Pierrepont fulfill their top seeding. The result marked Quick’s third consecutive title in Denver having won the 2017 National Doubles and 2016 Hashim Khan with Natarsha McElhinny. Quick & Pierrepont endured a difficult final against two seeds and recently-crowned National Doubles champions Stephanie Hewitt & Georgina Stoker, prevailing 15-11, 8-15, 10-15, 15-10, 15-8.
“Thank you to John and Anne Lesko at the Denver Athletic Club for hosting and running a great event and to Graham Bassett for organizing the SDA’s operations,” Bedell said. “I look forward to playing in Denver again!”
“I want to thank Anne Lesko and the Denver Athletic Club,” Burns said. “They do an incredible job with the entire tournament. I think there were more than ten divisions competing this past weekend. It’s always great to be part of a large scale event. Graham Bassett also deserves a ton of credit for all the work he does everyday for the tour.”
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.”