All posts by Rob Dinerman

Profile Of Ed Garno, US National Doubles Champion

Dateline June 7, 2018 — One of the most noteworthy developments in US doubles squash in recent years has been the ascent of Ed Garno, who this past March became, at age 49 years, 5 months and 21 days, the oldest player ever to win the U.S. National Doubles championship when he teamed up with his six-year partner Alex Stait to defeat, sequentially, Ricky Weisskopf and Richard Dodd, Alex Luque and Imran Khan and the Round Hill Club pairing of Steve Scharff and Zac Alexander in a four-game final in Philadelphia that ended with Garno knifing a forehand reverse-corner winner at match-ball. The previous oldest-ever winner of this tournament, the late Victor Elmaleh, was also 49 when he and Vic Niederhoffer won in St. Louis in 1968, but Garno was two months older when he and Stait triumphed than Elmaleh was when the tournament was held 50 years ago.

Remarkably, Garno did not take up squash until he was well into his 30’s. Although he attended Haverford School during the mid-1980’s, a time throughout which the school squash team, featuring such future stars in college and beyond as Morris Clothier, Russ Ball and Chris Spahr, was in the midst of a dynastic run that extended from the late 1970’s until the early 1990’s, Garno’s primary sports during his middle-school and high-school years were football (as the team’s starting quarterback and punter), baseball (he played shortstop) and tennis. He then went to the University of Virginia, where he was the first-string punter on teams that played in bowl games in each of his last three years (namely the Florida Citrus Bowl against Illinois in 1990, the Sugar Bowl against Tennessee in 1991 and the Gator Bowl vs. Oklahoma in 1992) and made all-Academic ACC all of those three years, as well as all-ACC and Honorable Mention all-America during his senior year. He then returned to tennis and spent the next dozen-odd years winning numerous (more than two dozen) Merion Cricket Club, Waynesborough Country Club and regional singles and doubles championships on both grass and clay in that sport.

Although Garno started playing squash midway through the first decade of the 2000’s, initially more as a way of keeping fit during the winter months than as a game to pursue with competitive aspirations, it was his connection with former WPSA superstar and US SQUASH Hall of Famer Ned Edwards approximately seven years ago which caused the sea-change in Garno’s improvement in and commitment to doubles squash that led to his stellar recent results. Fortuitously, it was also right around this time frame that the British-born Stait, a former PSA pro singles player who had attained a ranking just outside the top 50 before a recurring knee injury forced him to retire from the tour and shift his energies to coaching, moved to America after being hired as an assistant coach at Merion in January 2012. A standing game developed featuring Edwards/Garno against Stait and former WPSA standout (and extraordinarily successful Harvard squash coach from 1992-99) Bill Doyle during the spring and summer of 2012, throughout which this foursome would play several times per week. Garno and Stait made swift and steady progress in learning the nuances of doubles from the two decorated veterans Edwards (a three-time North American Open Doubles Champ from 1989-91 with Alan Grant) and Doyle, a North American Open finalist with Hugh Labossier in 1987).

The following autumn, Doyle relocated to Boston and Edwards was forced by a lingering knee injury to reduce his playing, but by then Stait and Garno felt they were ready to join forces and enter Open tournaments. Although their SDA debut at an event at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia in February 2013 had a disappointing ending — with a 15-14 fifth-game loss to Carl Baglio and Gilly Lane — they played well enough in that match and those that followed to convince them that they belonged at this level. It took them a few years to learn their way around the tour, absorbing some close losses along the way but also starting to earn their way into main draws and occasionally attaining the quarterfinals. Throughout that time, Garno doggedly tracked down games with top-level players, occasionally even traveling back and forth to New York when an especially strong practice game presented itself, and by Spring 2016 they were ready for a breakthrough performance at the season-ending Challenger tournament at the Racquet & Tennis Club in midtown Manhattan.

With Garno having come up short three times in the finals of Open events earlier that season — with Stait in the William White to Josh Schwartz/Tim Wyant, with Edwards in the Century event to Dominic Hughes/Nigel Thani and with Narelle Krizek in the US Mixed Doubles in five games against James Stout and Suzie Pierrepont — and with Stait having recently missed some time with a shoulder strain, the pair entered the Challenger event just hoping that they would be able to get through the tough qualifying draw that awaited them. They did, surmounting a 14-11 first-game deficit en route to a straight-game win over Stout and Barney Tanfield and then out-playing Travis Judson and James Bamber. Building on the momentum they thereby generated, Stait and Garno ambushed the top-seeded Randy Lim/Hamed Anvari duo in the quarters and followed up with a semifinal win over qualifiers Lane and Fred Reid Jr., five-game first-round upset winners over fourth seeds Andres Vargas and John Roberts.

In the final against Imran Khan and Greg McArthur, Stait and Garno, after dropping the opening game, took both the second and third 15-14. Khan and McArthur rallied to force a fifth game, but Stait and Garno raced off to an early lead and never looked back, sprinting to the finish line with a 15-8 tally that made them the first qualifying team to win a ranking event since the pro doubles association was renamed the SDA (after a 12-year run as the ISDA) in 2012. Afterwards, they explicitly praised and thanked Edwards and Doyle for having, as Stait phrased it, “taught us how to play a few summers ago at Merion. We learned together and have played together ever since. That’s really the key for us, playing together all the time and enjoying it.” Indeed, they are the team on the SDA tour that has stayed together the longest as partners by a substantial margin: no other SDA team has been intact even as long as TWO years, let alone six, other than the top-ranked pairing of Manek Mathur and Damien Mudge, who have only been partners dating back to September 2016, three and a half years after Stait and Garno became teammates.

During the subsequent 2016-17 season, after losing in the final of the William White the previous two years, Stait and Garno captured this prestigious title in a three-game final over Merion pros Scott Devoy and Dane Sharp, which made Garno, who had teamed with Rob Whitehouse to win the William White 40-and-over flight in 2012, perhaps the only player to have won the White Open division AFTER having won a White age-group category. Later that winter they achieved perhaps their best SDA win at the Baltimore Cup at the expense of the highly regarded Jacques Swanepoel and Shaun Johnstone, which elevated them to the cusp of the top 20 in the SDA rankings. A few months after that, Garno and Krizek won the US Mixed Doubles with a four-game triumph over Dave Rosen and Victoria Simmonds in the defining match-up of that five-team round-robin.

This past season, after winning the US National Doubles, Stait and Garno reached the semis of the Racquet & Tennis Challenger event via a 3-0 quarterfinal over Baglio and Kyle Martino. Their attempted title defense in this biennial event was then foiled by the eventual champs Stout and McArthur, who would go on to defeat Swanepoel and Jordan Greenberg in the final. Although Stait and Garno play a somewhat limited SDA schedule (seven tournaments this past season) due to Stait’s commitments as Director of Squash at Agnes Irwin — a position he has held for the past five years at this private all-girls school in suburban Philadelphia, which he led to the Inter-Ac pennant and a second-place finish at the US National High School Championships in 2018 — they are nevertheless both listed in the top 35 of the SDA rankings and fully plan to be an active partnering presence on the 2018-19 tour (which begins shortly after Garno’s 50th birthday this coming September 11th) and for the foreseeable future.

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.

A Recap of the 2016-17 SDA Season

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.

l-r: Andrew Cordova, Ed Garno, Justin Todd, Yvain Badan, Manek Mathur, Graham Bassett.

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.

l-r: Damien Mudge, Manek Mathur, Lenny Bernheimer, Amrit Khanwal, Yvain Badan, Mike Ferreira

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.

l-r: Eric Bedell, Whitten Morris, Baset Chaudhry, James Stout compete in the final of the 2016 Long Island Open

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.

A Recap of the 2015-16 SDA Men’s Professional Doubles Tour

Dateline May 1st — The 2015-16 Squash Doubles Association (SDA) tour, which featured an unprecedented number of high-achieving teams, new faces late in draws, prominent in-season retirements, both permanent and temporary, and 15-14 fifth-games, can nevertheless be divided fairly evenly, both chronologically and statistically, into two parts, bisected by the four-week Christmas holiday break. There was the Autumn 2015 portion, during which Damien Mudge and Ben Gould rampaged through the draws of all five tournaments they entered — namely the Maryland Club Open, the Big Apple Open, the PDC Cup in Atlanta, the Jim Bentley Cup in Toronto and the biennial Briggs Cup in Rye, immediately prior to which Gould announced that that event would be his swan song — followed by the Winter/Spring 2016 portion, which saw Manek Mathur and Yvain Badan, the second-best team on tour throughout most of the five-year Mudge/Gould reign, finally break through with a dominant extended performance.

DSC_0406
Damien Mudge (left) & Ben Gould (right) at the 2015 Briggs Cup

The two former Trinity College teammates captured the Boston tournament, the North American Open in Greenwich and the Baltimore Cup, compiling a calendar 2016 record of 10-1, with the first two of those final-round wins coming at the expense of Mudge and his new/old partner Viktor Berg, with whom Mudge had teamed up throughout the three-year period from 2007-10 (during which they won 17 tournaments) and with whom he reunited in the wake of Gould’s retirement. Though they lost the Boston and Greenwich finals to Mathur/Badan, Mudge and Berg won titles this past season in Wilmington, St. Louis and Brooklyn, which latter accomplishment, incredibly, marked the 15th straight Heights Casino crown for Mudge: no one else in the history of North American professional doubles has a consecutive-years streak even half that long, in any venue. Mudge, the tour’s “all-time leading scorer”, whose tournaments-won count surpassed the milestone 150 mark this past season, won a tour-leading eight tournaments and reached a tour-leading 11 finals in 12 attempts in 2015-16, the only exception occurring at the Baltimore Cup in late February when his partner Berg suffered mid-match muscle pull in the quarterfinals against Matt Jenson and Hamed Anvari and could not continue.

Yvain Badan & Manek Mathur embrace after winning the 2016 Chilton Investments North American Open
Yvain Badan & Manek Mathur embrace after winning the 2016 Chilton Investments North American Open

Berg and Mudge were also involved in perhaps the most intriguing competitive tableau of the season, or, for that matter, of the last SEVERAL seasons, in the final full-ranking stop on the schedule, the Tavern Club Invitational in Cleveland in mid-April. There, just 124 days after the Briggs Cup final, Gould came out of retirement, this time teaming with Mathur and ultimately resulting in a riveting five-game final whose intensity level, abetted by the historical backdrop of Mudge and Gould opposing each other for the first time after their five and a half seasons of SDA domination, as well as the cozy confines of the host arena, the raucous engagement of an enraptured gallery and the event’s positioning as the last major tournament on the schedule, all added up to a very special and memorable evening. Each player left a major hand-print on the undulating action, with Mathur and Gould intent on holding front-court position and inflicting constant high pace to open up the court, while Mudge and Berg in the games they won did a great job of slowing the play down and creating up-and-back movement for their opponents.

They especially applied this stratagem against Gould, who in his return after a four-month hiatus was having to deal with both this event’s compressed playing schedule (three matches in 24 hours) and a level of tightness and eventual cramping in his calves and hamstring muscles, especially when he backpedaled to field lobs after he had previously been maneuvered to the front of the court, that steadily increased as the fifth game moved along. Mudge and Berg determinedly cut into what had been a sizable early-game deficit, eventually creeping to 11-12, but at this crisis juncture a visibly hobbled Gould, who had been forced to take an injury time-out just a few points earlier, came up with two of his team’s three-straight match-ending winners, including the forehand overhead that he spiked into the front-left nick for a dramatic ending to the match’s final exchange.

l-r: Viktor Berg, Ben Gould, Manek Mathur, Damien Mudge at the 2016 Tavern Club Invitational
l-r: Viktor Berg, Ben Gould, Manek Mathur, Damien Mudge at the 2016 Tavern Club Invitational

In a noteworthy historical twist, in the last SDA tournament one year ago, the biennial World Doubles at the Onwentsia Club in suburban Chicago, Gould had been at the other side of a five-game final that ended in eerily similar fashion when he and Mudge had rallied from 4-9 to 11-12 against Clive Leach, who had been immobilized by leg cramps from mid-game onward, and John Russell, only to have their comeback attempt stymied when Leach somehow conjured up daring reverse-corner winners on two of the final three points, including on match-ball. Russell and Leach began this past campaign on a solid note when they reached the final of the Maryland Club Open in early October and Russell then teamed with Berg several weeks later to win the Missouri Athletic Club Open later that month, defeating Preston Quick and Matt Jenson in the final. But Russell and Leach would advance to only one more final, at the Baltimore Cup in late February, as they found themselves frequently hampered by other commitments (Russell is the head coach of the varsity squash team at Episcopal Academy) and injuries, first to Russell’s back in December and then to Leach’s right knee in January that necessitated surgery in mid-March and ended his season. Leach should be fully recovered in time for the outset of the 2016-17 tour, when he and Russell, World Doubles finalists in 2009 and 2011 in addition to their winning effort in 2015, will likely resume their standing as a formidable contending team.

l-r: Matt Jenson, John Russell, Adam Bews, Viktor Berg, Preston Quick
l-r: Matt Jenson, John Russell, Adam Bews, Viktor Berg, Preston Quick

So should the Toronto-based Robin Clarke/Scott Arnold partnership, which began in the most low-key circumstances imaginable while they were sharing a cab-ride one night, during which they decided on a whim to enter the 2014 Canadian National Doubles after one of them mentioned almost in passing that the entry deadline was less than 24 hours away. Their choice of walls (Clarke on the left, Arnold on the right) resulted not from any meticulous analysis of their relative forehand/backhand strengths and weaknesses, as is true of most newly forming partnerships, but rather was based solely on their having played those respective walls in a Toronto league match in which they had opposed each other earlier that evening. Overwhelming underdogs in their quarterfinal match-up against defending champions Gary Waite, a legendary figure in the sport, and his hard-hitting young partner Thomas Brinkman, Clarke and Arnold, meshing seamlessly for ANY team, much less a debuting one composed of players both of whom were playing in not only their first doubles tournament as partners but their first doubles tournament, period, won handily and then knocked off first Will Mariani and Colin West in the semis and then Michael Pirnak and Fred Reid Jr. in the final.

clarke and arnold crop
Scott Arnold (left) & Robin Clarke (right), winners of the 2016 Ridley Windows & Doors Toronto Cricket Club Open

Deciding to give the SDA tour a try in the wake of that unexpected accomplishment, they have steadily ascended up the pro rankings during these past two seasons (in both of which they repeated as Canadian National Doubles champs) to the point where they have now cracked the top ten. They have lost to no team other than Mathur/Badan, Mudge/Gould and Mudge/Berg, frequently reaching the semis — including in the Briggs Cup via a three-love win over Russell and Leach — and advancing to their first full-ranking SDA final (they had previously won a Challenger event in Pittsburgh during the Winter 2015) in Toronto this past April, at the inaugural Cricket Club Open, where Clarke is based. There they received a walk-over win when Greg Park, who had badly injured his knee late in his and partner Jonny Smith’s semifinal tally over Reid and Mariani, had to default the final. It was an unfortunate ending to what was otherwise a very productive season for Park and Smith, who got to the semis of the Big Apple Open, the PDC Cup, the Bentley Cup and in Boston. Park also teamed with Imran Khan to reach the North American Open semis, the same round that Smith attained with Russell in Cleveland just a few days after Park had hurt himself in Toronto.

Throughout the season there were a slew of matches that came down to simultaneous-match-ball, with several players being on both ends of the outcome on multiple occasions. Michael Ferreira, one of 11 Trinity College alumni among the SDA’s top 31 ranked players, and Chris Callis lost by this margin on consecutive early-December weekends, first at Wilmington, when Ferreira tinned an open ball against Bernardo Samper and Antonio Diaz, and then in a Briggs Cup quarterfinal against Mathur and Badan. Undaunted by those agonizing near-misses, Ferreira and Callis beat Quick and Jenson (simultaneous-match-ball winners one round earlier after trailing Mathur and Badan 12-3!), 15-14 in the fourth, in the Heights Casino semis, leading into a frenetic first three weekends of March that began with Reid and Brinkman winning the U. S. National Doubles final, 15-14 in the fifth, against Quick and Graham Bassett, on a Brinkman cross-court past Bassett, and continued with yet ANOTHER simultaneous-championship-point conclusion just seven days later at the Hashim Khan Open. The host venue for this latter tournament, the Denver Athletic Club, was the squash stomping ground for the Quick siblings, Meredeth and Preston, both of whom earned their way into their respective finals.

Meredeth Quick and Tarsh McElhinny prevailed over Suzie Pierrepont and Tina Rix in the WSDA pro women’s final, but in the men’s, the hope for a Quick family “double” was dashed, albeit barely, when Preston Quick and partner Jenson came up just short against Jacques Swanepoel and Ferreira, who blasted a backhand cross-court winner to perfect width at 14-all. Never before had consecutive-week tournaments of this dimension both culminated with a simultaneous-championship-ball, and had that last point in Colorado instead landed in the Quick/Jenson column, it would have made for a storybook career ending for Preston Quick, the SDA Director of Development, who announced his retirement during the trophy presentation. One week later at the Germantown Cricket Club in suburban Philadelphia, Ferreira notched his second SDA title in as many weeks when he and Callis won in five games against Swanepoel (who in February had won the Pittsburgh Challenger tourney with Jenson) and James Stout.

Fittingly in light of all these springtime consecutive-tournament route-going finals (capped off by the spectacular denouement in Cleveland), the very last tournament of the season, the Racquet & Tennis Club Challenger event in mid-town Manhattan, was resolved in a five-game final as well when qualifiers Alex Stait and Ed Garno rose superior to Khan and Greg McArthur. All told, no fewer than 21 different players advanced to SDA finals this past season, 15 of them in full-ranking events, a far greater total than in prior years, and this level of depth and opportunity augurs well for the 2016-17 tour season and beyond.


Rob Dinerman was the Official Writer for the professional doubles tour throughout the 12-year period from 2001-13 and has played on the tour for the past 15 years. He recently authored “A History of Harvard Squash, 1922-2010,” published in October 2015, and has also written a squash anthology, “Selected Squash Writings,” available on Amazon.com.

A Look Back at the 2014-2015 SDA Pro Tour Season

The 2015 Men's World Doubles Final. L-R: Clive Leach, Ben Gould, John Russell, Damien Mudge.
The 2015 Men’s World Doubles Final. L-R: Clive Leach, Ben Gould, John Russell, Damien Mudge.

by Rob Dinerman

Dateline May 15th — When Clive Leach and John Russell defeated Damien Mudge and Ben Gould in five riveting games in early May in the final round of the 2015 World Doubles to clinch their third tournament win in six months, they thereby punctuated a terrific first season as partners, while simultaneously puncturing a Mudge/Gould winning streak that had grown to 27 matches (and seven tournaments) and pointing up the substantially changing nature of the competitive landscape atop the SDA men’s pro doubles tour. Their comeback victory from a two games to one deficit was an eyebrow-raising capstone to the 2014-15 campaign that complemented their prior wins at the Big Apple Open and the Tompkins Invitational, marking a return to the top-echelon level for Russell after several years of relative inactivity, and also constituting a unique longevity-proving achievement for Leach, who, amazingly, has now won more tournaments (seven) in the two and a half years since he turned 40 in mid-November 2012 than the total he amassed (six) in more than a decade on the pro-doubles tour prior to reaching this normally squash-success-dooming chronological milestone!

As well, this outcome put a definite damper on what was, statistically, a fifth straight dominant season for Mudge and Gould, whose numbers during their half-decade of partnership are truly compelling. They have recorded 49 tournament wins in 56 attempts over that span, including going nine for 12 — with wins in the Denver Club Invitational, the Maryland Club Open, the Jim Bentley Cup in Toronto, the Putnam Pro-Am Doubles in Boston, the North American Open in Greenwich, the David C. Johnson Jr. Memorial in Brooklyn, the Baltimore Cup, the Tavern Club Invitational in Cleveland and the Kellner Cup in New York — this past season, with a 36-3 match record. No other team has won more than four tournaments during that period, and at one juncture Mudge and Gould, who went wire-to-wire undefeated during their first season as teammates in 2010-11, won 46 straight matches and 14 consecutive tournaments.

The 2015 Kellner Cup final. L-R: Yvain Badan, Ben Gould, Damien Mudge, Manek Mathur.
The 2015 Kellner Cup final. L-R: Yvain Badan, Ben Gould, Damien Mudge, Manek Mathur.

But however admirable, indeed overwhelming, their tally over the years has been, it must be said as well that their few stumbles have been extremely costly and ill-timed, on both the practical and esthetic levels, coming as they have on some of the game’s biggest stages and for the most part in eerily similar and chastening fashion. They were unable to convert multiple-match-balls prior to the fifth game in both the 2011 and 2013 editions of the biennial Briggs Cup, whose $100,000 purse is by far the biggest on the tour, as well as in the final of the 2013 Boston event, and in all three cases they then lost the fifth game handily. This past year they were 0-2 in five-game matches, both losses coming against Russell/Leach, one of which occurred in New York in a Big Apple Open semi, the other happening, as noted, in the biennial World Doubles at the Onwentsia Club in suburban Chicago.

In both matches Mudge and Gould led two games to one after taking the third game 15-14, and in both cases after dropping the fourth game they fell too far behind in the fifth to catch up. Ironically the very degree to which Mudge and Gould obliterate their opponents most of the time seems to sometimes operate AGAINST them by leaving them less prepared to handle the exigencies of a pressure-packed moment on the rare occasions when they find themselves locked in a tight match against an elite team that has the courage and wherewithal to not back down when faced with their pace and athleticism. At crunch-time in the fifth game in Chicago, Mudge and Gould committed some damaging unforced errors and were unable to exploit the vulnerable state of a severely cramping Leach, who could barely stand up on his immobilized left leg but was still able to conjure up some reverse-corner winners at the end, including one at 14-11 that flat-footed Gould and brought an end to the 150-minute marathon.

The 2014 PDC Cup final. L-R: Yvain Badan, Ben Gould, Manek Mathur, Damien Mudge.
The 2014 PDC Cup final. L-R: Yvain Badan, Ben Gould, Manek Mathur, Damien Mudge.

Their one remaining setback this past season came in the final round of the PDC Cup in Atlanta at the hands of the tour’s No. 2 ranked pairing of Manek Mathur and his mid-2000’s Trinity College teammate Yvain Badan, whose fifth season as partners was also by far their most consistent, as signified by their 10 final-round advances (nine runner-up finishes, eight of them to Mudge/Gould, plus the Atlanta breakthrough) in 11 appearances, their sole pre-finals loss coming in a mid-January St. Louis semi against first-time partners Hamed Anvari and Viktor Berg, who then beat another first-year set of partners, namely Michael Ferreira and his former early-2000’s Trinity College teammate Jonny Smith, in the final. Anvari and Berg then went on to reach the semis of the North American Open and to capture the Challenger tournament in Germantown.

Though Ferreira and Smith went winless against the Big Three of Mudge/Gould, Mathur/Badan and Russell/Leach, they were frequent semifinalists throughout the season and also won the Challenger tournament in Virginia in decisive fashion. There were more sanctioned ranking tournament-winning teams (4); more finalists (six, including the Big Three, the two teams that contested the St. Louis final and Tompkins Invitational runners-up Bernardo Samper and Baset Chaudhry, yet another pair of Trinity College alums); and more semifinalists pairings (17) than at any time in the decade and a half that a formal pro doubles tour has existed, dating back to the formation of the International Squash Doubles Association in 2000, in what is clearly a marker of both how full the schedule and how deep and competitive the playing field have become.

The 2015 North American Open. L-R: Greg Park, Yvain Badan, Manek Mathur, Imran Khan.
The 2015 North American Open. L-R: Greg Park, Yvain Badan, Manek Mathur, Imran Khan.

Greg Park reached the semifinal stage a total of six times with four different partners, including with Imran Khan (three times) and at the World Doubles, where Park and Preston Quick, U. S. National Doubles champions in 2012 and 2013, defeated Ferreira and Smith in the quarters. Raj Nanda was a semifinalist with Park in St. Louis, with Fred Reid Jr. in Baltimore and with Leach in Cleveland. And Berg, a former ISDA No. 1 with Mudge from 2008-10 before a several-years hiatus from the pro circuit, returned in emphatic fashion this season, complementing his exploits as Anvari’s partner by attaining the semis with Jacques Swanepoel in Denver and with Reid at the World Doubles, where he also teamed up with Steph Hewitt to earn the Mixed Doubles crown by defeating Americans Quick and Natalie Grainger in the semis and Chris Callis and Amanda Sobhy in the final.

As mentioned, the 2014-15 season witnessed the successful emergence of several first-year partnerships consisting of longtime tour veterans who had never joined up on any extended basis prior to this past autumn (Russell/Leach, Ferreira/Smith and Berg/Anvari chief among them), but there were also some TRULY new teams composed of SDA rookies who made an immediate and significant impact. Of these by far the most noteworthy was the Toronto-based duo of Robin Clarke and Scott Arnold, friends from their mid-2000’s forays on the PSA singles tour, both 29 and teaching pros at prominent Toronto clubs (Clarke at Badminton & Racquet, Arnold at Cricket Skating & Curling) who, after entering the 2014 Canadian National Doubles, unseeded, unheralded and essentially on a lark, earned their way into the winner’s circle.

The 2014 St. Louis Open final. L-R: Hamed Anvari, Jonny Smith, Viktor Berg, Mike Ferreira.
The 2014 St. Louis Open final. L-R: Hamed Anvari, Jonny Smith, Viktor Berg, Mike Ferreira.

Deciding to give the SDA tour a try in the wake of that unexpected but decisive accomplishment, they then debuted with a third-place finish at the Jim Bentley Cup highlighted by wins over Willie Hosey and Mike Pirnak, Will Mariani and Jeff Lurie, Quick/Park and Gary Waite/Thomas Brinkman, following which they qualified into the main draw in Boston, won the Pittsburgh Golf Club Challenger with a final-round 3-0 tally over Carl Baglio and Andres Vargas, successfully defended their Canadian National Doubles title with a close four-game win over Mariani and Brinkman, out-played Khan and Park en route to the semis in Cleveland and did the same to Reid and Khan in the round-of-16 at the Kellner Cup.

This flurry of compressed and consistently successful activity on the part of this pair of rangy athletes, whose victories for the most part were forged by excellent court coverage, impressive pace and an extraordinary degree of freedom from the tin, was enough to land them just inside the SDA top ten by season’s end, marking them as a team on the clear ascent and likely auguring even better things for them in 2015-16 as their front-court capability increases and they learn their way around the league. The SDA tour currently features an intriguing mix of emerging challengers, rejuvenated and in several cases re-aligned contenders, natural alliances and established reigning title-holders, whose standing atop the sport by all odds figures to be put to greater duress than ever next season if recent trends continue. The tour has consistently grown in prize money, sites and membership from one year to the next, and next season might well be the best ever for professional doubles in North America.