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Mariani & Todd Notch Maiden SDA Titles in Toronto

(l-r): Jamie Bentley, Justin Todd, Will Mariani, Tyler Hamilton

Will Mariani & Justin Todd became the first Canadian team to win the Jim Bentley Cup since 1996 Monday night, as both players celebrate their first career SDA titles at the Cambridge Club in Toronto, Canada.

Mariani & Todd’s campaign in the eight-team SDA Bronze draw opened with a three game win over the only all-American team in the draw, Imran Khan & Hamed Anvari, to set up a semifinal match up against fellow Canadians Amar Gupta & Ryan Herden. Mariani & Todd upset the seeding 15-8, 15-13, 15-7 to reach Mariani’s fifth career SDA final and Todd’s second.

The top half of the draw completed an all Canadian semifinal lineup. Tyler Hamilton & Robert Nigro upset top seeds Graham Bassett & Freddie Reid in the first round, while four seeds Robin Clarke & Thomas Brinkman held off a close three game challenge from Joshua Hollings and Cole Osborne. The tournament’s only five-gamer ensued with Clarke & Brinkman just edging Hamilton & Nigro 12-15, 15-12, 9-15, 15-13, 15-5.

In the final, Mariani & Todd were aided by a physically struggling Clarke & Brinkman. Clarke had endured a groin injury picked up in the first round, while Brinkman sustained a rolled ankle in the third game of the final. Mariani & Todd pressed on through the final to clinch the title 15-10, 15-9, 15-10.

As is tradition for the champions, Mariani & Todd donned Cambridge Club robes, representing their new lifetime memberships to the club as they lifted the Jim Bentley Cup.

“It feels great to win the Jim Bentley Cup,” Mariani said. “I’m not sure the first time I met Jim, but as we both aged I continually saw and conversed with him, mostly at the Cricket Club bar. To know our names will be etched on the trophy and painted on the board of the Cambridge is one cool feeling. And to know we are the first Canadian team since Waite & Bentley in 1996 is special.”

Mariani, a Pickering, Ontario, native, praised the Toronto hardball doubles community that was reflected in the all Canadian semifinals.

“To have four Canadian teams in the semis of an SDA event is a great feat and hopefully it encourages more of us to play in SDA events,” Mariani said. “Currently six of the eight of us play out of clubs in Toronto and it is a special city to play hardball doubles in–it is the Mecca of the sport. Thanks must go out to the “old guard”, who whipped us countless times over the past twenty years, but have always been encouraging and supportive of our efforts.”

The Jim Bentley Cup is one of the longest-running events on the SDA tour, dating back to 1973. Jim Bentley, the tournament’s namesake, served as a long-time head professional at the Cambridge Club.

“The club puts on a great event, especially the Friday night black tie dinner which kick starts the weekend,” Mariani said. “I’m sure some members did not make it home til after the finals on Monday night. There is no better club on tour to be locked up in for four nights.”

Mathur & Mudge Survive Bentley Semifinal Scare to Claim Third Title of the Season

(l-r): Thomas Brinkman, Aaron Luque, Fred Reid, Viktor Berg.

World No. 1’s Manek Mathur & Damien Mudge narrowly avoided their first defeat of the season, fighting off two-match balls in the fifth-game of the 2017 Jim Bentley Cup semifinals to go on and claim their third title of the season Monday night at the Cambridge Club in Toronto, Canada.

Playing in their second Bentley together, the top seeds breezed past their quarterfinal opponents,  Strachan Jarvis & Mark Porter, who made it through three five-game qualifiers to reach the main draw.

One week after winning the PDC Cup with John Russell, Scott Arnold reunited with his former partner Robin Clarke as the four seeds. A three-game quarterfinal win against Tyler Hamilton & Robert Nigro saw Clarke & Arnold set up a semifinal clash with Mathur & Mudge.

Mathur & Mudge started on the front foot, claiming the first two games 15-8, 15-11 and held one match ball at 14-all in the third, but failed to capitalize, giving Clarke & Arnold new life. The Canadian national doubles champions pressed on to take the fourth 15-12, and were poised to hand the world No. 1’s their first defeat in thirty-eight matches with two match balls, but the defending champions rattled off three straight points to advance to the finals.

Damien Mudge (l) and Manek Mathur lift the Jim Bentley Cup

Mathur & Mudge’s Canadian final opponents, Viktor Berg & Thomas Brinkman, nearly exited the tournament in the first round. The three seeds fought off three match balls against Fred Reid & Aaron Luque to reach the semis, where they met two seeds Jonny Smith & Raj Nanda. Berg & Brinkman then pulled off the upset in four to reach the final.

In one of the quickest matches of the tournament, Mathur & Mudge stormed to the title 15-9, 15-5, 15-4 in just thirty-nine minutes.

“It was a difficult tournament to judge our performance,” Mathur admitted. “We played some of the best squash of our season and at the same time, had some lapses in concentration in the semis, which almost was detrimental for our event. Not to take anything away from Clarke & Arnold, they played extremely well, stayed strong and executed their game plan perfectly. They had us playing off our heels and we lost position.”

Mathur marks his second career Jim Bentley title, while Mudge marks his seventh since 1999.

“The Bentley is one of my favorite events on tour,” Mathur said. “Clive, Jamie and Tyler take great care of all the players as soon as they take the elevator up to the 11th floor. You are a member there for as long as you stay and it could not be more of a special event.”

The Jim Bentley Cup was first held in 1973.

“As soon as you walk into the Cambridge Club you feel the history behind the club and are reminded of it as you walk through the hallways,” Mathur added. “We can’t thank the tournament committee up there enough for all their support of the tour and the players.”

The tour resumes with the highest prize money event of the season, The $60,000 Briggs Cup at the Apawamis Club, December 8-11.

Watch Jim Bentley Cup replays below. View images here.

Mathur & Mudge Close Out the Fall With Third Title in Toronto

bentley-trophy
l-r: Jamie Bentley, Manek Mathur, Damien Mudge, John Bentley, Dean Brown, Yvain Badan, Michael Ferreira

World No. 1 Damien Mudge and world No. 2 Manek Mathur ended the first half of the SDA season with a third title in four events this fall, holding off recent PDC Cup champions Mike Ferreira & Yvain Badan in the Jim Bentley Cup final at the Cambridge Club in Toronto, Canada.

The 2016 edition of the Bentley offered increased prize money of $30,000, which made this year’s Jim Bentley Cup the only sanctioned gold level event on tour with an eight-team draw.

The main draw saw one major first-round upset in the form of American-Canadian partnership Graham Bassett & Fred Reid, who knocked out all-Canadian three seeds Robin Clarke & Viktor Berg 12-15, 15-12, 15-11, 15-8 to reach the partnership’s first semifinal. One week after winning the Platinum PDC Cup in Atlanta, two seeds Mike Ferreira & Yvain Badan survived a first-round scare against Jonny Smith & Raj Nanda, coming back from 2-1 down in games to squeak out the match at 14-all in the fifth game. Bassett & Reid pushed the two seeds in a close semifinal, but Ferreira & Badan held on to reach their fourth final of the season 15-14, 9-15, 15-11, 15-12.

The eventual champions reached the final dropping just one game in the semifinals against Aussies Matt Jenson & Scott Arnold, and continued their momentum into the final, taking the title in a clean sweep of the two seeds 15-13, 15-6, 15-7.

“The final was the best I’ve seen Damien play, it was really impressive,” Mathur said of his partner. “It was like watching eighteen-year-old Damien Mudge absolutely demolishing the ball. He was controlling the court and the angles really well. He seemed to suck the play towards him and then he absolutely controlled the match. It was great to watch and amazing to experience with him on my side for sure. He was hitting such good angles so much that they had to defend even more and couldn’t react and execute their game plan.”

Both sides of the new partnership are pleased with their start to the season with the month of December off and the tour resuming with full ranking events in January with the MFS Pro-Am in Boston.

It’s a great start for us, it’s an honor to have my name on all of these trophies, especially this weekend at the Camridge Club, the event has so much history,” Mathur said. “When you first walk into the club, the Cup is the first thing you see and then you walk further inside and you see the board with so many great names of the game on it. It’s a great feeling and one of those events I wanted to win since I first started playing. You couldn’t ask for a better start of the season and hopefully we can continue this momentum into the second half of the year and finish the season strong.”

While Mathur celebrates his maiden Jim Bentley Cup title, the 2016 title marks Mudge’s sixth since 1999 with this fourth partner, and third consecutive since winning in 2014 and 2015 with Ben Gould.

“It’s a very good way to finish 2016 off on a note like winning the Cambridge Club event,” Mudge said. “It’s a very special event with a lot of history associated with it and great guys behind it such as Clive Caldwell, Dean Brown and Jamie Bentley.”

“We got off to a shaky start in Baltimore, but we have been putting some good time on court since then and feeling confident about what we should be doing out there,” Mudge continued. “We are building better and better chemistry every time we step out on court and go to an event. That’s an absolute must in any successful team.”

“The event is a testament to the way Clive, Dean and Jamie run the event,” Mathur added. “All of them have been in our shoes at some point in their lives, and so they understand the trials and tribulations of being a squash professional. So as soon as you get up there, you’re treated with such professionalism and like you’re a part of their family and club member. They make you feel so welcome. The event has been around for so long and so it has so much history and prestige. By winning it, you become a part of that rich history which is really unique.”

The Jim Bentley Cup—namesake of the Cambridge Club founder—has a long tradition of elite squash doubles with a history that has included a variety of unique events. For many years, the Bentley was held as an invitational, where the club determined the pairings, matching top PSA softball singles professionals from around the world with the best in hardball doubles.

The Bentley’s winners list is an illustrious one with rich history, including names such as Mo Khan, Gul Khan, Aziz Khan, Peter Briggs, Gary Waite, Mark Talbott, Stuart Boswell, Martin Heath, Paul Price and the son of the tournament’s namesake, Jamie Bentley.

Jenson & Arnold Survive Qualifyer’s Challenge; Bassett & Reid Provide Upset

CAMBRIDGE DOUBLES, THE JIM BENTLEY CUP

Saturday report from Martin Bronstein

It must have been a terrific Black Tie Extravaganza on Friday night because when Matt Jenson and Scott Arnold took to the court to face the challenge of Randy Lim and Bassett Chaudhry, there were three spectators – and that included your correspondent. And 11 in the morning is a little early.

The higher ranked pair started as though they had been part of the celebrations- rusty is a word that comes to mind. Jenson was a little ambitious so early in the morning and made more errors than his ranking of 8 would suggest, while the Lim & Chaudhry machine continued their near-error free play. They deserved the 13 minute first game, winning 15-10.

In the second game Jenson tightened his game and kept the error rate down and despite trailing 6-10 he and Arnold kept their heads and pulled back to even the score at 12 and then 13 before losing 14-15.

A two game lead for the underdogs was not on the cards and the betting people were getting jittery.  However, Jenson & Arnold asserted themselves in the third game and were leading 7-3 due to some fine winners and some good low drives.  What happened next could have been a turning point: Jenson’s racquet hit Lim in the face on a follow-through and there was an immediate swelling on Lim’s eye. The blow had been hard enough crack the lens of his protective glasses. Ice was applied and within five minutes Lim was back in play.  The blow had obviously affected him as the final game score of 15-6 indicates.

The fourth game saw a glorious array of reverse angles and nicks from the top pair which made
Chaudhry a little edgy causing him to slam some shots into the tin. Jenson & Arnold kept up the pressure and took the game 15-9 to tie the match.

Lim & Chaudhry were not downhearted and made their opponents fight all the way: level at 5, level at 8 level at 9 and level at eleven. Jenson & Arnold took the next point, and just to crank up the suspense the ball broke causing a suspension of play to warm up the new ball. (This is so boring. Keep some balls in the oven, mother!) When play resume Jenson hit a beautiful low drive for a winner, won the next and forced an error from Chaudhry on the final point to give them the victory after 75 very interesting minutes.

When asked what caused the turnaround at two games down, Jenson replied: “Hitting Randy in the face.” Then got serious saying that they kept their opponents in the back of the court to give them the openings for their many winners. Their reward is a semifinal meeting with favourites Damian Mudge and Manek Mathur who had a much easier time in overcoming Imran Khan and Gregory Park.

Mudge and Mathur are ranked one and two while their opponents  are ranked 10 and 15.  The difference was obvious as Mudge (who could be the winningest squash player ever if you counted all the doubles tournaments he has won) brought a new level of stroke play to the court with the experienced backing of Mathur, his new partner. The other team’s performance suffered from the errors that streamed off Khan’s racquet.  He’s not the first player that, when faced with a superior player, would go for winners. If it comes off, you’re a hero, otherwise you walk off the court having lost.  Which is what happened, Mudge & Mathur winning 15-9, 15-7,  15-12 in  41 minutes.

THE UNITED NATIONS COMES TO THE CAMBRIDGE CLUB

The match between Viktor Berg & Robin Clarke and Graham Bassett & Fred Reid had some contentious moments – perhaps that should be minutes.  The teams did not see eye to eye with each other and both teams failed to agree with the marker on many decisions.  Oh! So many decisions. Was the ball up? Was he obstructed?  Was it a let?  Was the serve good? How many angels can dance on a squash ball?  (I made that last bit up).
At one time all four players were speaking at once with nobody seeming to listen anybody else. We came to watch squash and what we get is United Nations debates. And then Clarke accidentally drilled  Bassett in the ribs with the ball causing him to fall like a Canadian Fir. (A terrific bruise, now on YouTube).

As expected Berg & Clarke took the first game 15-12 despite trailing 4-9.  Berg finished the game with a superb long drop from the back of the court. What was not expected was that they would lose the second game despite being level at 12-12, Bassett showing his skill by closing out the game, also with a long drop from the back. The third game took 20 minutes due to injury time out and some lengthy debates; the steadiness of Bassett & Reid once more being the deciding factor – 15-11.

The fourth game seemed like a doddle for Bassett &Reid when they led 12-4 – yes 12-4! Berg & Clarke did not give up and fought hard to get back to 7-12 before their opponents took a point to bring their run to an end.  Then came a long, long rally, with both teams realizing the importance of the next point; It went on forever before Clarke made the error to put the game at match point. Bassett & Reid took that point to put them in the semis where they will face Michael Ferreira & Yvain Badan

Jonny Smith and Raj Nanda were not expected to lose to Ferreira & Badan in the final match of the afternoon. And nor was the match expected to last 97 minutes, the longest of the tournament so far.

None of the four players showed a range of killer shots and long stretches of games were taken up with Smith on the left wall cross-courting high balls to Badan on the right wall, who would volley back to Smith who would repeated his shot. It began to look like a well-honed training routine instead of competitive squash play.

Smith& Nanda took the first game 15-7 due to Badan’s error rate, and then lost the second game 9-15 in just 11 minutes. They reasserted themselves by winning the third game in 18 minutes, 15-9, a session that included a thousand cross court volleys. (This could be an exaggeration.)

They were again expected to win the fourth game which they led 8-5  but their opponents wore them down to win  15-12 to force a decider.

The game was timed at 32 minutes, which included innumerable training routines and at least two broken balls. To be fair it had suspense: tied at 12 and then 13 and then 14-all, match ball.  The gallery was full and nobody had left their seat for the entire match. The point finally went to Ferreira and Badan who must surely need a long ice bath and massages before Sunday’s semi-final.

Tough Days of Qualifying

Cambridge Doubles/ Jim Bentley Cup

Martin Bronstein Reports

There were two upsets in the 2016 Cambridge Doubles qualifying rounds on Thursday afternoon. The first came when the young pair of Randy Lim and Baset Chaudhry knocked out the experienced team of Will Hosey and Michael Pirnak 3/1 in a 56-minute battle that was probably affected by the shotmaking of Lim and the power of Chaudhry.

The first point was fought point-for-point until the Malaysian/Pakistani pair finally opened a three point lead at 13-10. Hosey, still beaming after becoming world Over 55 champion at the world championships in South Africa last month, and Pirnak, fought back to reach 13-14 before  Lim hit the winner to take first blood 15-13.

The second game saw the pair use their experience to dictate play and run out 15-11 winners. If we thought the natural order had righted itself, we were wrong. Hosey and Pirnak imploded into a series of errors which helped hand the third game to their opponents for a remarkable 15-4 scoreline.

The fourth game promised a real battle as each pair tried to gain the upper hand and build a lead but it was again point-for-point until 8-all. But then Lim’s speed at the front of the court and his ability to hit cross-court nicks helped his team pull away to 15-10 and earn a berth in the qualifying finals, to face Carl Baglio and Travis Judson on Friday for a place in the main draw.

In the other upset Tyler Hamilton and Robert Nigro faced Robert Burns (USA) and Omar El Kashef (Egypt) in a huge 90-minute tussle that raged through five battering games before Hamilton and Nigro edged the fifth 15-12. They had the hardest road to hoe having had to beat Strachan Jarvis and Mark Porter in preliminary round before their first match proper. This they did with a 3/0 scoreline and in their next match they showed a consistency that will stand them in good stead when their other attributes fail them.

They won the first game against Burns and El Kashef 15-12, but that was no indication of superiority as their opponents responded by taking the second game 15-8. That scoreline too was deceiving because the third game was close, reaching 13-all before Burns and El Kashef  took the two final points to lead 2/1.

There were some questionable calls from the marker; most memorable when a player had both opponents blocking his shot to the front wall, normally a certain stroke which the marker, in his trained wisdom, decided was a let.

Burns was now showing distinct signs of fatigue on the left wall and his error rate mounted while Hamilton and Nigro showed no signs of let-up. Nevertheless, the fourth game was still close and Burns/El Kashef almost pulled it off when they fought back from 10-13 to 13-14, but failed to stop their opponents from taking the final point to even the match at two games all. In the fifth game Burns and El Kashef actually led 8-6 but the steadiness and low error rate of Hamilton and Nigro finally saw them through 15-12 to end the 89 minute match. They would face Graham Bassett and Freddie Reid on the final qualifying final on Friday.

 

FRIDAY. NOVEMBER 18

 

Lim and Chaudhry continued their winning ways at lunchtime on Friday against Carl Baglio and Travis Judson in a 50-minute match which they won 3/1. The first game however suggested that the match would run into next week as both sides participated in a ‘I can hit the ball harder than you’ contest. In fact one rally went on for so long, I was hoping they had scheduled an intermission so I could get to the bathroom.  Lim and Chaudhry won that game 15-10 and I hoped against hope that Lim would rediscover his racquet skills and hit a few winners. The sparse winners that did appear came from Chaudhry who hit a few wonderful straight nicks and was always dangerous because of his sheer power.

Baglio/Judson threatened to make a match of it by taking the second game 15-11 but then fell behind in the third to lose it 9-15. They put up a real fight in the fourth, level at 7-all, then 10-all, and then fighting back to 13-14 but Lim and Chaudhry would not be denied and Chaudhry closed out proceedings with a superb shot to length that neither Baglio or Judson could return.

It will be interesting to see how this pair fares in the main draw where they face the Australian pair of Matt Jenson and Scott Arnold.

In the final qualifying match Hamilton & Nigro finally found their way blocked by Graham Bassett and Freddy Reid, although in the first game it seemed as though as the latter pair would pay for their lack of playing, while  Hamilton and Nigro were fully run in and motoring on all cylinders. Bassett was prone to errors and trailing 4-11 he and his partner had little hope of a comeback. And so it was, their opponents winning 10-15 in an unremarkable game.

All four players made up for this lack of flair in the second game when winners started flowing from all the rackets. The sort of flair and shot making that had seemed absent from the other qualifying matches now sprouted all over the place. With the score at 7-7, I had counted seven outright winners. Bassett seemed particularly determined not to allow the squash to descend into a slamming contest and mixed up his shots with entertaining regularity bringing his team back into the match with a 15-11 score.

In the third game Bassett and Reid continued to attack at every opportunity to lead 8-4, but Hamilton, who was capable of pulling out winners at surprising moments, worked hard to even the game at 9-9. Valiant, but he and his opponent could not stop the onslaught and Bassett and
Reid took the 13 minute game 15-11.

I wondered if the hometown favourites could work out a strategy to confound their opponents, but there was simply no stopping Graham and Freddie who took just ten minutes to win the game  15-6 – the final shot, fittingly , on a reverse angle winner.

I spoke to Tyler Hamilton after the game and he agreed that his opponents had been just too good.

“Every time we felt that had got ahead, they would pull out a winner,” he said.

So, after 58 minutes Bassett and Reid had earned their spot in the main draw where they will meeting Robin Clarke and Viktor Berg.

Come Saturday, the games begin in earnest.