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Mathur & Mudge Overcome Big Apple Open Hurdles to Win Season Opener

The 2017 Big Apple Open final, l-r: Chris Callis, Damien Mudge, Manek Mathur, Bernardo Samper.

World No. 1’s Manek Mathur & Damien Mudge entered the 2017 Big Apple Open—the first SDA full ranking event of the 2017-2018 season—with a thirty-match winning streak spanning nine tournaments that started with the 2016 Big Apple Open at the New York Athletic Club.

Of those thirty consecutive victories, not a single one extended to five games. This much changed in Mathur & Mudge’s first match of the new season against Australians Raj Nanda & Zac Alexander, who recently returned stateside after a spell in his home country.

The sides split the first two games with Nanda & Alexander taking the first 15-13 and Mathur & Mudge the second, 15-11. In the midst of Mathur and Nanda jockeying on the left wall, Mathur was hit by a few balls and at one point took a racket to his hand, giving the top seeds an injury scare as they conceded the third 15-11. A nervy fourth game saw Mathur recover and force a fifth game by edging the fourth 15-13. Aided by Nanda cramping up in the fifth, Mathur & Mudge regained control to progress to the semifinals 15-7, after a bumpy start to the season.

Mathur & Mudge’s semifinal opponents were one of the stories of the tournament. Bates graduate and Racquet & Tennis Club pro Eric Bedell teamed up with fellow R&T member and doubles stalwart Whitten Morris in Bedell’s Big Apple Open debut. Bedell & Morris, world No. 56 and 46 respectively, reached the main draw after two qualifying wins where they went on to claim two major upsets. In the first round, the qualifiers took out world No. 28 Shaun Johnstone & world No. 27 Adam Bews in three games, before a three-game upset over World Doubles champion Clive Leach & Will Mariani in the quarterfinals.

Mathur & Mudge ended Bedell & Morris’ surprise run in the semis, closing out the third game 15-14 on simultaneous match/game ball.

The bottom half of the main draw saw a dramatic first-round comeback as Graham Bassett & John Roberts fought off seven match balls to win 15-14 in the fifth against Alex Domenick & Will Hartigan. A new partnership between Bernardo Samper & Chris Callis flourished in the same part of the draw. After a three-game win against Bassett & Roberts in the quarterfinals, the three seeds came back from a game down to defeat two seeds and world No. 3’s Mike Ferreira & Yvain Badan 11-15, 15-9, 15-10, 15-14.

In Monday night’s final between Mathur & Mudge and Samper & Callis, it was the underdogs who drew first blood to take the first 15-10. Mathur & Mudge bounced back to take command the second and third games 15-9, 15-5, but found themselves down 10-4 in the fourth game. From 10-4 down, Mathur & Mudge fought back to claim the fourth 15-13, earning their second straight Big Apple Open title and tenth overall SDA title together.

“It’s our first tournament back after both having different preseasons,” Mathur said. “I think a lot of the guys were more prepared than we were, but we luckily were able to pull through each match. We had to dig pretty deep, trust in our instincts and really make sure our defense was good when it needed to be. Luckily for us it was. I told Damien at the end of the final that it was a rough weekend and that we need to go back to the drawing board and make sure we’re good. A lot of the guys have done a lot of work and as the tour grows a lot of people are really going for it, making strides in their games and you could see that this weekend.”

“We struggled a little bit to get our game plan going in both our quarterfinal and final matches,” Mudge said. “Our execution was just a little bit off and both of our opponents really played well. But we fortunately managed to find a way to get through to the other side.”

Mathur praised some of the new partnerships on display this weekend.

“Bernardo and Chris are both great guys and awesome talents,” Mathur said. “I think when Bernie started playing doubles we all knew he would become one of the better guys, same with Chris, he’s such a talent on the singles court and both of their talents translate well to doubles. You can see that now, they beat a really good team yesterday in Mikey and Swiss, two guys who have been at it for a while. It’s just good for the tour to see new faces and partnerships pushing the standard top teams. You have Eric and Whitten reach the semis too, that’s really rare to see qualifiers go so far, it’s amazing to see that the gap is getting closer and closer.”

The Big Apple Open is typically the second full ranking event on the calendar, but this year was the first with the Maryland Club Open—thrice voted tournament of the year—taking a brief hiatus as the club undergoes construction on a third doubles court.

The late start turned out to be advantageous for Mudge, who marked his eighth career Big Apple Open title, just three months after undergoing knee surgery.

The tour resumes November 3 with an inaugural Platinum tournament—the Westchester Country Club Pro Doubles Squash Tournament in Rye, New York. Mathur & Mudge enter the draw as the title favorites.

Watch Big Apple Open match replays below.

Mathur & Mudge Win Maiden Title in the Big Apple

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l-r: Mike Ferreira, Yvain Badan, Damien Mudge, Manek Mathur, Tournament Chairman Tim Vecchione, Will Hartigan.

Gallery

The season’s first SDA gold level event saw world No. 2 Damien Mudge and world No. 3 Manek Mathur win their maiden title together in the thirteenth Big Apple Open Monday night at New York Athletic Club.

After making their partnership debut as top seeds in the Maryland Club Open where they reached the final, Mathur & Mudge went one better in their second tournament winning the Big Apple Open title without dropping a game.

Of the eight Big Apple quarterfinalists, only two teams didn’t include a Trinity College graduate. After suffering an unfortunate injury in the Long Island Open first round, Andres Vargas & Randy Lim recovered in New York City to reach their first quarterfinal of the season in the top half of the draw with a win against Hamed Anvari & Will Mariani. First-round victories from Baset Chaudhry & Bernardo Samper and Jacques Swanepoel & Shaun Johnstone completed the bottom quarterfinals with two seeds Ferreira & Badan and three seeds John Russell & Clive Leach.

The upset of the tournament came in the form of Chaudhry—fresh off of his Long Island Open title—& Samper as they defeated 2014 Big Apple Open and world doubles champions Russell & Leach in four games to reach the semis against Ferreira & Badan. In the semis, Ferreira & Badan held off a tough challenge from Chaudhry & Samper 15-10, 15-14, 7-15, 15-11, while Mathur & Mudge cruised to the final in three games against four seeds and another new partnership—Jonny Smith & Chris Callis.

In the final, Mathur & Mudge avenged their Maryland Club Open final loss against Ferreira & Badan 15-11, 15-11, 15-7 to clinch Mudge’s seventh Big Apple Open and Mathur’s first.

“It’s an honor to have my name next to all of those already on the trophy,” Mathur said. “There’s a lot of history behind the event and I’m glad I can be a part of it. Throughout the weekend we were pretty adamant on ensuring that we timed the ball well, and hit our zones and targets well which created more space for us and allowed us to control our positions of most of the matches—that’s the biggest strength for us. Damien’s such a big guy, he makes the court look so small when he’s out there and that’s something I’m trying to learn from him and improve. Positioning is so important in this game and if you can stay in front of the other guy, push the ball around and make them move around you, you’re in the where you need to be.”

The partnership has seen Damien Mudge move back to the right wall after playing on the left for ten years with long-time partners Viktor Berg and Ben Gould, whom Mudge overtook in November’s rankings as the new world No. 1.

“On the left he was as much of a backboard as he is now,” Mathur said. “He doesn’t make any errors. With him on the right, he can generate so much more pace and he’s much more aggressive with his attacking and angles. He can really put a good amount of pressure on compared to the backhand side. On the forehand, he’s a big force to reckon with so it’s great to have it on my side after playing against him on the left for years.”

Mudge admitted that he overcame a recent wrist injury that hampered his preparation and time on court, but was able to spend more time preparing for the Big Apple Open.

“Like most things it’s a process,” Mudge said. “With us in particular we have had a lot more challengers than normal. We’re developing our team chemistry as a new partnership and time works on our side and makes us more comfortable knowing how to play with each other and the best ways to work with each other.”

Mudge is now just three Big Apple Open titles away from equaling Ben Gould‘s record of ten.

“Of course it feels great to reverse our loss against Mike and Swiss,” Mudge continued. “That was a difficult loss playing together for our first tournament. We obviously have high expectations for ourselves and to fall short was tough. It’s always great to win in our home town with lots of familiar faces from our respective clubs. It’s a pleasure playing with Manek and hopefully we have many more years together.”

“It’s amazing to play there because it’s so close to home, there are so many friends and family and it’s always nice to play for them,” Mathur added. ” The membership there is very knowledgeable and understands the game well. The quality of the Pro-Am is really high. Off court, Pat, Clinton, Tim and Will all do such a great job running the event and taking care of us all week.”

Mathur, who was recently voted 2015 Player of the Season and Team of the Year with Badan, is excited with the new partnerships this season has brought and direction of the tour.

“I think it’s great for the game.” Mathur said. “It’s great to see new teams and new partnerships, new faces too. As you get new people involved it’s something that’s inevitable. It’s always fun to see a player like Chris Callis regularly in the semis now. He worked on his game a lot over the summer and it’s showing, and now he and Jonny Smith are a top team and doing well. Obviously Mike and Swiss, Bernardo and Baset have all emerged as top teams this season. It’s great to see new rivalries and camaraderie working out. It just goes to show that the game is growing and that there is a lot of depth coming in along with the veterans who have been playing for years. I think the SDA Tour should be very happy with the direction it’s going.”

Gould Wins Tenth Big Apple Open; Fifth With Mudge

L-R: Tim Vecchione, Ben Gould, Damien Mudge, Pat Canavan,
L-R: Tim Vecchione, Ben Gould, Damien Mudge, Pat Canavan, Manek Mathur, Chris Callis.

Big Apple Open Draw SDA Live

SDA veteran Ben Gould won an unprecedented tenth Big Apple Open title—and fifth with partner Damien Mudge—over a span of eleven years, defeating first-time partners Manek Mathur & Chris Callis in the final Monday night at New York Athletic Club.

After John Russell & Clive Leach broke Mudge & Gould’s four-year title streak in 2014, the venerable Australian world No. 1’s returned this year to reclaim one of the most iconic trophies on the SDA tour, defeating a 2015 SDA Award-winner in each stage of the tournament.

Canadian national champions and SDA rookies of the year, Robin Clark & Scott Arnold, met the top seeds first in the quarterfinals, after advancing against Philadelphian qualifiers Alex Stait & Ed Garno. Clark & Arnold challenged the champions early on, winning the first game on simultaneous game ball 15-14. Mudge & Gould responded to win the match emphatically in four 15-11, 15-11, 15-3.

Sportsmanship Award winner Jonny Smith & Greg Park were next in the semifinals. Smith & Park took out the tournament’s four seeds and one defending champion, Leach & Raj Nanda, in a four-game quarterfinal. Mudge & Gould found themselves one game down again against Smith & Park, but once again dug themselves out of an early hole to reach the final 7-15, 15-7, 15-13, 15-8.

A familiar final foe in the form of Mathur awaited Mudge & Gould, but this time with first-time partner Callis, the 2015 most improved player of the year. Mathur & Callis topped a bottom half of the draw that saw three seeds Bernardo Samper & Yvain Badan exit the tournament in their first match against Viktor Berg & Hamed Anvari, whom Mathur & Callis defeated in a four-game semifinal.

The two seeds acquitted themselves well in the final. Although the top seeds had a clear edge to win the first 15-9, Mathur & Callis stayed within reach of the world No. 1’s throughout the second and third games, pushing them to decisive simultaneous game balls in each game. Mathur & Callis held game ball in the third, but Mudge & Gould rattled off two points to claim the title.

The final is available for replay on the SDA Live YouTube page.

The SDA tour resumes this weekend with the $40,000 PDC Cup in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mudge & Gould Lead SDA Big Apple Open Draw

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The 2014 Big Apple Open semifinals saw Clive Leach & John Russell (black) upset world No. 1’s and 2015 top seeds Damien Mudge & Ben Gould (green).

Big Apple Open Draw SDA Live

The twelfth SDA Big Apple Open returns to the New York Athletic Club this weekend with Australian world No. 1’s Damien Mudge & Ben Gould leading the draw as top seeds.

Two rounds of qualifying Thursday and Friday will complete the main draw, which begins at 5pm ET Friday afternoon. All main draw matches are streaming and scoring live on SDA Live powered by www.clublocker.com.

Mudge & Gould are seeded to meet world No. 6 Clive Leach in the semifinals who enters the 2015 tournament with recently-crowned mixed doubles national champion, Raj Nanda. Leach upset the Australians in the 2014 semifinals with partner John Russell, and went on to claim the title.

2014 finalists Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan return to New York City, but with new partners as the two and three seeds respectively in the bottom half of the draw.

Mathur, world No. 3, teamed up with Chris Callis, who won the SDA Most Improved Player of the Year Award last season, as the two seeds. Badan, world No. 4, is joined by fellow Trinity alum Bernardo Samper.

Follow main draw live streaming and live scoring on SDA Live powered by www.clublocker.com throughout the weekend.

 

Former NYAC Pros Russell & Leach Return To Win Big Apple Open

The 2014 Big Apple Open final between John Russell (R) & Clive Leach (L) (black) and Manek Mathur (R) & Yvain Badan (L). (image: SDA)
The 2014 Big Apple Open final between John Russell (R) & Clive Leach (L) (black) and Manek Mathur (R) & Yvain Badan (L) (white). (image: SDA)

Former New York Athletic Club professionals John Russell and Clive Leach rekindled their NYAC flame, stunning joint world No. 1’s Damien Mudge & Ben Gould in the semifinals before winning their partnership’s first Squash Doubles Association (SDA) title Monday night—the 2014 Big Apple Open—on what used to be their home court. Russell & Leach’s triumph appropriately headlined a tournament rife with upsets from start to finish.

After taking the last two seasons off, fifty-year-old world No. 65 Eric Christiansen teamed with unranked William Hartigan to reach the main draw after pulling off two qualifying upsets. The unseeded duo first surprised world No. 63 Alex Domenick & world No. 42 Dylan Patterson in three games, then recovering from two games down to defeat world No. 60 Peter Kelly & world No. 19 Jacques Swanepoel.

In the first round of main draw play Friday, world No. 31 Josh Schwartz & world No. 27 Hamed Anvari came back from 2-1 down, to defeat world No. 16 Chris Walker & world No. 8 Greg park in five games. Directly following Schwartz & Anvari’s upset, world No. 25 Graham Bassett & world No. 36 Chris Callis similarly recovered from 2-1 down against world No. 29 Bernardo Samper & world No. 17 Raj Nanda, to win the fourth and fifth games on simultaneous game ball 15-14.

Fourth-seeded Russell & Leach started their campaign on Saturday, dismissing Bassett & Callis in three games, booking a semifinal date with Mudge & Gould who also advanced in three games against Schwartz & Anvari.

World No. 15 Russell & world No. 3 Leach had teamed up just twice before the 2014-2015 SDA season, in the 2009 and 2011 World Doubles where they reached the finals on both occasions.

Leach, who was a NYAC teaching professional for seven years, and Russell, who was a NYAC professional for five years, made their SDA debut as partners in the most recent full-ranking event—the Maryland Club Open. In Baltimore, Russell & Leached faced two pairs of Trinity alums: first defeating Shaun Johnstone & Jacques Swanepoel in a five-game quarterfinal, then losing in four against Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan in the semifinals.

Up until Sunday, Mudge & Gould had been unbeaten since the final of last December’s Briggs Cup, in which Leach and former partner Paul Price defeated the Australian favorites in five.

One of the longest matches in pro doubles history ensued with a total duration of three hours. The sides split the first two games with well-contested rallies throughout the match. At 14-14 in the third, Mudge & Gould earned a 2-1 advantage with a blinding roll corner.

Russell & Leach continued to frustrate Mudge & Gould with impressive shot-making of their own, as well as forcing uncharacteristic unforced errors from the Aussies to force a fifth game. With all participants visibly exhausted in the fifth, Russell & Leach maintained a steady lead throughout the game, which they managed to hold onto closing the match 10-15, 15-13, 14-15, 15-12, 15-13.

Russell & Leach’s next challenge was recovering for the final on Monday night.

“The semifinal was long and hard, every rally was well-contested,” Russell said after the final. “I did a lot of stretching and icing Sunday night. More stretching this morning, and I actually did a few lessons today, which I think helped with loosening up.”

“Mudge & Gould set the standard on tour and have set the standard for a long time now,” said Leach after denying the Australians a fifth consecutive Big Apple Open title.

“You’ve got to have a certain mindset and intensity to beat those guys,” Leach continued. “I always say, if you’re ever going to beat them, you need to be on court for at least two hours, and that’s the mindset. It’s just having the mindset on court of going the maximum distance and time. You can absorb all of the pressure, and it’s literally time that beats them. The quality all of the way through the match was there. All of our bodies at the end were spent. I was cramping, Mudge was absolutely exhausted, and I think that just shows you the quality of squash doubles at the top level, which I think is great for the game.”

In the bottom half of the draw, second-seeded world No. 5 Manek Mathur & world No. 4 Yvain Badan held off the emerging partnership and fellow Trinity alums, world No. 10 Mike Ferreira & world No. 9 Jonny Smith, in a four-game semifinal setting up a rematch of their Maryland Club Open semifinal against Russell & Leach.

To the home crowd’s delight, Russell & Leach mustered the strength to defeat the younger team, despite dropping the third game to what seemed to be a reinvigorated Mathur & Badan. Russell & Leach closed out the fourth with a flurry of winners and unforced errors by their opponents 15-13, 15-12, 12-15, 15-13.

L-R: Clive Leach, New York Athletic Club's Pat Canavan, John Russell.
L-R: Clive Leach, New York Athletic Club’s Pat Canavan, John Russell.

“I felt pretty good on court today. It might not have been the same result had we have gone five, so very happy with how it turned out,” Russell admitted.

“Believe it or not, I woke up feeling quietly confident,” Leach said. “I was a bit tight in the morning, but when I got into the game, I was actually feeling really high in confidence and felt pretty springy. There’s always that question mark going into a game after a hard match the night before, how are you going to be? Flat-footed or ready, and I was actually very happy with my movement.”

The home support was certainly partial to their former professionals throughout the tournament.

“A lot of friendly faces out there,” Russell said. “A lot of people I know and I like. I worked here for five years, Clive was here a bit longer and we played a lot of doubles together on this court together with members so we know the court well and I think it showed this weekend.”

“I have really fond memories here,” Leach reflected. “I was here for seven years, know all of the guys here, and I felt the support out there today. I really did. That’s a huge confidence booster, and I love that from a personal standpoint.

Russell, who also coaches at Episcopal Academy, and Leach will be selective with their tournaments throughout the rest of the season as they balance other coaching roles, but are unsurprisingly pleased with their performances together.

“We’ve played with each other before, we know each other’s games,” Russell said of his fellow Englishman. “We seem to be complementing each other well at the moment, so far so good.”

“Me and John go back a long time even though I’m seven years older than him,” Leach said. “He’s an amazing talent, he’s got beautiful hand speed. He’s got variation, and changes it up throughout the game. He’s such a creative player. Russell sticks in with you and gives you this positive vibe. If you see his body language, he comes across and encourages you. He’s a great teammate and a joy to play with.”

Russell and Leach will not be competing in the tour’s next competition, the PDC Cup in Atlanta, Georgia this weekend.

View more images from the weekend on the US SQUASH SmugMug page.