World No. 2 John Russell & world No. 5 Scott Arnold added their names to the illustrious ranks of North American Open champions with their first career title Monday, January 27, at Greenwich Country Club in Connecticut.
The NAO dates back to 1931 and unites the vibrant Greenwich squash doubles community with matches held across three venues–Field Club of Greenwich, Greenwich Country Club and Round Hill Club. The tournament added an additional $10,000 to the total prize money this year making the NAO the largest annual prize money event on the SDA Pro Tour.
The $60,000 SDA Diamond draw experienced an early shake up as two seeds Manek Mathur & Chris Callis withdrew a day before the main draw due to Callis succumbing to illness and lucky losers Lyell Fuller & Rasmus Hult entering the draw as a result.
The full draw of sixteen teams mostly progressed according to seeding in the early rounds with the biggest upset of the tournament produced by Graham Bassett & Clive Leach–a 2013 NAO champion–who shocked defending champions Robin Clarke & Zac Alexander 15-12, 15-13, 15-10 in the quarterfinals. The result sent Bassett, world No. 22, through to his first career SDA Diamond semifinal.
Yvain Badan–a 2016 NAO champion–& Bernardo Samper nearly exited the tournament in the first round, fighting off four match balls against Clinton Leeuw & Hamed Anvari to win on simultaneous match ball. Badan & Samper regrouped to reach the final without dropping a game in the quarterfinals and a 15-12, 15-9, 15-11 semifinal against Bassett & Leach.
A two-hour semifinal ensued with Russell & Arnold coming back from 2-1 down to record their first win over Stout & McArthur since the 2019 Buffalo final 14-15, 15-14, 13-15, 15-9, 15-11. Monday’s final tested Russell & Arnold’s endurance again as the match extended close to two hours again as the top seeds prevailed over Samper & Badan 14-15, 15-11, 15-12, 15-12.
“Both our semifinal and final were extremely hard fought matches, both lasting nearly two hours,” Russell said. “Hopefully Scott and I can build on this and finish the season off strong.”
The NAO marked Russell & Arnold’s first title together since ending the 2018-2019 season with two titles–the Kellner Cup and Buffalo Club in May. Russell collects his second of the season having won St. Louis with McArthur in November.
“The North American Open is one of the most prestigious events out there,” Russell said. “Its history dates back over 90 years and knowing that our names will be on the wall in gold paint with all the other legends of the game is truly an amazing feeling. Steve Scharff, Rodney Eyles and Liam Kenny ran a fantastic event, I’d like to thank all the patrons for making the event possible, the Greenwich crowd is extremely knowledgeable and appreciative which made for a fun atmosphere to play in.”
PSA and Commonwealth Games softball doubles veterans Chris Binnie and Ryan Cuskelly celebrated their first hardball doubles title success on the SDA Pro Tour by capturing the Pittsburgh Golf Club Challenger Sunday, January 19, in Pennsylvania.
Binnie and Cuskelly, both based in Greenwich, Connecticut, represented Jamaica and Australia, respectively, on the international softball doubles courts in numerous Commonwealth Games and WSF World Doubles Championships, and have recently started competing in its North American counterpart. Cuskelly made his pro hardball doubles debut in an ISDA-era Briggs Cup, and more recently competed in the 2018 North American Open and six events so far this season with partners including fellow Aussie PSA retiree Cameron Pilley, James Bamber and Jaymie Haycocks. Binnie made one appearance in the then ISDA Johnson in 2012, and more recently competed in the 2018 Sleepy Hollow Open and four events so far this season with partners including Chris Hanson and fellow Trinity graduate Shaun Johnstone.
Binnie & Cuskelly nearly opened up their first SDA tournament together with a loss after coming back from 2-0 down against Canadians Kelly Shannon & Robert Nigro, clinching the match on simultaneous match ball 13-15, 3-15, 15-11, 15-10, 15-14. Three tournament’s four first-round matches extended to five games, as John Roberts & Kyle Martino held off Duncan & Gavin Maxwell, while Matt Dominick & Adam Perkiomaki edged Elroy Leong & Alexander Ma 15-13 in the fifth.
Binnie & Cuskelly then rebounded with a resounding semifinal upset over top seeds Roberts–who sustained a neck injury–& Martino 15-3, 15-4, 15-9 to set up a final against two seeds Clinton Leeuw, who recorded two three-game wins to reach the final. It was the newcomers who came through in the final as Binnie & Cuskelly clinched the title 15-7, 12-15, 15-7, 15-8.
“It was definitely a fun experience to play a hardball doubles together,” Binnie said. “Obviously Ryan and I are very new to it. He’s played maybe four or five SDA events, I’ve played maybe three or so before Pittsburgh so to actually win a tournament this early on is pretty cool. During the games I think we got a little bit of luck throughout the tournament and some things fell for us, and lucily we were able to sneak out the wins. We are pretty happy overall.”
Binnie and Cuskelly have been long-time PSA training partners under the tutelage of Australian PSA legend Rodney Martin. While Binnie, world No. 87, continues to compete on the PSA tour, Cuskelly, former world No. 12, recently announced his retirement at the 2020 Tournament of Champions in New York City.
“We hang out together all the time and have trained together for years and and we’ve played hardball doubles a couple of times,” Binnie said. “Having a good friendship can definitely help and once you play together you learn from each other and what each person likes to do on the court. We’re going to keep playing and have some fun. I’m still playing PSA and Ryan just retired so I think he’s a little more invested in doubles, which is good. So I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of him and a little more of me. Either way we’re looking forward to playing another one soon.”
Manek Mathur & Chris Callis avoided a semifinal exit coming back from 2-0 down to mount their third straight title run at the MFS Pro-Am Boston January 8-12 at the University Club of Boston.
Mathur & Callis entered the SDA Diamond draw as top seeds, boosted by improved rankings of world No. 3 and 1, respectively, this month following their Briggs Cup triumph in December. Unlike the Briggs Cup, where they didn’t drop a game, the Boston draw presented new challenges in the form of the tournament’s surprise package, Mike Ferreira & Will Hartigan.
One week after winning the inaugural Ox Ridge Open with James Bamber, Ferreira partnered up with Will Hartigan for the second time this season. After a 3-0 first round win, Ferreira & Hartigan took out four seeds Adam Bews & Bamber 15-11, 15-14, 15-12 to meet Mathur & Callis in the semis. Ferreira & Hartigan caught the top seeds off guard, shooting their way through the first two games to go up 15-13, 15-10. In the third Ferreira & Hartigan came within two points of winning the match, but Mathur & Callis salvaged the game 15-13 before pressing through the rest of the match 15-8, 15-10.
“Hats off to Mike and Will for playing some incredibly high-level doubles in the semi,” Callis said. “They couldn’t miss in the first two games! It took a massive effort to stay positive and work our way out of that 2-0 hole. We had to slow the pace down and stay incredibly disciplined. It was probably the most mentally taxing match Manek and I have played to date.”
In the bottom half of the draw, two seeds James Stout & Greg McArthur were also tested, but in the quarterfinals where they needed five games to come back from 2-1 down against Graham Bassett & Hamed Anvari. Stout & McArthur put in a better display in the semis to progress against three seeds Scott Clarke & Zac Alexander 15-11, 15-14, 15-13.
The final saw the top two seeds split the first to games before Mathur & Callis clinched the title 15-7, 10-15, 15-10, 15-9.
“This was definitely our toughest tournament since the season opener in Maryland,” Callis said. “It’s always tough to follow up an effort like that semifinal against opponents as good as Greg and James in the final. We were mentally very prepared for a battle in the finals and I think that’s what allowed us to dig deep and pull it out. Hats off to those guys for a great match.”
The world No. 1 celebrates his second straight title in Boston having won the 2019 edition with John Russell. Mathur’s name returns to the winners list for the first time since 2017 and 2016 when he won with Damien Mudge and Yvain Badan, respectively. Mathur & Callis have now won three consecutive titles in the Sleepy Hollow Open, Briggs Cup and Pro-Am Boston.
The MFS Pro-Am Boston was first held in 1992 and this year increased its prize money to a record $50,000 from $40,000 last year.
“There’s a lot of confidence that comes from winning a tournament like Boston where you’re pushed really hard like that,” Callis said. “It’s crazy how Manek’s movement is still continuing to improve since his injury. Looking forward to the back half of the season! A major thank you to all of the members and sponsors at the University Club in Boston. Len runs an incredible event and makes it easy for us players to play our best. It’s one we circle on the calendar every year.”
The first professional squash doubles tournament held at the recently opened Ox Ridge Riding & Racquet Club produced a maiden title for first-time partners Mike Ferreira & James Bamber, January 2-6, in Darien, Connecticut.
Having opposed each other often on tour, the Ferreira, world No. 14, & Bamber, world No. 10, paired up for the first time as the SDA Bronze draw’s top seeds. The Englishmen’s only dropped game of the tournament came in their first test against Travis Judson & Parth Sharma, after which they regained control for the remainder of the tournament.
In the semifinals, Ferreira & Bamber resolutely dispatched four seeds Andres Vargas & Clive Leach 15-5, 15-5, 15-8. Meanwhile in the bottom half of the draw, Aussie PSA veterans Ryan Cuskelly & Cameron Pilley qualified for their second straight main draw and pushed two seeds Will Mariani & Thomas Brinkman to four games in the first round. The Canadians then held off Americans Graham Bassett & Hamed Anvari in a four-game semifinal 15-12, 15-14, 10-15, 15-7.
In the final, Ferreira & Bamber edged a close second game at 14-all and pulled away to win the title 15-10, 15-14, 15-8. Both Ferreira and Bamber celebrated their first title of the season in Darien.
“It was great fun playing with James in our first event,” Ferreira said. “I think our styles complemented each other very well and I certainly hope to be able to team up with him again soon.”
The Ox Ridge Club’s two squash doubles courts have added to the vibrant squash doubles community in southern Connecticut.
“This tournament coming online is great for the SDA and squash doubles in the Darien area,” Ferreira said. “Ox Ridge and all those responsible really organized a fantastic event in their new and very impressive squash facility. I look forward to hopefully going back next year to play in the event again!”