In a devastating and dominant display, Damien Mudge and Ben Gould barged through the draw this past weekend in winning the inaugural $20,000 Piedmost Driving Club Invitational in suburban Atlanta, one of several new sites on the 2012-13 SDA tour, without coming close to losing a game and indeed without yielding more than 30 points in any of their three matches. This tournament marked the return of professional squash to this venerable venue after a 28-year hiatus, and then (with WPSA hardball tour No. 1 Mark Talbott besting Ned Edwards in the final) as now (with Mudge/Gould triumphing) the top-ranked entities on those respective tours asserted themselves in decisive fashion. In winning the last five tour stops on the SDA schedule, in each case in a straight-set final, and in a sign of how deep the tour has become and of how closely-bunched the contending teams currently are, Mudge and Gould have faced nine different players in those finals, just one short of the theoretical maximum, having opposed Clive Leach and Paul Price in Philadelphia, Preston Quick and Matt Jenson in Brooklyn, Jonny Smith and Greg Park in Baltimore, Yvain Badan and Manek Mathur in Denver, and now Leach (the only multiple-time runner-up during this stretch) and Imran Khan in Atlanta. This is similar to autumn 2010, when Mudge and Gould won that tour’s first four events, against four different teams and eight different players in those respective finals.
In Atlanta, their semifinal and final rounds were both against teams coming off testing matches. Their Saturday-midday semis opponents, Park and Smith, had been played to a statistical standstill to 1-all, 9-all by Jacques Swanepoel and Shaun Johnstone, before Smith/Park barely came away with that third game 15-13 and the fourth 15-12. Park and Smith have posed stiff four-game challenges on several occasions earlier this season to Mudge and Gould, but this time they could only muster 10, 11 and 9 against the top seeds, who several hours later similarly subdued their final-round opponents Leach and Khan by a 15-8, 9 and 6 tally. First-time partners Leach and Khan had battled through exacting pre-final four-game wins against first qualifiers Will Mariani and Jeff Lurie and then Graham Bassett and Ian Power, authors of the first round’s only upset at the expense of Jenson (who had badly injured his back hours earlier in a pro-am match, severely constraining his mobility) and Quick. Since losing in consecutive mid-January tournaments to Leach and Price in Boston and Greenwich, Mudge and Gould have won 15 straight matches, taking 45 of the 46 games they have played during that substantial time-span and building up increasing momentum as they catapult towards a defense of their 2011 biennial World Doubles title in New York next month.