Despite the familiarity of their adopted home of New York City, Damien Mudge & Ben Gould found themselves in unfamiliar territory two games into their Big Apple Open opening quarterfinal match—tied at one game each.
For the first time on the 2013-2014 SDA Pro Tour calendar, Mudge & Gould lost a game in what had otherwise been an impeccable start to the season with only 3-0 victories and three titles from three tournaments to show for it.
John Russell & Charlottesville Open co-champion Raj Nanda were not only able to win the second game, but also nearly took the first, losing out to the 2013 World Doubles champions 15-14 in the opener.
“We got off to a bit of a slow start,” Mudge admitted. “We mostly weren’t as focused as we should have been—both of us. John and Raj played really well. They got off to a fast start, we got off to a slow start and they nipped us for the game.”
The Australian joint world No. 1’s persisted in the third and fourth 15-10, 15-10 to advance to the semifinals against four seeds Matt Jenson & Preston Quick who defeated qualifiers and former Trinity College and Yale University players Baset Chaudhry and PSA world No. 48 Julian Illingworth in a three-game quarterfinal.
The Big Apple Open was a breakthrough doubles tournament for Illingworth—a resident of New York City. After his maiden SDA Pro Tour appearance in September’s Charlottesville Open and trying his hand in Minnesota’s joint PSA/SDA Indian Summer doubles draw, the eight-time U.S. singles champion recorded his first ever SDA Pro Tour victories with partner Chaudhry—also a recent doubles convert—in their qualifying run for and first round win in the main draw.
Mudge & Gould dispatched Jenson & Quick in three games 15-12, 15-7, 15-9 to reach their fourth consecutive Big Apple Open final as teammates with Mudge continuing his run of appearing in all eleven finals of the New York Athletic Club-hosted tournament since its inception.
World No. 5 and 6 Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan met the three-time defending champions in the final in their second final berth of the season. The former Trinity College teammates and tournament three seeds met two seeds and world No. 4 and 3 Paul Price & Clive Leach in the semifinals in the first match up between both sides on the season.
Price & Leach started strong, commanding the first two games 15-11, 15-11, but Mathur & Badan turned the match on its head to win in five 11-15, 11-15, 15-8, 15-13, 15-7 further staking their claim for world No. 3 & 4 in the SDA rankings.
Unfortunately for Mathur & Badan, Monday night’s final proved to be one of Mudge & Gould’s most clinical performances of the season. The Australian duo’s unmatched attacking play coupled with resolute defensive positioning propelled Mudge & Gould to a fourth Big Apple Open title in three games 15-6, 15-6, 15-7—a streaky match that saw Mudge serve for the first time at 9-2 in the second game.
“I think today was the best we’ve played all season,” Gould said. “We played super aggressive and pushed forward right up the court. They really didn’t get a chance to attack us, and the times they did get to attack we were in good defensive positions. That’s our goal each time we play.”
“Gouldie played really well today,” Mudge said. “Hats off to him, he was seeing the ball really well.”
Mudge, a professional at the University Club of New York, and Gould, a professional at the Racquet and Tennis Club of New York, enjoyed playing in New York City, but were wary of home comforts.
“It’s sort of a positive and negative playing in New York,” Mudge said. “We’re so close to our home clubs where we’re always working. We almost feel too comfortable to come to an event and prepare yourself to have the focus that you need to perform at the level you want to. It definitely feels nice not to travel, but you need to adjust your mentality a little bit.”
The SDA Tour now looks ahead to the Piedmont Driving Gold $30,000 event at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta, Georgia November 14-16 where Mudge & Gould are top seeds. December then sees a wide open field for a Mudge & Gould-less $25,000 U.S. Open December 5-9, and the tour’s highest prize money event December 11-16, the $100,000 Briggs Cup at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York.
“We’ve had a pretty good run so far, and we’re feeling pretty strong,” Gould said. “I hope we can take that into Piedmont, and we’re fired up for the Briggs. We can’t wait to get back in there.”