Mudge & Gould Storm Back in the Bentley

L-R: Yvain Badan, Ben Gould, Damien Mudge, and Manek Mathur.
L-R: Yvain Badan, Ben Gould, Damien Mudge, and Manek Mathur.

Damien Mudge & Ben Gould avenged last week’s PDC Cup final loss against Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan with a three-game victory in the forty-second Jim Bentley Cup—the first full prize money edition of the Bentley at the Cambridge Club in Toronto, Canada.

The Jim Bentley Cup—namesake of the Cambridge Club founder—has a long tradition of elite squash doubles with a history that has included invitationals where the club determined the partnerships, or periods top PSA players were in town, the club would invite them to form partnerships with the top doubles players.

In a first for the tournament, the 2014 Bentley offered a $30000 prize purse in a full-ranking SDA Gold format, while maintaining the traditional round robin draw structure. This in turn attracted the top teams on tour in a particularly turbulent period that saw world No. 1’s Mudge & Gould fail to win two straight titles, first losing in the Big Apple Open semis against John Russell & Clive Leach, then losing in the PDC Cup final against Mathur & Badan last week.

Two local sides made waves in the Thursday’s qualifying to open the tournament. First, Squash Doubles legend Gary Waite—former world No. 1 in doubles, former top ten on the singles softball tour, and former world No. 1 on the hardball singles tour and now forty-eight years old and based at the National Squash Center in Toronto—partnered with twenty-five-year-old Professional Squash Association singles player Thomas Brinkman. The Canadians squeezed past American world No. 25 Graham Bassett & world No. 27 Hamed Anvari with two simultaneous game balls 15-12, 15-14, 15-14.

Canadian national doubles champions Scott Arnold & Robin Clarke pulled off two victories to slot into the two main round robin groups, first against Willey Hosey & Michael Pirnak, then fellow Canadians Will Mariani and Jeff Lurie.

Group A included Australian joint world No. 1’s Damien Mudge & Ben Gould with two Canadian tandems: qualifiers Waite & Brinkman, and world No. 24 Carl Baglio & world No. 14 Freddie Reid.

The first group A match pitted former partners Mudge and Waite against one another. As partners, Mudge & Waite were undefeated for three seasons, and held the world No. 1 status from 2000-2006.

The current world No. 1’s dominated pool play with two, three-game wins booking a place in the final, while Waite & Brinkman topped higher ranked Canadians Baglio & Reid for a place in the ¾ playoff.

Mudge enjoyed playing on the same court with his former partner once again—albeit on the opposing team.

“It was kind of fun,” Mudge said. “Obviously I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a great squash player and he has achieved some pretty amazing feats in his career so it’s always a pleasure and a privilege playing on the same court as him. It was a great experience.”

Second seeded Mathur & Badan controlled Group B with two, four-game victories against Arnold & Clarke and world No. 7 Quick & world No. 8 Greg Park. Arnold & Clarke would make it an all-Canadian ¾ match with a three-game upset against Quick & Park.

Streamed live on youtube with commentary from Reid and Jim Bentley’s son—Jamie—Monday night’s final started where the PDC Cup final left off with blistering pace from both Mudge & Gould and Mathur & Badan.

Unlike in Atlanta, the error count amounted for both sides early on, with the Australians spurred on by a few winners including one on simultaneous game ball to take the first game 15-14. The Aussies didn’t look back in the second game earning a 12-4 lead at one point. Despite a brief fight back from Mathur & Badan, Mudge & Gould closed out the second 15-7.

Both teams that have upset Mudge & Gould in the past two weeks have mentioned the necessity to extent the match as long as possible to have a chance at defeating the world No. 1’s. Mathur & Badan appeared to be on their way to doing just that in the third game with reinvigorated shotmaking and fewer errors. Mathur & Badan maintained a four-point lead from up 11-7 until their first game ball at 14-10. The Australians fired right back with winning reverse corners and nicks forcing another simultaneous game ball, at which point reverse nick landed twice just outside of Badan’s reach to end the match in just over an hour.

The world No. 1’s were pleased to back to their winning ways.

“It was definitely sweet,” Mudge said afterwards. “I think for us, because we’ve managed to win quite a few times playing together, not that you get numb to it, but you might maybe go into the match with the intensity that you need against other top level professionals. If you try and look at the positive side of it, I think it was a nice thing to recalibrate ourselves, both mentally and physically, to sort of get yourself to the point needed to play your best squash. Beating these guys, who are obviously gunning for us, was definitely very sweet.”

“You know, we maybe got a fraction shell-shocked slash complacent from the loss in New York and then the loss at Atlanta,” Mudge continued. “We obviously got a pretty flat start in Atlanta and Manek and Yvain were pretty fired up and got up to an excruciating, strong start and made those adjustments. They weren’t subtle, but it puts this sort of energy and momentum in their favor right off the bat. I thought it was pretty important for both of us to get off to a strong start and force our presence, and therefore change the initial balance of the game right from the initial shot, from the first shot. That was one of the biggest differences.”

“I think the same thing,” Gould added. “Sometimes—not to be arrogant—but when you are winning regularly you can get a little complacent sometimes about what’s actually needed to win at this level. So coming off two losses was pretty harsh, and today I think you could see the preparation. From the first point, it was aggressive and very focused. Even a little bit of jitters because we wanted it so badly. Like Mudgey said, every now and then you need a little kick in the butt to really recalibrate and start asserting yourself again. Definitely lit a fire in the belly these last two weeks and we were both pretty aggressive tonight. Obviously happy to come out with a win again.”

The Australian powerhouse, who have both played numerous times in the Bentley with various partnerships when the event was an invitational, were pleased to see the Bentley reach the point of a full ranking SDA event.

“The Bentley is a cool event,” Mudge said. “It’s also good that they can have some can have some level of conformity and some adjustment to the Tour, because the Tour is growing and moving forward. The Tour obviously wants a great event like the Bentley to be onboard. I was very happy that they were able to adjust and work with the Tour to come up with a full-ranking, fully-sanctioned event. It was very nice for Ben and I to actually play the tournament together, rather than playing against each other with mostly lesser players. Definitely nice to get our first win in the Bentley together.”