A better script could not have been written as the most dominant squash doubles partnership of the past five years, Damien Mudge & Ben Gould, captured the only professional title that had, up until this weekend, eluded them—the biennial $100,000 Briggs Cup—in their final professional appearance together at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York, Monday night.
The three-game final victory over Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan came after Gould, thirty-nine, announced his retirement following the Briggs, thus ending the era of Mudge & Gould that has dominated the tour since sweeping the then ISDA with a 34-0 undefeated first season together in 2010-2011.
Since the 2010-2011 season, the Australians amassed an incredible 189-7 record and fifty-five titles, which included each major title on the tour, the 2013 World Doubles title, and now 2015 Briggs Cup title to cap off one of the most dominant periods in U.S. professional squash doubles history.
The Australian world No. 1’s topped the largest draw of the season this weekend, which featured a sixteen-team main draw and four qualifying draws. Their road to the final was anything but easy, and complicated by the fact that Mudge was playing with a foot injury.
Raj Nanda & Imran Khan took a game off the champions in their quarterfinal match, and the most visible effects of Mudge’s injury shone through late in the third game of their semifinal against Viktor Berg & Hamed Anvari. The left-waller stayed close to his wall, sometimes leaning on it mid-point for support and at one point leaning in the front corner between points as he was consulted by a worried Gould. Gould was forced to step up to cover more of the court, but the Australian’s shot-making remained on point to crucially send them to the final in three games where they would meet two seeds and world No. 3’s Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan.
Mathur & Badan nearly fell victim to a first-round upset against Greg McArthur & James Stout. Stout, world Rackets champion, put on a shooting clinic that saw the underdogs just two points away from a five-game upset, ultimately falling short 15-13 in the fifth.
Mathur & Badan endured another five-gamer in the quarterfinals where they held off fellow Trinity Bantam Mike Ferreira, world No. 7, and world No. 11 Chris Callis on a simultaneous match ball in the fifth game. Canadian doubles national champions Robin Clarke & Scott Arnold met the two seeds in the semifinals after pulling off the upset of the tournament over England’s World Doubles champions John Russell & Clive Leach in a three-game quarterfinal. After splitting the first two games, Mathur & Badan pulled away to reach the final in four games.
Monday’s finals for the first time included a $25,000 WSDA full ranking draw in addition to the men’s. After winning a dramatic semifinal 15-14 in the fifth game, top seeds Dana Betts & Steph Hewitt held off a two-game comeback in the final against two seeds Natarsha McElhinny & Meredeth Quick to win the title in five.
Crucially for Mudge & Gould, Mudge’s injury vastly improved by Monday night’s final, allowing the top seeds to execute their hard-hitting, fast-paced style more effectively while covering the court more evenly. The Australians came out firing in the first game creating an 8-2 lead at one point, and maintained their lead to win the first 15-6.
The second game began drastically different with Mathur & Badan, both of whom served as Apawamis professionals earlier in their careers, creating an early lead while boosted by a vocal, packed gallery of former clients and friends. Mathur & Badan squandered what at one point was a five-point lead at 10-10, but scored a few important points to go up 13-11. Three tins by Mathur & Badan quickly turned the game on its head and saw Mudge & Gould storm back to rattle off four consecutive points to win the second 15-13.
With their first Briggs cup together within reach, there was no looking back for Mudge & Gould in the third, speeding to a 7-2 lead and maintaining until earning eight match balls at 14-7 and clinching the match and title 15-7.
An emotional ceremony ensued with Gould thanking Apawamis and the tournament’s namesake, Peter Briggs, lauding the tour’s growth since first joining the tour in 2003, and one final professional on-court thank you to his partner of five years and friend of twenty-five years.
“Twelve years ago when this event started, it was the largest prize money on the tour and that hasn’t changed so it’s no surprise that all the players show up to play, and obviously everyone puts in 1000% to win it,” Gould said of the Briggs Cup.
“Thank you, Peter, for organizing and your club’s efforts in fundraising. There’s a lot more to this event as well. You’ve set the bar as far as fundraising for urban youth programs. Almost every event on tour now is attached to some urban youth program around the country, and this was the first place to do it, and I don’t think anyone has come even close in terms of fundraising.”
Since the tournament’s inception in 2003, the Briggs Cup has raised close to one million dollars for CitySquash.
“Well done to Manek and Swiss,” Gould said of his final opponents. “We’ve been battling for almost four and a half years now, and I think we’ve probably had thirty or forty finals against each other. Thanks for all of the times we’ve had on court. Great athletes. Great friends. I’m sure they’ll be playing this game for a long time coming.”
“I’d like to thank all of the guys who have driven the SDA. We re-branded our tour five years ago, and six or seven guys really stepped up to help all of the players. Our tour has gone from just under $300,000 and eight events about four years ago, and now we’ve just hit $600,000 and twenty-five events. Our goal is to hopefully have a glass court and a mini world tour in six or seven years. I’m really proud of everyone involved. Peer is one here, Mark Dowling, Mark Hayden, Patrick Turner, Morris Clothier.”
“Lastly, obviously this is our last pro event together, Damien and I. Hopefully we have some Masters events together. It’s been a great trip. I’m going to miss you. You’ve got plenty of years left on court, but I can’t thank you enough for the last five years. Thank you.”
Although Mudge & Gould’s name grace the winners list for the first time together, it marks Gould’s second Briggs title adding to 2007 with Paul Price, and Mudge’s fourth. Mudge won the inaugural Briggs cup in 2003 with Michael Pimak, the 2005 title with Gary Waite—both on the right wall—and the 2009 title with Viktor Berg on the left wall.
While his long-time partner marks the end of his professional doubles career, Mudge reunites with Berg moving forward, with whom he recently won the Delaware Pro Doubles title. As is always the case with doubles, one is only as good as their partner and Mudge expressed his surprise and delight that his foot injury improved before the final to give Gould the best send off possible.
“This is a great event, and the fact that this is our last event together meant so much,” Mudge said.
“I had some health issues. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to play come Friday. Today was actually the best it felt. I’ve got a neuroma and it hit the spot on the neuroma which is debilitating. For some reason, I didn’t even walk on it today and I bounced around a bit, didn’t feel much and felt great. I was moving great, was feeling more balanced and felt like myself, which gave me and Gouldie a lot more confidence knowing that he didn’t have to cover so much of the court for me. He was able to play his game and executed so well on the right and came up with some big shots.
“I think this was one of the toughest events we’ve played. From an emotional standpoint, the amount of time and energy we put into this knowing it was our last event and it was the one we wanted most. But also knowing I wasn’t 100% with my foot. It was a really taxing event. I’m so happy we won our last event three love in the biggest tournament of the year.”
“We’ve seen over the years that these two guys have been the standard in the game that everyone aspires to,” Briggs said of Mudge & Gould.
“Every once in a while they got caught, and that only peaked their interest, which is great. It’s good to see a new class of younger players creeping up now, which is great to see for the depth of the tour. Both of you have played in all seven editions of this tournament. Thank you for your play, professionalism, and your emotional input into the game. We’re very grateful.”
Watch the final replay below. The SDA Tour resumes in the new year with the $40,000 Putnam Pro-Am Doubles in Boston, Massachusetts, January 6-10.