Dateline June 7, 2018 — One of the most noteworthy developments in US doubles squash in recent years has been the ascent of Ed Garno, who this past March became, at age 49 years, 5 months and 21 days, the oldest player ever to win the U.S. National Doubles championship when he teamed up with his six-year partner Alex Stait to defeat, sequentially, Ricky Weisskopf and Richard Dodd, Alex Luque and Imran Khan and the Round Hill Club pairing of Steve Scharff and Zac Alexander in a four-game final in Philadelphia that ended with Garno knifing a forehand reverse-corner winner at match-ball. The previous oldest-ever winner of this tournament, the late Victor Elmaleh, was also 49 when he and Vic Niederhoffer won in St. Louis in 1968, but Garno was two months older when he and Stait triumphed than Elmaleh was when the tournament was held 50 years ago.
Remarkably, Garno did not take up squash until he was well into his 30’s. Although he attended Haverford School during the mid-1980’s, a time throughout which the school squash team, featuring such future stars in college and beyond as Morris Clothier, Russ Ball and Chris Spahr, was in the midst of a dynastic run that extended from the late 1970’s until the early 1990’s, Garno’s primary sports during his middle-school and high-school years were football (as the team’s starting quarterback and punter), baseball (he played shortstop) and tennis. He then went to the University of Virginia, where he was the first-string punter on teams that played in bowl games in each of his last three years (namely the Florida Citrus Bowl against Illinois in 1990, the Sugar Bowl against Tennessee in 1991 and the Gator Bowl vs. Oklahoma in 1992) and made all-Academic ACC all of those three years, as well as all-ACC and Honorable Mention all-America during his senior year. He then returned to tennis and spent the next dozen-odd years winning numerous (more than two dozen) Merion Cricket Club, Waynesborough Country Club and regional singles and doubles championships on both grass and clay in that sport.
Although Garno started playing squash midway through the first decade of the 2000’s, initially more as a way of keeping fit during the winter months than as a game to pursue with competitive aspirations, it was his connection with former WPSA superstar and US Squash Hall of Famer Ned Edwards approximately seven years ago which caused the sea-change in Garno’s improvement in and commitment to doubles squash that led to his stellar recent results. Fortuitously, it was also right around this time frame that the British-born Stait, a former PSA pro singles player who had attained a ranking just outside the top 50 before a recurring knee injury forced him to retire from the tour and shift his energies to coaching, moved to America after being hired as an assistant coach at Merion in January 2012. A standing game developed featuring Edwards/Garno against Stait and former WPSA standout (and extraordinarily successful Harvard squash coach from 1992-99) Bill Doyle during the spring and summer of 2012, throughout which this foursome would play several times per week. Garno and Stait made swift and steady progress in learning the nuances of doubles from the two decorated veterans Edwards (a three-time North American Open Doubles Champ from 1989-91 with Alan Grant) and Doyle, a North American Open finalist with Hugh Labossier in 1987).
The following autumn, Doyle relocated to Boston and Edwards was forced by a lingering knee injury to reduce his playing, but by then Stait and Garno felt they were ready to join forces and enter Open tournaments. Although their SDA debut at an event at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia in February 2013 had a disappointing ending — with a 15-14 fifth-game loss to Carl Baglio and Gilly Lane — they played well enough in that match and those that followed to convince them that they belonged at this level. It took them a few years to learn their way around the tour, absorbing some close losses along the way but also starting to earn their way into main draws and occasionally attaining the quarterfinals. Throughout that time, Garno doggedly tracked down games with top-level players, occasionally even traveling back and forth to New York when an especially strong practice game presented itself, and by Spring 2016 they were ready for a breakthrough performance at the season-ending Challenger tournament at the Racquet & Tennis Club in midtown Manhattan.
With Garno having come up short three times in the finals of Open events earlier that season — with Stait in the William White to Josh Schwartz/Tim Wyant, with Edwards in the Century event to Dominic Hughes/Nigel Thani and with Narelle Krizek in the US Mixed Doubles in five games against James Stout and Suzie Pierrepont — and with Stait having recently missed some time with a shoulder strain, the pair entered the Challenger event just hoping that they would be able to get through the tough qualifying draw that awaited them. They did, surmounting a 14-11 first-game deficit en route to a straight-game win over Stout and Barney Tanfield and then out-playing Travis Judson and James Bamber. Building on the momentum they thereby generated, Stait and Garno ambushed the top-seeded Randy Lim/Hamed Anvari duo in the quarters and followed up with a semifinal win over qualifiers Lane and Fred Reid Jr., five-game first-round upset winners over fourth seeds Andres Vargas and John Roberts.
In the final against Imran Khan and Greg McArthur, Stait and Garno, after dropping the opening game, took both the second and third 15-14. Khan and McArthur rallied to force a fifth game, but Stait and Garno raced off to an early lead and never looked back, sprinting to the finish line with a 15-8 tally that made them the first qualifying team to win a ranking event since the pro doubles association was renamed the SDA (after a 12-year run as the ISDA) in 2012. Afterwards, they explicitly praised and thanked Edwards and Doyle for having, as Stait phrased it, “taught us how to play a few summers ago at Merion. We learned together and have played together ever since. That’s really the key for us, playing together all the time and enjoying it.” Indeed, they are the team on the SDA tour that has stayed together the longest as partners by a substantial margin: no other SDA team has been intact even as long as TWO years, let alone six, other than the top-ranked pairing of Manek Mathur and Damien Mudge, who have only been partners dating back to September 2016, three and a half years after Stait and Garno became teammates.
During the subsequent 2016-17 season, after losing in the final of the William White the previous two years, Stait and Garno captured this prestigious title in a three-game final over Merion pros Scott Devoy and Dane Sharp, which made Garno, who had teamed with Rob Whitehouse to win the William White 40-and-over flight in 2012, perhaps the only player to have won the White Open division AFTER having won a White age-group category. Later that winter they achieved perhaps their best SDA win at the Baltimore Cup at the expense of the highly regarded Jacques Swanepoel and Shaun Johnstone, which elevated them to the cusp of the top 20 in the SDA rankings. A few months after that, Garno and Krizek won the US Mixed Doubles with a four-game triumph over Dave Rosen and Victoria Simmonds in the defining match-up of that five-team round-robin.
This past season, after winning the US National Doubles, Stait and Garno reached the semis of the Racquet & Tennis Challenger event via a 3-0 quarterfinal over Baglio and Kyle Martino. Their attempted title defense in this biennial event was then foiled by the eventual champs Stout and McArthur, who would go on to defeat Swanepoel and Jordan Greenberg in the final. Although Stait and Garno play a somewhat limited SDA schedule (seven tournaments this past season) due to Stait’s commitments as Director of Squash at Agnes Irwin — a position he has held for the past five years at this private all-girls school in suburban Philadelphia, which he led to the Inter-Ac pennant and a second-place finish at the US National High School Championships in 2018 — they are nevertheless both listed in the top 35 of the SDA rankings and fully plan to be an active partnering presence on the 2018-19 tour (which begins shortly after Garno’s 50th birthday this coming September 11th) and for the foreseeable future.