SDA veterans James Stout & Yvain Badan enjoyed their first title breakthrough at the sport’s oldest professional event–the David C. Johnson Jr. Memorial–Sunday, February 23, at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn, New York.
The SDA Platinum draw experience an early adjustment after two-time Johnson champion and world No. 2 Manek Mathur was forced to withdraw due to injury. The resulting shift saw world No. 1 Chris Callis team up with Eric Bedell and realign as the three seeds, while Stout & Badan shifted to the top of the draw as the two seeds.
The Johnson attracted four qualifying draws that began the busy week of squash doubles. The most notable qualifiers proved to be former Australian PSA professionals Ryan Cuskelly & Cameron Pilley who continue to display their improving squash doubles play. The Aussies upset Canadians Will Mariani & Justin Todd in the first round and pushed four seeds Mike Ferreira & Will Hartigan in a tight four-game quarterfinal.
In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Zac Alexander partnered with fellow Aussie Scott Arnold as the top seeds. Alexander & Arnold nearly exited in the quarterfinals against Clinton Leeuw & Omar El Kashef, but were able to come back from 2-1 down to win 11-15, 15-10, 11-15, 15-9, 15-7. Alexander & Arnold then dispatched Ferreira & Hartigan in a three-game semifinal to set up Alexander’s title defense in the final.
Stout & Badan progressed to the final some difficult match ups. The top seeds bounced back from dropping the first game against Graham Bassett & Hamed Anvari to win their four-game quarterfinal. In the semis, Stout & Badan held off a tough challenge from Bedell & Callis 15-9, 10-15, 15-13, 15-8. The final proved to be one of the best matches of the tournament as Stout & Badan ground out a tactical win 7-15, 15-12, 15-12, 15-13.
“Both Bedell & Callis and Alexander & Arnold were excellent teams,” Badan said. “We went in with a winning game plan in the semis and had to be patient with it to pay off. In the finals, we couldn’t implement our strategy in the first game, so we had to regroup and make adjustments. Both matches were very demanding physically, which sometimes can disrupt your concentration and ultimately your strategy. Luckily for us, we were able to stay focused, and play the big points well.”
“We knew it was going to be a tough tournament going into the event, and it did not disappoint,” Stout said. “Eric Bedell & Chris Callis were playing well after their quarterfinal win and Zac Alexander & Scott Arnold have both won major tournaments this season. Yvain and I were able to adapt our game plan when necessary and managed to play the big points well. We have gotten used to playing these long, physically exhausting, drawn out matches that although are exciting (similar to regular chess), are much different from the quick, power hitting, blitz style that some teams incorporate. The key is being able to play–and stick to–our game plan.”
Having both finished as runners up before in Brooklyn, Stout & Badan now join the illustrious list of past Johnson champions spanning back to 1938. Stout & Badan mark their second title of the season together having won the Big Apple Open. The result will send Stout back up to world No. 5 in March’s rankings.
“Having both lost in the final in previous years, it felt incredible to finally lift the winners trophy and get our names alongside some of the best doubles players of all time,” Stout said. “The tournament is really well organized and the gallery is always packed with enthusiastic supporters throughout the weekend. We would like to say a special thank you to the Heights Casino and everyone involved in this marquee event.”
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Badan said. “It is not only special to win the Johnson because of the charisma and history of this tournament, but also special because of its people: it is a passionate group of squash doubles connoisseurs. We would like to thank everyone at the Casino, Adam Bews & his team, as well as Graham Bassett and the SDA for making the event exceptional.”
The SDA Tour now heads west to Denver, Colorado, for the SDA Bronze Hashim Khan February 28-March 1.