The men’s SDA season got off to an extraordinary start at The JLL Big Apple Open hosted by The New York Athletic Club. The SDA used the summer hiatus to make some changes to the format of its events, including the removal of qualifying and the addition of main draw wild cards. This change in format meant that every team in the first round was fresh and ready to compete, making for an exciting opening day of the tournament. The most notable match of the first round was that of wildcard team, Andrew Muran and Charles Culhane taking on SDA tour veteran Chris Walker and Heights Casino assistant pro Lockie Munro. Muran/Culhane took a 2-1 lead in the match before the experience of Walker/Munro came through.
From the quarter finals onwards there was drama all around. The 5/8th seeded team of Ryan Cuskelly
and Cameron continued their dreadful luck from last season by once again coming across the top seeds in the quarter finals. An up and down match from both teams saw the Aussie pair push Stout/Arnold all the way to the end of a 5th game. Second seeds Bamber/Alexander narrowly scraped through in four games against Sam Khalifa
and Kyle Martino
when Khalifa received a no let at 14-14 on a rail down the left wall from Alexander at the end of the 4th game. The marquee match of the quarters, and one the local crowd showed up for in force, was NYAC’s own Clinton Leeuw
and Jaimie Haycocks. The home team battled hard against John Russell
and Chris Callis
but were up against it as Russell found his range on the court and Callis showed his trademark consistency.
The semi finals lined up according to seedings with Stout/Arnold facing Russell/Callis in the first match. Russell/Callis got off to a quick start, with Russell playing at a level not seen from him in a few seasons and making good use of the middle of the court, forcing backhands from both Stout and Arnold. Long rallies and exciting all court play saw Russell/Callis take a 2-1 lead in games and gain two match points at 14-13, before losing the 4th game when a loose serve from Russell was punished cross court by Stout. Russell/Callis weren’t able to replicate the fourth game play in the decider, eventually going down in 5 but making it clear in the process that they are the team to look out for this season. The second semi final was equally entertaining with Bews/Henderson dominating for the majority of the match and Bamber/Alexander only staying in contention thanks to Bamber’s sheer determination. Following the lead of the first semi final, the lower ranked team went 2-1 up in games and found two match balls at 14-13 in the 4th before a controversial let call at 14-14 let Bamber/Alexander back into the match. A nail biting 5th game saw Bews/Henderson earn two more match balls but unable to convert the first the match ended on a frantic 14-14 rally that saw Alexander hit a front right winner, securing the one point win for the second seeds.
The final between the top seeds had only just begun when World #5, Zac Alexander
took a bad step, hurting his ankle. In true squash fashion his opponent, James Stout
, was able to provide him with an ankle brace that he secured before returning to the court. Stout/Arnold took the first game and the match was assumed to be going in one direction but Alexander/Bamber had other ideas. A visibly struggling Alexander used a combination of his exceptional racket work and Bamber’s brilliant court coverage to stay in the match, clinching a very close 4th game to push the match into a decider. This was Stout/Arnold’s third five set match in a row and it was beginning to show in Arnold’s movement. A big push to start the final game gave the top seeds a point gap that even Bamber’s speed and shot making couldn’t overcome, ultimately rewarding the #1 ranked team with the first win of the season.
The next stop on the men’s tour is The Sleepy Hollow Country Club Open in upstate New York. This event will provide many opportunities for rematches as Pilley/Cuskelly should once again face Stout/Arnold in the quarter finals and Bews/Henderson will be looking for revenge on Alexander/Bamber in the semi finals.
‘Scott and I were really pleased with how we fought in every match of the tournament. We weren’t necessarily playing our best doubles, but still managed to hang tough and come through four very tough matches. We would like to say a huge thank you to Clinton, the squash committee, and everyone at the Athletic Club for putting on another fantastic tournament. Scott and I are excited for the rest of the season and what it may bring.’
– James Stout
‘Really pleased to get a win in the first event of the season, and after what was probably the most physically demanding event across all the matches played that I’ve been a part of. A combination of Jimbo carrying me through, and finding some good squash when it was really needed, thankfully carried us through.
Big thanks to Clinton and everyone at NYAC for once again welcoming us into their club and putting on a great event.
Hopefully not every event this season leaves me feeling the way I do now a week later. ‘
– Scott Arnold
Full draw and results.