Manek Mathur And Scott Arnold Capture Big Apple Open Doubles Crown

by Rob Dinerman

Thoroughly out-played throughout the opening game and just two points from losing the second as well, top seeds and first-time partners Manek Mathur and Scott Arnold responded to the exigency of the moment like the champions they are by winning nine consecutive points (and 16 of 18), then staged a five-point run from 9-10 to 14-10 en route to a 10-15, 15-13, 15-4, 15-11 victory over defending champs James Stout and Yvain Badan Monday evening in the final round of the Big Apple Open, sponsored by JLL and held as always at the New York Athletic Club. At 13-all in that crucial second game, Arnold smashed a forehand cross-court into Stout’s body, forcing a return that sailed over the front-wall boundary line, following which Mathur blazed a forehand down the middle for a clean winner at a juncture in the all-court point when both of his opponents had been maneuvered too close to their respective side walls to react in time.

The outcome of the third game became preordained after Mathur and Arnold shot out to a 7-0 lead, but the fourth was a point-for-point dogfight, with the pace, intensity and quality of play all at an extremely high level and neither team able to muster more than a two-point advantage. Badan, a two-time defending Big Apple Open champion (having won in 2018 with Bernardo Samper and 2019 with Stout), played as well as he ever has during his entire outstanding career, making some spectacular retrievals and alternating power and depth with plenty of excellent corner-work, while Stout, who committed the fewest errors of the foursome, hit a multitude of daring winners and engaged in some prolonged and high-octane cross-court battles with Arnold. The latter’s powerful presence impacted virtually every rally, and Mathur, the SDA tour’s most lethal and creative shot-maker, scored repeatedly with a variety of his imaginative salvos and was cat-quick in his court coverage, as were the three other players as well. Three of the five-straight points that brought the eventual champs from 9-10 to quintuple-match-ball in the final stretch were nick-finding winners from Mathur’s racquet, following which he barely caught the top of the tin with a daring cross-drop from deep in the court. However, the ensuing exchange ended when Arnold buried a forehand reverse-corner to cap off a scintillating performance by both teams.

It marked the second tournament win in as many SDA tour stops this season for Mathur, who captured the season-opening event in St. Louis with Chris Callis in mid-October. It was also the second consecutive time that the Big Apple Open was won by a makeshift team that had to be hastily cobbled together due to injury. Callis, who had been scheduled to play with Mathur in New York this past weekend, suffered an ankle sprain a few days prior to the opening round, necessitating an emergency call to Arnold, the reigning Kellner Cup and North American Open champion (in each case with John Russell), who had not entered the tournament but willingly came down from Toronto to team up with Mathur. Badan and Stout had similarly not planned to partner up in the 2019 edition of this event but agreed to do so when each of their scheduled partners — Samper (hamstring) and Greg McArthur (wrist) respectively — were sidelined with injuries. Stout and Badan had actually won all three tournaments they had entered — the 2018 Sleepy Hollow Open, 2019 Big Apple Open and 2020 David C. Johnson Memorial at the Heights Casino Club in Brooklyn — prior to their narrow loss in this Big Apple Open final.

Although the top four seeded teams — Mathur/Arnold, Stout/Badan, Zac Alexander/McArthur and Michael Ferreira/James Bamber — all reached the semis, the top two seeds attained the final and the No. 1 seeded team ultimately made it to the winner’s circle, this couldn’t have been further from a business-as-usual “totem-pole” tournament. Mathur and Arnold were pushed to the absolute brink in their torrid 100-plus-minute semifinal with Alexander and McArthur, who led 11-6 in a fifth game that later was tied at 13-all before Arnold was able to first power a cross-court drive into the front-left nick and then volley a three-wall into the exact same spot to close out that 38-minute game on a memorably emphatic note. Mathur and Arnold had also salvaged the first game of that streak-filled match with a 10-2 burst from 5-11 prior to letting a 12-6 second-game lead get away, following which they won the third from 7-all with an 8-0 burst but lost the fourth. Ferreira and Bamber, winners at the tour stop at the 2020 Ox Ridge Club in their first foray together, barely (15-12 in the fifth, with a pair of split 15-14 games earlier on) survived their quarterfinal match against Adam Bews and Eric Bedell, round-of-16 victors over qualifiers Bobby Burns and Lyell Fuller. Ferreira and Bamber then lost, 15-12 in the fourth, to Stout and Badan, whose quarterfinal match with Graham Bassett and Clive Leach (15-14 fourth-game round-of-16 winners over Alex Domenick and Travis Judson) also lasted four games.

In the draw’s top half, Chris Binnie and Jamie Haycocks, leading Lockie Monroe and Kyle Martino two games to one but trailing 14-12 in the fourth game of the final qualifying round, rescued that game by winning the next three points and then prevailed in three games over two-time Massachusetts State champions Hameed Ahmed and John Roberts to advance to a quarterfinal match-up against Mathur/Arnold, while recently-retired former PSA standouts Ryan Cuskelly and Cameron Pilley edged out Clinton Leeuw, the head pro at the host club, and Will Hartigan, 15-14 in the fourth, before losing in four games to Alexander and McArthur. There was a total of nine games in the tournament’s main draw (and three in the qualifying) that were decided by 15-14 scores, including all four close-out games in the quartet of round-of-16 matches and two of the close-out games in the qualifying, as well as, for that matter, the close-out fourth game of the Pro-Am final, in which Bews and Alan Kanders eked out a victory over Arnold and Will Heffernan. Of the tournament’s 11 main-draw matches, all but one was either extended to at least a fourth game or had at least one game that was decided by two points or fewer. There remains one more Calendar 2021 ranking tournament, the Sleepy Hollow Open in two and a half weeks, before the schedule really picks up with four tour stops in January that will jumpstart a full slate throughout the winter and spring months of 2022.

November Rankings

1-Nov Tournaments Average Previous
1 Chris Callis USA 7 4200.500 3
2 Manek Mathur USA 5 4063.000 1
3 Scott Arnold Australia 8 3663.750 4
4 James Stout Bermuda 8 3325.000 5
5 Greg McArthur Scotland 8 3247.917 6
6 Yvain Badan Switzerland 7 3060.000 7
7 Robin Clarke Canada 6 2755.000 9
8 Zac Alexander Australia 6 2743.000 8
9 Bernardo Samper Colombia 6 2460.500 10
10 James Bamber England 9 2341.667 11
11 Mike Ferreira England 5 2171.000 12
12 Eric Bedell USA 6 1856.000 15
13 Will Mariani Canada 8 1819.167 14
14 Colin West Canada 7 1681.125 18
15 Adam Bews Scotland 11 1659.286 17
16 Hameed Ahmed Finland 6 1619.125 16
17 Graham Bassett USA 11 1524.018 21
18 Omar El Kashef Egypt 8 1426.458 20
19 Will Hartigan USA 4 1383.500 13
20 John Roberts Ireland 5 1376.000 19

Complete Ranking List

SDA Tour Returns With Familiar Champions Mathur & Callis

l-r: Chris Callis, Manek Mathur, Greg McArthur, Zac Alexander

The SDA Pro Tour returned with its first event since March 2020—the St. Louis Open—with familiar champions Manek Mathur & Chris Callis claiming the first title of the new season Saturday, October 2, at the Racuet Club of St. Louis.

The season opened up with two competitive five-game first round matches. Jamie Haycocks & Ricardo Lopez Valdivia edged Jordan Brail & Chris Walker 15-12, 8-15, 15-4, 13-15, 15-6, and local pro Mike Puertas & Nathan Dugan held off Rafik Bhaloo & Oscar Lopez Hidalgo 9-15, 15-12, 15-12, 9-15, 15-9.

The quarterfinals brought the top four seeds into action and saw all of four teams safely progress to Saturday, which fielded both the semifinals in the early afternoon and ensuing final Saturday night.

Top seeds Mathur & Callis dispatched Adam Bews & Eric Bedel 15-7, 15-12, 15-8 to reach the final, while two seeds Zac Alexander & Greg McArthur overcame a tough challenge from Canadians Joshua Hollings & Matthew Henderson 15-13, 15-10, 15-13.

In Saturday night’s final, it was defending champion McArthur and Alexander who earned an early advantage, taking the first game 15-13 and then narrowly dropping the second game 15-13. Mathur & Callis then stepped up to clinch the title 15-5, 15-8.

“We knew we were in for a tough match, and those guys came out so accurate and precise in the first game,” Callis said. “We knew that if we could get the pace back up and make it a more dynamic, long game that we would have a great shot. Luckily we were able to fight hard, build momentum, and gain confidence as the match went along. Also have to shout out Manek for stepping up and setting the tone all weekend. He always makes my life a lot easier out on court and he stepped up in a big way after over a year and a half since our last event!

“I think we started a little bit on our heels and sluggish from the long day and previous matches,” Mathur said. “They came out with their game plan and hit their zones well, took us a bit to get going and find our zones again. They’re a good team, we were ready for a long match and no surprises that they won the first, they could have won the 2nd too! My partner Chris was an absolute star as always. We both didn’t know what to expect for our first one back but Chris showed up to the event like he didn’t miss a beat. He gave me so much confidence to be out there to do my thing, that I am so grateful we have each other to work through this season.

Mathur & Callis won all five events that they competed in during the 2019-2020 season and pick up where they left off with their partnership’s first title in St. Louis, and Mathur’s second following his 2016 win with Damien Mudge. Mathur and Callis both emphasized the positive atmosphere of the SDA Tour’s return.

“I can speak on behalf of all the guys that we missed the camaraderie we share on the court but we took the off court stuff with each other, events and sponsors for granted,” Mathur said. “The tour is such a special environment where you really get to know people at these sites and it was amazing to see so many familiar faces in STL. Can’t wait to reconnect with all the locations on tour as well.  Big thanks to Mike Puertas and the entire STL RC squash community for putting on the first event of the season. They treat us like members and we really do have such a blast out there!”

“It was truly amazing to be back, we both missed it so much,” Callis said. “Both competing and spending time with such an incredible group of players and friends at the club. We’re obviously close with all the other players, but we’ve also gotten to know many members really well over years of coming to St Louis. Meant the world to us to have them be the first ones back on the calendar. Mike Puertas deserves serious kudos for putting on such an amazing event. These things are hard enough to put together, but then you add a pandemic on top of it and it’s amazing how he didn’t miss a beat. It’s such a great club full of so many amazing members.”

SDA Update – May 2021

The anticipated schedule for the 2021-22 SDA Pro Tour is now available online. This is an exciting milestone as we build back towards a full tour in the coming season. However, please be aware that there may be changes and additions to this schedule due to the fluid nature of planning for host facilities and the SDA as we emerge from the pandemic. Over the coming months, updates to the calendar will be communicated to players via the SDA website and email.

Currently, we remain hopeful that we will also be able to restart rankings after the first event, and that borders will be more open in the fall for those traveling from Canada or elsewhere.

Lastly, we will host another player zoom call this Thursday at 1pm EST.  Hope to see you all then, and thank you as always for your engagement as we move towards the restart of the tour.

SDA Update – April 2021

With the country showing positive momentum in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the pathway back to professional doubles is becoming increasingly clear.

While we wish we could host events in the near term, at this time we are unable to confidently schedule full ranking events in the spring or summer, with planning further complicated by travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada. Possibilities remain for the hosting of a limited number of invitationals and exhibitions over the coming months as a way to re-engage players and fans; the SDA support staff will help coordinate participants, coverage and streaming whenever possible.

Looking to the fall, the SDA is planning for a return to a full 2021-2022 season, with rankings also resuming at the start of the season. There are nearly ten events currently penciled in, with a potential opportunity for a kick-off at the Arlen Specter US Squash Center in Philadelphia with the first-ever blue doubles courts built specifically to optimize video production (image below). We will share the 2021-2022 calendar with you as soon as possible, once the schedule takes shape and more events are confirmed.

Please keep a look out for communications scheduling another player Zoom call, as we stay in touch with our players on a more regular basis through the start of next season.

Lastly, we are using this forced break from competition to re-evaluate the structure of SDA dues, including a change to a fiscal year membership instead of the previous rolling 12 month membership.  To aid in the transition, more payment options will be offered including 50% at the beginning of the season and 50% in 2022, as well as a half-price option for those joining after March 1, 2022.

We wish good health to all of you and those close to you, and we cannot wait to see many of you back on court soon. As always, we appreciate your understanding and flexibility as we make our way out of the unimaginable difficulties of the past year.

 

PRO TOUR