Damien Mudge, the most accomplished doubles player in the history of the sport and the Squash Doubles Association’s (SDA) “all-time leading scorer” by a wide margin, has decided to retire from the tour after 19 years of record-shattering achievement. Mudge, 43, underwent a major allograft procedure on his right knee (his seventh knee surgery overall, the fourth on his right leg) in August 2018 and was sidelined throughout the subsequent 2018-19 SDA season. With his leg currently still at least several months away from being ready to return to SDA-level competition, and in deference to the cumulative effect of a number of other injuries and depleting maladies that have befallen him over the course of nearly two decades of grueling play — among them shoulder and wrist injuries, one of which required the insertion of a pin for several months to stabilize the joint; a painful neuroma and a plantar fascia tear on his right foot; a two-and-a-half-year bout with chronic-fatigue-syndrome; and multiple concussions — Mudge, who has been based at the University Club of New York for more than two decades, the last 18 as its head squash pro, recently concluded that the time has come for him to end his doubles career.
And what an extraordinary career it has been! Mudge has been ranked No. 1 virtually uninterrupted since the outset of the 1999-2000 season, when he and Gary Waite had the first of their three wire-to-wire undefeated seasons (also 2001-02 and 2004-05). After seven years (and 75 tournament wins, the most all-time of any combination) with Waite, Mudge switched to the left wall and led the tour in wins first from 2007-10 with Viktor Berg and then from 2010-15 with Ben Gould before joining forces with Manek Mathur prior to the 2016-17 season. After losing to Michael Ferreira and Yvain Badan, 15-13 in the fifth, in their debut as partners at the Maryland Club Open final in September 2016, Mudge and Mathur went undefeated throughout the remainder of both that season and the 2017-18 season that followed, covering 16 straight tournaments and 54 consecutive matches, while receiving the SDA Team of the Year Award both years.
Mudge with his various partners has won nearly 175 pro doubles tournaments, more than double the number amassed by any other player, and he holds the most-times-won record for every established tournament on the SDA schedule, highlighted by 15 North American Opens, 10 Kellner Cups, six Briggs Cups and 17 David Johnson Invitational titles (all in a row from 2002-18) at the Heights Casino Club in Brooklyn. His Player of The Year and Doubles Team of the Year Awards totals far exceed anyone else’s and in all five seasons during the nearly two decades that the SDA and its forerunner, the International Squash Doubles Association (ISDA) have existed in which one team has gone undefeated, Mudge has been on that team: as noted, three times with Waite as well as in 2010-11 with Gould and 2017-18 with Mathur.
In their eighth and final appearance of the 2017-18 season, the Tavern Club Invitational in Cleveland, Mathur and Mudge capped off their 24-0 slate with a four-game final-round win over John Russell and Scott Arnold that swung on the forehand drive that Mathur lashed down the left wall for a clear winner at 14-all in the third game that put his team ahead to stay. Earlier in that game, Mudge, playing in his first tournament since undergoing a right-knee arthroscopic procedure to repair torn cartilage slightly more than a month earlier, planted to reverse direction and felt a searing pain in that joint, greatly reducing his mobility for the rest of that match. A subsequent examination immediately upon his return to New York revealed that he had blown a hole through the cartilage around the medial part of the knee, necessitating the allograft procedure, a far more complicated and invasive operation than any if its predecessors and one that involves transplanting the cartilage of a cadaver to fill the hole. Mathur’s 2018-19 season ended prematurely as well when he ruptured his left Achilles tendon in the late-October 2018 Big Apple Open at the New York Athletic Club. Mudge was in attendance that night, sitting in the bench just behind the glass back wall of the host club’s doubles court and, ironically in light of how full of energy and health both he and Mathur had been during their undefeated 2017-18 season, it was Mudge’s crutch that Mathur had to lean on in order to exit the court after incurring his own serious season-ending injury.
Mudge’s retirement punctuates a Spring/Summer 2019 period during which some of the all-time best players in squash’s various professional Associations have stepped away from the sport. Five-time British Open champion Nicol David, who enjoyed nearly a decade atop the women’s pro singles tour, retired this past spring as did three-time World Open Champion Ramy Ashour, two-time British Open champion Laura Massaro and former World No. 2 Jenny Duncalf. In recent years Mudge had been the only SDA player whose playing career dated back to the formation of the ISDA in February 2000, making him the bridge that spanned the early-2000’s top-tier group consisting of Waite, Berg, Clive Leach, Blair Horler, Willie Hosey, Michael Pirnak, David Kay, Scott Dulmage, Jamie Bentley, Scott Stoneburgh and Anders Wahlstedt, and extended through the Gould/Russell/Paul Price/Preston Quick/Greg Park set of stars later that decade and into the next, all the way to the Mathur/Callis/Yvain Badan/Michael Ferreira/Bernardo Samper/James Stout/Greg McArthur contingent of players headlining the current era. Throughout that lengthy time frame encapsulating several player generations, the only relentless constant has been Damien Mudge’s standing as the dominant player in professional doubles squash in North America, and his retirement symbolizes the passing of a glorious era in the history of squash on this continent.
Dateline May 14, 2019 — When John Russell and Scott Arnold won the final two tournaments of the 16-stop 2018-19 SDA pro doubles tour by first edging (15-13 in the fourth game after a 15-14 third) Robin Clarke and Chris Callis in the late-April Kellner Cup final in Manhattan and then saving two third-game match-balls against them to overtake James Stout and Greg McArthur in the Buffalo Club Pro Doubles final on Mother’s Day, it enabled Russell, a reigning two-time World Doubles champion with Clive Leach, to ascend to the No. 1 season-end ranking for the first time in his 15-year pro-doubles career and regain the SDA Player Of The Year Award that had been bestowed upon him four years earlier in 2015. It also marked the only time throughout the entire season that the same team captured two tournaments in a row. This latter fact is in marked contrast to what happened just a year earlier, when one team, consisting of Manek Mathur and Damien Mudge, went wire-to-wire undefeated, thereby stretching their undefeated skein to 16 tournaments and 54 matches dating back to their sole setback in the first tournament of their partnership at the hands of Michael Ferreira and Yvain Badan way back in September 2016.
Mudge is by far the most accomplished player in the history of North American doubles squash and a dominant figure on the pro doubles tour for nearly 20 years, as well as a paragon of consistency and durability throughout the 2000’s, having never previously been sidelined for more than a few weeks, the lone exception being when he incurred a fluke injury to his left wrist while roller-blading in Manhattan in January 2001 that required the insertion of a steel pin and kept him out of action for several months that winter and spring. He has been ranked No. 1 virtually uninterrupted since the 1999-2000 season, when he and Gary Waite had the first of their three undefeated seasons (also 2001-02 and 2004-05). After seven years (and 75 tournament wins, the most all-time of any combination) with Waite, Mudge switched to the left wall and led the tour in wins first from 2007-10 with Viktor Berg and then from 2010-15 with Ben Gould before joining forces (and returning to the right wall) with Mathur prior to the start of the 2016-17 season.
They received the SDA Doubles Team of the Year Award after each of their two seasons together, but when Mudge sustained a severe injury to his right knee during the last tournament of the 2017-18 season (the Tavern Club Invitational in Cleveland), he was forced to undergo a major operation this past summer. It was Mudge’s seventh knee surgery, the fifth on his right leg, but this procedure was far more significant and invasive than any of its predecessors, and, although he had hoped to recover quickly enough to play in the late-January North American Open (the tour’s most prestigious title), by mid-autumn Mudge realized that he would be sidelined throughout the entire season.
In his absence, Mathur didn’t miss a beat, beginning the season with first-time partner Callis (whom Mathur had rallied to defeat 3-2 ten years earlier at the No. 2 position as part of Trinity College’s epic 5-4 victory over Princeton in the final of the 2009 national-college-championship tournament, the Potter Cup) and roaring through the Maryland Club Open without coming close to dropping a single game. Mathur then partnered Zac Alexander through the Denver Club Open draw (again with a string of 3-0 tallies) and teamed back up with Callis in a sprint to the Big Apple Open final, where they steamrolled Badan and Bernardo Samper 15-5 in the first game. To that point, Mathur, the reigning three-time SDA Player of the Year, had opened the season by reeling off 28 straight games, and on that particular night (his consecutive-wins numbers by then having expanded to 18 tournaments and 63 matches) he was playing at his absolute peak, pouncing cat-like on every ball, scorching his drives and catching a half-dozen nicks, a superstar in all his glory, with his parents visiting from India watching proudly from the gallery of the host New York Athletic Club.
The pace and level of play were extraordinary, and there was tremendous energy coursing both on court and through the crowd — until in an instant it all came to a saddening and screeching halt midway through the second game when Mathur suddenly pulled up lame, having ruptured his left Achilles tendon as he started forward to retrieve a shallow Samper forehand cross-court. Mudge was in attendance, sitting on a bench just outside the host venue’s glass back wall, and it seemed a cruelly ironic symbol of how much things can change in a short time and in light of how full of energy and health both he and Mathur had been throughout their undefeated 2017-18 season that it was Mudge’s crutch that Mathur had to lean on in order to exit the court after incurring his injury. Mathur then underwent successful reattachment surgery and is expected to make a full return in autumn of 2019.
With both Mudge and Mathur thus out of action for the rest of the season — and with Callis shortly thereafter joining them on the sidelines with a left knee injury that prevented him from playing in any of the last three events of the Fall 2018 portion of the schedule — the tour became (and remained right till the very end) a kaleidoscope of constantly-changing top-tier partnerships, with a correspondingly undulating set of faces in the winner’s circle and late stages of the draws. There were 43 different semifinalists (10 of them after New Year’s Day), 21 finalists and 16 different tournament winners, seven of whom didn’t reach that stage until Calendar 2019. Only three distinct pairings (Samper/Badan, Stout/McArthur and Russell/Arnold) won as many as two tournaments (none of them won a third) and, beginning with the Big Apple Open, the top-seeded team wound up winning the tournament in only two of the SDA circuit’s last 14 events.
There were also numerous five-game matches and airtight finishes further back in the draws, starting right with the season-opening Maryland Club Open, which had three straight rounds in which there was a five-game match, and there would have been a fourth were it not for Stout and McArthur salvaging the close-out fourth game after trailing Russell and Badan 14-12 in the bottom-half semi. At the Big Apple Open, both bottom-half quarterfinals (Samper/Badan over Stout/McArthur, who themselves had to rally from 2-1 down in their round-of-16 vs. Jacques Swanepoel and Shaun Johnstone, and qualifiers Andres Vargas/Hamed Anvari over Clive Leach and James Bamber) went the full distance, which latter result was especially praiseworthy since it represented the fourth win of the tournament for Vargas/Anvari. In a sign of how change-prone the season’s results were already becoming even at this early juncture, one week later both Vargas (with Carl Baglio) and Anvari (with Johnstone) were then eliminated in the qualifying rounds at the Westchester Country Club event, during which there were four straight rounds with at least one five-game match. The most notable of these was a quarterfinal in which Clive Leach and James Bamber, trailing 2018 U. S. National Doubles champions Alex Stait and Ed Garno 14-8 in the fifth, somehow conjured up a 7-0 match-closing run that culminated in an inside-out forehand volley into the front-right nick off Leach’s racquet.
He and Bamber then grudgingly ceded their semifinal, also in five games, to Ferreira and Callis, who lost the ensuing final to makeshift first-time partners Stout and Badan. The latter had planned to play with his season-long partner Samper but promptly contacted Stout when Samper had to travel to his native Colombia when a family commitment unexpectedly arose. Stout initially demurred — citing his wish to rest up for the following weekend, when he and Jonathan Larken would have to defend their World Doubles title in Rackets — but eventually agreed to play with Badan. They wound up winning the tournament, after which Stout (who is also the World Singles Rackets champion) and Larken successfully retained their Doubles Rackets title and Callis, whose knee condition worsened as the weekend wore on, was diagnosed with a minor cartilage strain and instructed to sit out the remaining autumn tour stops.
At the Bentley Cup in Toronto a few weeks later, top seeds Fred Reid Jr. and Graham Bassett were ousted in the first round by Tyler Hamilton and Rob Nigro, who then led Robin Clarke and Thomas Brinkman 2-1, 12-10, before losing that game 15-13 and the anticlimactic fifth 15-5. Hamilton, a pro at the host Cambridge Club, was just two weeks removed from having recorded a time of 2:37 at the New York City Marathon, where he placed 125th (3rd among Canadian runners) out of multiple tens of thousands of entrants. Clarke and Brinkman (who badly sprained his ankle early in the close-out third game) then lost the Bentley Cup final to their Canadian compatriots Will Mariani and Justin Todd, who in their sole earlier foray on the SDA tour this season had lost 3-0 in the first round in Denver to Baglio and Greenberg.
(l-r): Jamie Bentley, Will Mariani, Tyler Hamilton at the 2018 Jim Bentley CupThen, after a one-week break for Thanksgiving, the inaugural Sleepy Hollow Country Club Open was highlighted by a pair of five-game quarters (Ferreira/Morris over Leach/Bamber and Stout/McArthur from love-two down at the expense of Clarke and Alexander) and a final between Samper/Badan and Stout/McArthur that was just as close as their 15-13 fifth-game quarterfinal Big Apple Open battle six weeks earlier had been. McArthur, the head pro at the host club, and Stout were unable to convert two match-points in the fourth game (after barely winning the third 15-14) but pulled ahead in the fifth, which they won by a score of 15-7. Badan and Samper were back in the final the following week in Atlanta, where they prevailed in four well-played but convincing games against first-time partners Russell and Ahmed. It was to be the first of Russell’s six finals (with five different partners) this past season, and the only one he wouldn’t win.
He christened the 2019 portion of the schedule by teaming up with another first-time partner, namely the fully-recovered Callis, to conquer the field at the University Club of Boston, where Will Mariani and Bamber (first-round 3-0 losers in their only prior foray in Denver less than a year earlier) pulled off a four-game semifinal win over Samper and Badan. Then, after a Challenger event in Pittsburgh in the final round of which John Roberts and 2010 U. S. Intercollegiate Individuals champion (and 2019 SDA Rookie Of The Year winner) Colin West dethroned defending champs Graham Bassett and Adam Bews, the North American Open in Greenwich featured a number of memorable matches. Stout and McArthur straight-gamed Mariani and Bamber in one semifinal, but in the other, Clarke and Alexander engaged Samper and Badan in a titanic battle whose fifth game torturously seesawed to 14-all, at which stage a lengthy point with all four players blasting away (it was well past the point where anyone would have attempted a front-court winner) finally ended when Alexander lashed a forehand cross-court to perfect width that Samper was unable to handle.
Thus reprieved, Clarke and Alexander survived an unconverted fourth-game match-ball and were able to draw away in a 15-9 fifth game against Stout and McArthur, who, however, rebounded from this setback to rise superior to the field a few weeks later at the Baltimore Country Club, where (as had happened a few months earlier at Sleepy Hollow) they out-played Samper and Badan in the final. Proof of the reach and reputation that North American pro doubles squash has attained can be found in the fact that the 16 North American Open quarterfinalists represent eight different countries — four from the U.S., three from England, two each from Colombia, Australia and Canada and one each from Switzerland, Bermuda and Scotland — and all four finalists were from different countries.
During the next few tour stops, Zac Alexander, a former PSA top-40, rode the momentum of his North American Open exploits, in the process displaying his squash versatility on multiple levels. Having won in Greenwich with Clarke while playing the right wall, he moved to the left and partnered Bamber to victory at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia via a 3-0 final-round win over Bassett and Greg Park. Then on February 24th, Alexander earned an exceedingly rare singles/doubles “double,” beginning the day by out-playing Anvari 15-11, 10 and 13 in the late-morning deciding match of the three-player round-robin Men’s Open flight of the U. S. Hardball Nationals at the Harvard Club of New York in mid-town Manhattan, in a rematch — and repeat — of last year’s final. Alexander then swiftly traveled south to the Heights Casino Club in Brooklyn for the early-afternoon final round of the David C. Johnson Jr. Memorial Doubles, where he and Callis defeated Stout and McArthur, 15-14 in the fourth, when at 14-all McArthur had to change racquets when he broke a string, which may have played a role when he then tinned a backhand drop shot on the ensuing point. Alexander’s two-borough, two-sport accomplishment had occurred only once before, when Gary Waite similarly defeated Marty Clark in the Hardball Nationals final, also at the Harvard Club, and then partnered Mudge to a final-round Johnson victory (also in a tight four games) over David Kay and Michael Pirnak 17 years ago in 2002. Remarkably, Mudge had won every interceding edition of the Johnson, with Waite through 2007, with Viktor Berg from 2008-10, with Ben Gould from 2011-15, back with Berg in 2016 and with Mathur in 2017 and 2018. No other player has won any pro-doubles tournament (much less one of the most high-profile stops on the tour) even half as many consecutive times as Mudge’s 17-straight Johnson titles, and this streak finally ended not through on-court defeat but by an injury.
Callis and Stout played this final knowing that, depending on its outcome, one or the other would exit the arena in at least temporary possession of the No. 1 SDA ranking. But if it can be said that the season to that point consisted of mini-runs by different players — with Mathur dominating the early going prior to his injury, followed by Badan winning three late-autumn events and Alexander reaching a peak in mid-winter — then the closing stretch unquestionably belonged to Russell, who won each of the final four tournaments of the season; only two other players (Mathur and Badan) were able to win even two SDA tournaments in a row this past season. Russell’s springtime surge was achieved with, sequentially, Greg Park in Germantown, Bamber in Cleveland and, as noted, Arnold at the Kellner Cup and in Buffalo. There were distinguishing features in each case: the Germantown final-round win over Mariani and Thomas Brinkman occurred just three days before Russell’s 40th birthday and, immediately after it ended, Park, a native Philadelphian who learned the game as a youngster at the host site and has now won this title a record five times, announced his retirement from SDA tournament play. Incredibly, the Cleveland event, where Russell and Bamber defeated top seeds Badan and Samper 3-1 in the final, represented the record-shattering EIGHTH time this season in which the winning partners were teaming up for the first time in their careers: Mathur/Callis at the Maryland Club Open, Mathur/Alexander in Denver, Stout/Badan in Westchester, Russell/Callis in Boston, Roberts/West in Pittsburgh, Alexander/Bamber at the Tompkins Cup, Alexander/Callis at Heights Casino and Russell/Bamber in Cleveland.
In the biennial Kellner Cup, whose $50,000 purse was the largest of the season, Russell was reunited with Arnold, his SEVENTH partner in the nine tournaments he played this season. The pair had planned to team up all season but visa issues had prevented Arnold from traveling in the U. S. until this past spring. Arnold and Clarke, exclusive SDA partners for several years, had won the Canadian National Doubles title in Toronto for the fifth time earlier in the month, and in the Kellner Cup final they opposed each other for the first-ever time in SDA play in the wake a pair of dominant semis in which Russell/Arnold overwhelmed recently-crowned U. S. National Doubles champs Ferreira and Whitten Morris, while Clarke/Callis did the same to Stout and McArthur. At 14-all in the third game after the teams had split the first two, a stroke call was called against Clarke, following which Russell and Arnold raced out to a 9-2 lead in the fourth. Callis and Clarke showed remarkable resiliency in knotting the score at 13-all, but Arnold scorched a backhand rail winner down the left wall and Russell lashed a backhand cross-court that Callis could not fend off to settle the issue.
The 2018-19 SDA tour’s final event occurred in Buffalo, where for the second straight year Russell and Arnold, the 2017 Buffalo winners, faced off against Stout and McArthur, who, surprisingly, had won the 2018 Buffalo final via a one-sided 15-8, 7 and 6 tally, their razor-sharp efficiency that day having been abetted by their growing confidence as the score swiftly mounted in their favor, as well as by Russell’s sub-par state in the wake of an early-match back strain that clearly affected his mobility and effectiveness. Russell, who knew before the match began that his team would have to win in order for him to displace Callis at the top of the SDA standings, had lost to Stout/McArthur both previous times he had faced them this season (with Badan at the Maryland Club and with Park in Brooklyn) and he and Arnold were right on the brink on this occasion as well after dropping the first two games and falling behind 14-13 in the third. Stout and McArthur were playing in their sixth final of the season, the most of any SDA pairing (which probably accounted for their season-end selection as SDA Team Of The Year), and McArthur’s potent front-court game, complemented by Stout’s extraordinary ability to soak up pressure and execute his nick-finding overhead volleys, make them an extremely difficult match-up for any team. They had been faced with a two-love deficit of their own one round earlier against Imran Khan and Omar El Kashef before running off the last three games 15-6, 6 and 3, and they carried that late-match momentum to, and almost through, the final as well.
Even after saving those two match-balls against them — on a potentially winning Stout three-wall that instead barely caught the top of the tin, followed by a Arnold reverse-corner winner, in each case after a lengthy rally — Russell and Arnold had to dig deep in order to earn the hard-fought subsequent pair of games. Ultimately, however, and just as they had done 13 days earlier in the Kellner Cup final, Russell and Arnold were able to persevere with their game plan of keeping their opponents under pressure and behind them, thereby wedging open just enough of a margin, both territorially and statistically, to close out the match 15-10, 15-11. They have now reached the final of all eight SDA tournaments they have entered, winning five of them, and they exited this season solidly positioned to contend for the No. 1 team ranking next season, by the outset of which hopefully both Mudge and Mathur will have recovered from their significant 2018 injuries and the multitude of players who left a substantial footprint on the just-completed 2018-19 SDA tour will be girding to duplicate and even exceed those accomplishments during the 2019-20 campaign.
Rob Dinerman was the ISDA/SDA Official Writer throughout the 12-year period from 2001-13. He has written six squash books in recent years, three of which, namely “The Sheriff Of Squash: The Life And Times Of Sharif Khan,” and Histories of squash at Princeton University and Episcopal Academy, were published during the 2018-19 season.
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.
May 13, 2018 —- The 2017-18 Squash Doubles Association (SDA) pro doubles tour featured 17 sanctioned tournaments, an all-time high number of faces in the winner’s circle and, notwithstanding that latter phenomenon, the dominant and undefeated season-long performance of Manek Mathur and Damien Mudge, who swept through all seven of the tournaments they entered and came away with the most important titles that doubles squash in North America has to offer. After barely losing in the final round of their partnership debut 20 months ago —- by a 15-13 fifth-game score to Michael Ferreira and Yvain Badan at the 2016 Maryland Club Open, the first event of the 2016-17 season — Mathur and Mudge have now won 16 straight tournaments and 54 consecutive matches, including the 24 they played this past season. It was the first time that a team has gone undefeated throughout an entire pro-doubles tour season in the seven years since Mudge and Ben Gould did so in 2010-11, and all five times that this has occurred in the 18 years since the pro doubles association was formed in 2000, Mudge has been a team member. He achieved this feat with Gary Waite in 1999-2000, 2001-02 and 2004-05 and once each with Gould and now with Mathur.
To be sure, Mathur and Mudge had to navigate their way through several treacherous predicaments, especially during the autumn portion of the schedule, beginning with their very first match of the season, when they fell behind Zac Alexander and Raj Nanda, 2-1, 12-7 in the Big Apple Open, before responding with an 8-1 surge that rescued that game, leading to an anticlimactic 15-7 fifth. Mathur and Mudge then straight-gamed Whitten Morris and Eric Bedell (one of several teams during the course of the season to advance to main-draw semis after first having to fight their way through qualifying rounds) and won the final, 15-14 in the fourth, over Bernardo Samper and Chris Callis, semis winners over second seeds Ferreira and Badan. At the Westchester Country Club event less than a week later, the bottom-half semi again matched up the Samper/Callis and Ferreira/Badan pairings, with Ferreira and Badan prevailing this time before losing to Mudge and Mathur in the final.
At the following event, the PDC Cup at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta, John Russell and Scott Arnold made a highly successful season debut appearance as partners by achieving consecutive five-game victories over first Jonny Smith and Viktor Berg in the semis and then Ferreira and Badan in the final, in each case after trailing two games to one, and in the final due to a match-ending four-point run from 11-12. In their only prior foray together, they had won the 2016-17 season-ending event in Buffalo, so the Atlanta win made them two for two. Arnold then teamed up with Robin Clarke in the Bentley Cup in Toronto, where they took The Champs to the very brink, earning a 14-13 fifth-game advantage, double-match-ball, in a riveting semifinal that ended with Mathur nicking a deep cross-court behind Arnold and Mudge then nicking a shallow cross-court that rolled out in front of Clarke. Their final-round opponents, Berg and Thomas Brinkman, had been forced to weather a multiple-match-balls-against moment of their own in their quarterfinal match against Fred Reid Jr. and Aaron Luque, who led 12-8 and 14-12 before grudgingly ceding the last three points. Berg and Brinkman then out-played Smith and Nanda in the semis but were subdued by a Mathur and Mudge in the final. It was already the third time in the young season that an eventual SDA tournament winner had to fend off at least one match-ball against them: at the SDA-sanctioned but non-ranking biennial World Doubles in September in St. Louis, Russell and Leach successfully defended their 2015 title with a simultaneous-championship-point win over Robin Clarke and Brinkman (who hit a forehand rail back to himself for a stroke call at 14-all), and in the Mixed Doubles portion of the Worlds, Callis and Natalie Grainger rallied from 2-1, 14-10 and overtook Berg and Stephanie Hewitt.
The final tournament before the Christmas-holidays break was the biennial Briggs Cup at the Apawamis Club in early December. Adam Bews and Will Hartigan, who had lost in the first round of the qualifying the last time this event was held in 2015, this time came up with a pair of praiseworthy five-game wins over first Reid and Bobby Burns and then Ferreira and Badan to advance to the semis. There they lost in four games to Russell and Arnold, who then took the first game of their Mathur/Mudge final (despite Russell severely spraining his right ankle late in that game) and led 13-10 in the second before Mathur and Mudge engineered their third successful comeback effort of the fall with a 5-0 run to salvage that pivotal game in their eventual 3-1 triumph. Though Russell was able to get through the remainder of the final on adrenaline, he was subsequently found to have torn ligaments in his ankle, putting him in a boot-cast for the next month and sidelining him from competitive play until March.
It is a tribute to how extensive the tour’s top tier had become that Mathur and Mudge had played — and won — their four autumn finals against the theoretical maximal four completely different teams (i.e. eight players), namely Samper/Callis, Ferreira/Badan, Berg/Brinkman and Russell/Arnold. Furthermore, through the six Autumn 2017 pro tournaments, there had been no fewer than 22 players attaining at least the semifinal round, an unusually high number for that juncture of the season and a sign of the depth among the playing membership. What is truly extraordinary is that that number would nearly double by season’s end, with 19 additional players reaching the semifinal stage during the winter and spring months for a total of FORTY-ONE overall, which is by a substantial margin the most in the nearly two-decade history of the professional doubles tour. Similarly the total of 25 players advancing to an SDA final (12 before Christmas and 13 in the Calendar 2018 portion of the tour) is an all-time single-season high, as virtually every weekend it seemed as if one or more teams or players came up with a breakthrough result.
The field was wide open during the first few events in January 2018, since Mathur spent several weeks in his native India while attending a friend’s wedding, during which time Mudge was traveling in Thailand. The tournament at the University Club of Boston during the first few days of the year was nearly capsized by a ferocious snowstorm that pounded the entire northeast corridor and prevented some of the entered teams from participating. There was plenty of on-court drama as well, with both the opening match on a snowy Thursday night (in which the Graham Bassett/John Roberts Boston pairing eked out a 15-14 fifth-game win over the Tyler Hamilton/Rob Nigro Toronto duo when Bassett mis-hit a winner on the last exchange) and the closing match on a much more temperate Sunday afternoon (in which reigning four-time Canadian National Doubles champs Clarke and Arnold out-lasted Ferreira and Badan) coming down to a fifth game. Having been denied on match-point in Boston, Hamilton and Nigro weathered a match-point AGAINST them one week later in Wilmington in winning their quarterfinal with Bobby Burns and Hamed Anvari. They then lost to Smith and Badan, who won the ensuing final against Will Mariani and Greg Park. Then at the Challenger event hosted by Pittsburgh Golf Club one week later, Graham Bassett and Adam Bews defeated first-time SDA finalists Clinton Leeuw and Omar El Kashef.
Mathur and Mudge resurfaced in Greenwich to defend the North American Open title they had won in 2017 (and, in Mudge’s case, to try to win this flagship championship for a milestone 15th time) and they rolled through the draw with a four-game final-round tally over Ferreira and Badan, who then reached the final of the Baltimore Cup one week later, only to be turned away by 2013 World Doubles finalists Smith and Leach. It was the fifth and last final-round advance of the season for the Ferreira/Badan pairing, none of them victorious, and they seemed listless both in the 15-3 close-out third game of this match and in a round-of-16 elimination at the Heights Casino Club in Brooklyn at the hands of James Stout and Greg McArthur in the next tour stop, which turned out to be their last joint appearance of the season. Stout and McArthur then followed up with a four-game win over Bews and Hartigan before losing in the semis to Samper and Callis, whom Mathur and Mudge then beat in the final. It was, incredibly, the 17th time that Mudge has won this, the longest continuously held doubles tournament in the world, all of them in a row. This figure is more than twice as long as the total compiled by any other player, past or current, in any pro-doubles tour stop in the history of professional doubles squash on this continent.
Mathur and Mudge then missed the next three events on the SDA schedule, each of which was distinctive in its own way. At the Denver Athletic Club, Burns and Bedell strung together a trio of 15-14 games at the expense of 2017 U. S. National Doubles champs Bassett and Preston Quick to reach the final, where each of them secured his first-ever SDA title when they defeated Park and Matt Jenson, rebounding from losing the third game 15-14 to win both the fourth and fifth 15-6. One week later in Germantown, Samper and Callis, runners-up several times in recent years, were able to break through with wins in the semis over Jenson and Park and in the final over Russell and Arnold. Then at the Challenger event hosted by the Racquet & Tennis Club in midtown Manhattan, at the outset of which Ned Marks and Travis Judson shocked top seeds Reid and Leach in the opening round, Stout and McArthur built upon their excellent showing in Brooklyn by conquering recently-crowned U. S. National Doubles champs Ed Garno and Alex Stait in the semifinals and first-time partners Jacques Swanepoel and Jordan Greenberg (semis winners over Marks/Judson) in the final. Swanepoel was making his first SDA appearance since the end of the college season, during which the Columbia men’s squash team, which he has coached for the past nine years, won the Ivy League pennant for the first time in the history of the program.
Russell experienced success as a coach this past winter as well when he guided the Episcopal Academy boys team to its first Philadelphia-area Inter-Ac pennant in six years in a performance highlighted by a 6-3 dual meet win over a Haverford School team that was the reigning U. S. High School Championships title-holder at the time. He and Arnold then reached the final at the Tavern Club in Cleveland, defeating Greenberg and John Roberts in the semis, before losing to Mathur and Mudge in a four-game final that swung on the forehand drive that Mathur lashed down the left wall for a clear winner at 14-all in the third game that put his team ahead to stay. During the weekend, Roberts and 2011 Intercollegiate Individuals winner Colin West (who with partner Bews lost the top-half semi to Mudge and Mathur) became the 40th and 41th SDA semifinalists of the season.
Russell and Arnold were expected to successfully defend their 2017 Buffalo Club title and consolidate their standing as the second-best SDA team behind Mathur/Mudge in the season-ending tour stop, all the more so when second seeds Reid and Leach were ousted right away by Burns and El Kashef. Russell and Arnold earned their spot in the final with a pair of four-game wins over first Leeuw and Harvard assistant coach Hameed Ahmed and then Mariani and Brinkman. But there they encountered a buzz saw in Stout and McArthur, who were still riding the wave of their three-week-old championship run in New York and their three convincing pre-final wins (over Hamilton/Nigro, Bews/Alexander and Burns/El Kashef) in Buffalo. They were razor-sharp and brutally efficient throughout their 15-8, 7 and 6 sprint through the final, the effectiveness of their attacking style abetted by their growing confidence as the score swiftly mounted in their favor, as well as by Russell’s hobbled state in the wake of an early-match back strain that clearly affected his mobility and effectiveness.
It was yet another surprising ending to a season that had more than its share of them and, with several of the tour’s top 10 players planning to pair up with new partners next season, it is anybody’s guess as to which new or returning team will emerge as the foremost challenger to the supremacy that Mathur and Mudge (fully worthy successors to the M&M salutation bestowed 57 years ago on Yankee sluggers Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris when both chased Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 61 home runs during the 1961 baseball season) have established during the past two seasons.
Dateline June 5th — The 2016-17 SDA pro doubles tour promised a markedly changed competitive landscape even before it began due to the fact that that no fewer than six of the top eight ranked players from the previous campaign were entering the season-opening Maryland Club Open with first-time-ever partners, and one of the two exceptions was the retired Ben Gould. This situation was most graphically symbolized that weekend in Baltimore when Manek Mathur and Yvain Badan, former Trinity College teammates whose seven years of partnership (from 2009-16), many of them as the No. 2 team behind Gould and Damien Mudge, had finally culminated in their ascent to the No. 1 team ranking during the spring of 2016, were presented with the 2016 Team of the Year Award — less than 24 hours before they then competed AGAINST each other in the final! A certain amount of interpersonal tension understandably animated the ensuing extremely closely contested action, from which Badan and his first-time partner Michael Ferreira emerged triumphant, albeit barely (15-13 in the fifth), over Mathur and his first-time partner Mudge. This was the first of two tournament wins (Atlanta being the other) amassed by the Ferreira/Badan pairing, with five runner-up finishes as well, making them the second most successful team on the circuit.
But that one late-September setback was to be the only one that Mathur and Mudge sustained all season, as after this initial misstep they then embarked on a nine-tournament, 30-match winning spree during which they were never pushed to a fifth game and won all but five of their matches three games to love. Mudge, returning to the right wall — on which he had played with Gary Waite from 1999-2007, winning 75 tournaments, the most ever for one duo, and compiling three wire-to-wire undefeated seasons — after nine extraordinary years on the left, played with a level of power and fitness that belied his May 2016 fortieth birthday, while Mathur’s athleticism and deadly shot-making led to countless front-court winners throughout their blemish-free run. Their final-round opponents included Ferreira/Badan at the Big Apple Open in Manhattan, Bentley Cup in Toronto, MFS Pro-Am in Boston and David C. Johnson Jr. Memorial Doubles in Brooklyn (which latter event Mudge won for the 16th consecutive year with his fourth different partner); John Russell and Viktor Berg in St. Louis and at the North American Open in Greenwich; Russell and Badan in Germantown; Jonny Smith and Chris Callis (another first-time pairing this season) at the Kellner Cup in New York; and Russell and Raj Nanda in Cleveland. Even the arthroscopic right-knee surgery that Mudge underwent immediately prior to the month-long Christmas holidays break seemed to make virtually no discernible impact on his mobility or effectiveness, given the no-nonsense efficiency with which he and Mathur blew through the draw when the schedule resumed in early January in Boston, where they yielded only 24 total points in their 3-0 final with Ferreira and Badan.
Other tournament winners in addition to the top two teams were Bernardo Samper and Baset Chaudhry (two of six Trinity College alumni ranked in the SDA top 13) at the Missouri Athletic Club Open in St. Louis (over Matt Jenson and host club pro Adam Bews in the final), Smith and Chaudhry in the Challenger event in Pittsburgh, Jenson and Scott Arnold (over Callis and Smith) at the Baltimore Cup, Samper and Callis (over Ferreira and Badan) at the Tompkins Invitational in Philadelphia, Russell (who played in a total of five finals with a tour-leading four different partners) and Arnold (over Will Mariani and Thomas Brinkman) in the season-ending event in Buffalo, and Chaudhry and Whitten Morris (over James Stout and Eric Bedell) in the Long Island Open Challenger event in which both final-round teams had had to earn their way into the main draw by first winning several rounds of qualifying matches, one of many signs of how deep the SDA tour has become in recent years. All told, 11 of the top 13 ranked players won at least one sanctioned SDA tournament, 19 players attained at least one final and more than two dozen players made it to at least the semis, all of which figures represent all-time highs during the 18 ISDA/SDA years of North American professional doubles squash. And of the seven sanctioned tournaments this past season which Mudge and Mathur didn’t enter, only twice — in Atlanta and Buffalo — did the No. 1 seed wind up in the winner’s circle.
The Mathur/Mudge dominance aside, there were noteworthy breakthrough wins and a number of near-misses throughout the season, beginning right with the opening weekend, when Ferreira and Badan let a fourth-game match-ball get away in their semifinal with Berg and Nanda before winning the fifth game and then taking the aforementioned route-going final, in which four of the five games were decided by two points or less. Before autumn had ended, Ferreira (who the prior year had similarly been involved in a trio of simultaneous-match-point matches) and Badan had had to save two quarterfinal fourth-game match-balls against them (courtesy Samper/Chaudhry) en route to winning the tournament in Atlanta, then rallied from 7-11 to 15-14 against Nanda and Smith at the same stage of the very next tour stop in Toronto. A few months after that pair of narrow escapes, they survived a 15-14 fifth game with Nanda and Russell at the Philadelphia Racquet Club in the semis.
In addition to their advance to the Buffalo final (featuring solid victories over Nanda/Samper and Imran Khan/Greg Park), Mariani and Brinkman, winners of the Ontario regional championship in December and runners-up to Arnold and Robin Clarke each of the past three years in the Canadian National Doubles, scored impressive victories over first Chaudhry and Clive Leach and then Jenson and Arnold to reach the semifinal stage at the University Club of Boston. In Brooklyn, Bobby Burns and James Bamber accentuated their already-praiseworthy qualifying-round win over Morris and Stout and round-of-16 four-gamer over Nanda and Hamed Anvari by then triumphing, and doing so convincingly (15-8 in the fourth) in their quarterfinal with Berg and Russell, who just a few weeks earlier had reached the North American Open final. Burns also reached the quarterfinals in both Greenwich (when he and Bamber prevailed over Khan and Park) and Germantown, where he and Travis Judson out-lasted Alex Stait and Ed Garno in one of nearly a dozen matches this past season that had a 15-14 fifth-game conclusion. The emergence of these and other newly-forming partnerships was one of the foremost themes of this past season, as were the return to the SDA schedule after a several-years hiatus of tour sites in Philadelphia, Long Island and Buffalo, and both of these phenomena should augur well for the 2017-18 season and beyond.
Rob Dinerman served as the Official Writer for the ISDA/SDA Tour throughout the 12-year period from 2001-13 and for the past six years has been the Editor of the DailySquashReport.com web site. He has authored several books, including two squash anthologies, “Selected Squash Writings” Volumes I and II on Amazon.com, as well as Histories of squash at Harvard and Deerfield published in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and is currently researching a History of squash at Princeton University.