Zac Alexander & Robin Clarke earned their partnership’s second career title and first of the season, however the accolades came in unfortunate circumstances after the withdrawal of Manek Mathur due to injury ahead of the Westchester Country Club Pro Doubles final Monday, November 4, in New York.
Alexander & Clarke continued to build on their positive momentum from their first two events of the season leading into Westchester. After a second round exit in the season-opening Maryland Club Open, Alexander & Clarke improved by reaching the Big Apple Open final, where they narrowly lost as a result of third and fourth games dropped at 14-all.
In Westchester, the three seeds decisively reached the semifinals with a 3-0 win over Canadians Will Mariani & Thomas Brinkman to set up an encounter with two seeds John Russell & Scott Arnold.
In a match up that could have been a final in any other draw, Clarke & Alexander pulled off a remarkable five-game comeback that included two 14-all points in the fourth and fifth games to win 13-15, 13-15, 15-5, 15-14, 15-14.
“Coming from 2-0 down doesn’t really surprise robin and I anymore I don’t think,” Alexander said. “More often than not we’re grinding for 90+ minutes so when it gets long, we back ourselves in. Super proud of how we fought and dug deep.”
Meanwhile in the top half of the draw, top seeds Manek Mathur & Chris Callis eased their way though to the final with three swift games over Ryan Cuskelly & James Bamber in the quarterfinals and John Roberts & Hameed Ahmed in the semifinals. Things took a turn for the worse towards the end of their third game in the semis, however, when Mathur’s sustained a rolled ankle. The injury was enough to keep Mathur off court in Monday’s final, resulting in a withdrawal.
Alexander & Clarke add their Westchester title to their inaugural North American Open title last season.
“It’s never good for the club to not have a final,” Alexander said. “Unfortunately for Manek he’s been unlucky with his body lately, but he’s such a diligent athlete he’ll be back very soon. Great to get a win this early in the season and kind of makes up for missing out last week at the Big Apple Open where this time we we’re on the losing end of two sudden death games against Stout and Swiss.”
World No. 7 Yvain Badan reunited with world No. 3 James Stout to successfully defend his Big Apple Open title and extend the partnership’s winning form at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.
Badan & Stout had originally entered the SDA Gold draw with their regular partners, Bernardo Samper and Greg McArthur, respectively. However, both Samper & McArthur sustained injuries in the semifinals of the Maryland Club Open earlier this month, keeping them off court in New York City.
Last season, Badan & Stout put together a title-winning run at the 2018 Westchester Country Club Open in what was their partnership’s debut and as a result, the partnership was a natural fit for the Big Apple Open where they led the draw as top seeds.
The top seeds eased their way through to the final in the top half of the draw courtesy of three-game quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Adam Bews & Colin West and Mike Ferreira & William Hartigan, respectively.
The bottom half of the draw nearly saw the finalists, Robin Clarke & Zac Alexander, crash out in their opening quarterfinal match against Andres Vargas & Jacques Swanepoel. Vargas & Swanepoel fended off a two-game deficit to force a fifth game, where they narrowly lost out 15-13.
The close quarterfinal spurred on Clarke & Alexander to produce a major semifinal upset over world No. 1 Chris Callis & two-time Big Apple Open champion Manek Mathur 11-15, 15-10, 15-13, 15-5.
The NYAC crowd enjoyed a climactic two-hour final on Monday night, October 28, as Badan & Stout prevailed in four games over Clarke & Alexander 14-15, 15-9, 15-14, 15-14.
“The final was physically and mentally exhausting,” Stout said. “To be on court for just under two hours and to sneak out the victory 3-1, tells how grueling it was. We knew it was going to be a tough match against Zac and Robin after their great win in the semis over Manek and Callis, but we stayed strong and managed to play the big points well.”
“Zac and Robin are an unbelievable team,” Badan said. “Their semifinal match was truly impressive. The way they executed their game plan was brilliant. So going into the finals, we knew it was going to be a long, hard-fought final. Mentally and physically were were prepared for it. We also believed in our game plan and our ability to implement it on court.”
Badan and Stout have often faced off against each other on the SDA tour, but have now won both tournaments where they’ve joined forces. Both Badan, the 2018 Big Apple Open champion with Samper, and Stout mark their first titles of the season.
“Playing with James is awesome,” Badan said. “He covers the court exceptionally well which really boosts your team’s confidence! We seem to be pretty successful at implanting or game plan as a team, which makes it all the more efficient.”
“It was a tough first tournament for both of our teams with Greg and Bernardo hurting themselves in the semifinals of Maryland,” Stout said. “It was touch and go till last weekend on whether they would be able to play, but they both decided to give their recoveries a little longer. After winning Westchester last year, it was reasonably comfortable getting back on court with Swiss and picking up where we left off. Having played with and against him so many times, you get a feel for each others style of play, and ours luckily matches up pretty well. Thanks to all of the sponsors, members and pros of the New York Athletic Club for putting on such a great event.”
Stout, world No. 3, engraves his name on the Big Apple Open for the first time in his second tournament appearance. The Big Apple Open has been hosted by NYAC since 2004.
Nearly one year after rupturing his Achilles while playing with Chris Callis, former world No. 1 Manek Mathur made a victorious return to the SDA Pro Tour with Callis by capturing the season-opening Maryland Club Open title, Monday, September 30, in Baltimore.
The $50,000 diamond draw was reflective of the parity that formed over the course of last season in the vacuum of Mathur, who had gone undefeated with the now retired Damien Mudge two seasons ago. James Stout & Greg McArthur, who won three titles last season, led the draw as top seeds, opposed by world No. 1 John Russell & Scott Arnold as the two seeds. Callis, then ranked No. 2, and Mathur, No. 12, entered the top half of the draw as the four seeds.
Mathur & Callis dropped their opening games in both their first and second round matches before getting up to speed and winning both matches in four games. The quartefinals played out according to seeding despite a close slate of matches that were all decided in either four or five games.
Both of Sunday’s semifinals took an unfortunate turn in the second game of each match. First, McArthur picked up a wrist injury forcing a retirement that sent Mathur & Callis into the final. Then Bernardo Samper sustained a hamstring injury in the second semifinal, causing another retirement and sending Russell & Arnold through to the final.
In the final, Mathur & Callis held off a comeback from Russell & Arnold to claim the first title of the season 15-10, 15-9, 12-15, 15-11.
Both Mathur & Callis were pleased with improved form as the tournament progressed–particularly Mathur having spent so long off court–and were happy to be back on court together.
“We were a bit rusty to start, not to take anything away from our initial round opponents who played lights out, but it was fun to watch our progress through the weekend,” Mathur said. “The injury layoff was something I personally expected to be harder on the legs, but seeing the ball at that speed and pace, was the biggest thing to readjust to. Being on court with Chris has always been a treat. We go back so many years competing against each other, that battling on the same team is a ton of fun. We have a good off court relationship which transfers pretty seamlessly to the on court game.”
“I think we were both so excited to get back out there that it translated to us being a little too amped on court,” Callis said. “Each round we got a little more comfortable out there and by the finals it felt like the game had slowed down massively versus the first match. We knew from last year that we had good quality doubles in us and we were really happy to find it in our first event back together.”
The result sends Callis back atop the world rankings in October, marking the second time the Princeton graduate has reached the tour’s top ranking in the past year. Callis was more focused on the successful return of Mathur, however.
“The amount of work Manek put in to get to this point in just eleven months is just incredible–nobody deserved this win more than he did, so I’m glad we could get it done,” Callis said. “Having him back in these draws is great for the sport of doubles and really raises the bar for all of us in the tournament.”
On Friday night, the Maryland Club Open was recognized for being named the 2018 SDA Tournament of the year as voted by the players. The board tenures for outgoing members and SDA players Mike Ferreira and Peter Kelly were also celebrated.
The Maryland Club Open, now four times voted SDA Tournament of the year, heralded in the new SDA Pro Tour season in front of one of the country’s most passionate hotbeds of squash doubles.
“The Maryland Club is such a doubles enthusiastic club that the energy around the event is electric,” Mathur said. “It lifts all of us up and gets us excited for the season. Andrew Cordova goes out of his way to make the event a success and the membership treats the entire tour like family and opens all their doors to us. With the only club in America to have three doubles courts, it definitely fits the mould for the first event of the season!”
“The enthusiasm around doubles at the Maryland Club is truly second to none,” Callis said. “The members really love the sport and put so much energy into the game–it’s always a blast to play in front of a packed crowd that really knows their doubles.”
The tour resumes later this month with the Big Apple Open, October 25-28.
The SDA Pro Tour welcomes the continued support of johnnie-O as the official lifestyle partner of the tour for the next two seasons.
“It is great to be able to welcome johnnie-O back as a sponsor of the Tour,” said Kevin Luzak, Chair of the Squash Doubles Association Board of Directors. “The johnnie-O brand, focused an active, athletic lifestyle, is a perfect complement for the overall message of the Tour and our sport. Moreover, johnnie-O has put together a fantastic selection of Tour-branded clothing and gear that helps our members and supporters get that message out to our communities.”
Started by John O’Donnell in 2005, johnnie-O is a branded lifestyle apparel company, founded in Santa Monica, CA, that fuses a Southern California vibe with East Coast style and embodies living your best life. With headquarters based in Los Angeles and offices throughout the Midwest and East Coast of the United States, johnnie-O boasts a national presence and partnerships with Major League Baseball, university athletics programs and the SDA Pro Tour.
Johnnie-O joins the SDA in its eighth season. Established in 2012 as the successor to the International Squash Doubles Association, the SDA Pro Tour has more than 100 members representing eighteen countries and supports a schedule of more than twenty events across the United States, Canada and Mexico with an aggregate purse of more than $600,000.
“We’re thrilled here at johnnie-O to renew our partnership with the SDA Pro Tour,” said johnnie-O’s Senior Vice President of Business Development Quinn Veysey. “As we kickoff our third year, it feels like we’ve hit our stride with players, pros, and patrons who are aware of the sponsorship and are eagerly seeking out products for both on and off the court. The SDA Pro Tour community overlaps very well with johnnie-O and we’re psyched to be able to continue our support.”
SDA players and patrons can be seen sporting johnnie-O gear this season. Items from johnnie-O’s SDA Pro Tour collection can be viewed and purchased here.
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.