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.
Graham Bassett, the Squash Doubles Association (SDA) tour director, presented the association’s annual awards on court yesterday at the 2019 FS Investments U.S. Open. Bassett spoke about the benchmarks of the men’s professional tour: events were contested in twenty cities across Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. with prize money totaling more than $600,000. “As a player-run tour,” Bassett said, “these awards are particularly impactful for players as they are recognitions from their peers.”
Colin West was given the 2019 Rookie of the Year Award. West won the Pittsburgh Golf Challenger in February and rose to No. 25 in the SDA rankings.
The Most Improved Player Award went to Hameed Ahmed. He was a finalist at the Denver Club Open and the Piedmont Driving Club Cup in Atlanta and was a semifinalist at the Tavern Club Open in Cleveland. In just three seasons on tour, Ahmed, the associate head coach at Harvard, has risen to No. 15 in the world rankings.
The Team of the Year Award was given to James Stout & Greg McArthur. This tandem captured the Baltimore Cup and were finalists at the Maryland Club Open, North American Open, and the David C. Johnson Jr. Memorial.
John Russell won the Player of the Year Award. Russell, playing with five different partners, reached eleven finals and won five events, including the prestigious Kellner Cup. His impressive season saw him finish atop the SDA rankings.
The Sportsmanship Award was given to Greg McArthur. “This player was selected by his peers,” Bassett said, “as a consummate gentleman on and off the court. He plays clean and never exchanges a negative word with opponents on court, all while achieving a career high No. 4 ranking.”
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.