SDA veterans James Stout & Yvain Badan enjoyed their first title breakthrough at the sport’s oldest professional event–the David C. Johnson Jr. Memorial–Sunday, February 23, at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn, New York.
The SDA Platinum draw experience an early adjustment after two-time Johnson champion and world No. 2 Manek Mathur was forced to withdraw due to injury. The resulting shift saw world No. 1 Chris Callis team up with Eric Bedell and realign as the three seeds, while Stout & Badan shifted to the top of the draw as the two seeds.
The Johnson attracted four qualifying draws that began the busy week of squash doubles. The most notable qualifiers proved to be former Australian PSA professionals Ryan Cuskelly & Cameron Pilley who continue to display their improving squash doubles play. The Aussies upset Canadians Will Mariani & Justin Todd in the first round and pushed four seeds Mike Ferreira & Will Hartigan in a tight four-game quarterfinal.
In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Zac Alexander partnered with fellow Aussie Scott Arnold as the top seeds. Alexander & Arnold nearly exited in the quarterfinals against Clinton Leeuw & Omar El Kashef, but were able to come back from 2-1 down to win 11-15, 15-10, 11-15, 15-9, 15-7. Alexander & Arnold then dispatched Ferreira & Hartigan in a three-game semifinal to set up Alexander’s title defense in the final.
Stout & Badan progressed to the final some difficult match ups. The top seeds bounced back from dropping the first game against Graham Bassett & Hamed Anvari to win their four-game quarterfinal. In the semis, Stout & Badan held off a tough challenge from Bedell & Callis 15-9, 10-15, 15-13, 15-8. The final proved to be one of the best matches of the tournament as Stout & Badan ground out a tactical win 7-15, 15-12, 15-12, 15-13.
“Both Bedell & Callis and Alexander & Arnold were excellent teams,” Badan said. “We went in with a winning game plan in the semis and had to be patient with it to pay off. In the finals, we couldn’t implement our strategy in the first game, so we had to regroup and make adjustments. Both matches were very demanding physically, which sometimes can disrupt your concentration and ultimately your strategy. Luckily for us, we were able to stay focused, and play the big points well.”
“We knew it was going to be a tough tournament going into the event, and it did not disappoint,” Stout said. “Eric Bedell & Chris Callis were playing well after their quarterfinal win and Zac Alexander & Scott Arnold have both won major tournaments this season. Yvain and I were able to adapt our game plan when necessary and managed to play the big points well. We have gotten used to playing these long, physically exhausting, drawn out matches that although are exciting (similar to regular chess), are much different from the quick, power hitting, blitz style that some teams incorporate. The key is being able to play–and stick to–our game plan.”
Having both finished as runners up before in Brooklyn, Stout & Badan now join the illustrious list of past Johnson champions spanning back to 1938. Stout & Badan mark their second title of the season together having won the Big Apple Open. The result will send Stout back up to world No. 5 in March’s rankings.
“Having both lost in the final in previous years, it felt incredible to finally lift the winners trophy and get our names alongside some of the best doubles players of all time,” Stout said. “The tournament is really well organized and the gallery is always packed with enthusiastic supporters throughout the weekend. We would like to say a special thank you to the Heights Casino and everyone involved in this marquee event.”
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Badan said. “It is not only special to win the Johnson because of the charisma and history of this tournament, but also special because of its people: it is a passionate group of squash doubles connoisseurs. We would like to thank everyone at the Casino, Adam Bews & his team, as well as Graham Bassett and the SDA for making the event exceptional.”
The SDA Tour now heads west to Denver, Colorado, for the SDA Bronze Hashim Khan February 28-March 1.
World No. 2 John Russell & world No. 5 Scott Arnold added their names to the illustrious ranks of North American Open champions with their first career title Monday, January 27, at Greenwich Country Club in Connecticut.
The NAO dates back to 1931 and unites the vibrant Greenwich squash doubles community with matches held across three venues–Field Club of Greenwich, Greenwich Country Club and Round Hill Club. The tournament added an additional $10,000 to the total prize money this year making the NAO the largest annual prize money event on the SDA Pro Tour.
The $60,000 SDA Diamond draw experienced an early shake up as two seeds Manek Mathur & Chris Callis withdrew a day before the main draw due to Callis succumbing to illness and lucky losers Lyell Fuller & Rasmus Hult entering the draw as a result.
The full draw of sixteen teams mostly progressed according to seeding in the early rounds with the biggest upset of the tournament produced by Graham Bassett & Clive Leach–a 2013 NAO champion–who shocked defending champions Robin Clarke & Zac Alexander 15-12, 15-13, 15-10 in the quarterfinals. The result sent Bassett, world No. 22, through to his first career SDA Diamond semifinal.
Yvain Badan–a 2016 NAO champion–& Bernardo Samper nearly exited the tournament in the first round, fighting off four match balls against Clinton Leeuw & Hamed Anvari to win on simultaneous match ball. Badan & Samper regrouped to reach the final without dropping a game in the quarterfinals and a 15-12, 15-9, 15-11 semifinal against Bassett & Leach.
A two-hour semifinal ensued with Russell & Arnold coming back from 2-1 down to record their first win over Stout & McArthur since the 2019 Buffalo final 14-15, 15-14, 13-15, 15-9, 15-11. Monday’s final tested Russell & Arnold’s endurance again as the match extended close to two hours again as the top seeds prevailed over Samper & Badan 14-15, 15-11, 15-12, 15-12.
“Both our semifinal and final were extremely hard fought matches, both lasting nearly two hours,” Russell said. “Hopefully Scott and I can build on this and finish the season off strong.”
The NAO marked Russell & Arnold’s first title together since ending the 2018-2019 season with two titles–the Kellner Cup and Buffalo Club in May. Russell collects his second of the season having won St. Louis with McArthur in November.
“The North American Open is one of the most prestigious events out there,” Russell said. “Its history dates back over 90 years and knowing that our names will be on the wall in gold paint with all the other legends of the game is truly an amazing feeling. Steve Scharff, Rodney Eyles and Liam Kenny ran a fantastic event, I’d like to thank all the patrons for making the event possible, the Greenwich crowd is extremely knowledgeable and appreciative which made for a fun atmosphere to play in.”
PSA and Commonwealth Games softball doubles veterans Chris Binnie and Ryan Cuskelly celebrated their first hardball doubles title success on the SDA Pro Tour by capturing the Pittsburgh Golf Club Challenger Sunday, January 19, in Pennsylvania.
Binnie and Cuskelly, both based in Greenwich, Connecticut, represented Jamaica and Australia, respectively, on the international softball doubles courts in numerous Commonwealth Games and WSF World Doubles Championships, and have recently started competing in its North American counterpart. Cuskelly made his pro hardball doubles debut in an ISDA-era Briggs Cup, and more recently competed in the 2018 North American Open and six events so far this season with partners including fellow Aussie PSA retiree Cameron Pilley, James Bamber and Jaymie Haycocks. Binnie made one appearance in the then ISDA Johnson in 2012, and more recently competed in the 2018 Sleepy Hollow Open and four events so far this season with partners including Chris Hanson and fellow Trinity graduate Shaun Johnstone.
Binnie & Cuskelly nearly opened up their first SDA tournament together with a loss after coming back from 2-0 down against Canadians Kelly Shannon & Robert Nigro, clinching the match on simultaneous match ball 13-15, 3-15, 15-11, 15-10, 15-14. Three tournament’s four first-round matches extended to five games, as John Roberts & Kyle Martino held off Duncan & Gavin Maxwell, while Matt Dominick & Adam Perkiomaki edged Elroy Leong & Alexander Ma 15-13 in the fifth.
Binnie & Cuskelly then rebounded with a resounding semifinal upset over top seeds Roberts–who sustained a neck injury–& Martino 15-3, 15-4, 15-9 to set up a final against two seeds Clinton Leeuw, who recorded two three-game wins to reach the final. It was the newcomers who came through in the final as Binnie & Cuskelly clinched the title 15-7, 12-15, 15-7, 15-8.
“It was definitely a fun experience to play a hardball doubles together,” Binnie said. “Obviously Ryan and I are very new to it. He’s played maybe four or five SDA events, I’ve played maybe three or so before Pittsburgh so to actually win a tournament this early on is pretty cool. During the games I think we got a little bit of luck throughout the tournament and some things fell for us, and lucily we were able to sneak out the wins. We are pretty happy overall.”
Binnie and Cuskelly have been long-time PSA training partners under the tutelage of Australian PSA legend Rodney Martin. While Binnie, world No. 87, continues to compete on the PSA tour, Cuskelly, former world No. 12, recently announced his retirement at the 2020 Tournament of Champions in New York City.
“We hang out together all the time and have trained together for years and and we’ve played hardball doubles a couple of times,” Binnie said. “Having a good friendship can definitely help and once you play together you learn from each other and what each person likes to do on the court. We’re going to keep playing and have some fun. I’m still playing PSA and Ryan just retired so I think he’s a little more invested in doubles, which is good. So I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of him and a little more of me. Either way we’re looking forward to playing another one soon.”