World No. 9 Manek Mathur claimed his third career Briggs Cup title to move second on the all-time winners list of the biennial SDA Diamond event behind former partner Damien Mudge, while world No. 2 Chris Callis celebrated his first and largest career title at the Apawamis Club, December 5-9, in Rye, New York.
The $60,000 draw of sixteen teams and four qualifying draws was reflective of a competitive SDA season at its midway point, with four different teams having won the five events leading into the prestigious Briggs Cup.
Fresh off their perfect title run in Sleepy Hollow before Thanksgiving, Mathur & Callis entered the top half of the draw, but not as one of the tournament’s top four seeds. Two of the top four seeds woudn’t make it past the first round, however, with both upsets coming in the top half of the draw. First, Clinton Leeuw & Omar El Kashef took out four seeds Robin Clarke & Zac Alexander 15-13 in the fifth in one of the first main draw matches of the tournament. Later that evening, Adam Bews & Colin West held off a five-game comeback from top seeds John Russell & Scott Arnold to win 15-12 in the fifth.
Australian PSA professionals Ryan Cuskelly & Cameron Pilley–Apawamis’ new head squash professional–nearly provided an intriguing presence in the quarterfinals in their Briggs Cup debut. After progressing through qualifying to reach the main draw, the Aussies fell short 15-7 in the fifth against Eric Bedell & Whitten Morris, who proved to be one the tournament’s two surprise semifinalists.
In the bottom half of the draw, two seeds James Stout & Greg McArthur were the only top-four seed to reach the semifinals, but needed to come back from 2-1 down against Graham Bassett & Hameed Ahmed in the quarterfinals. Will Mariani & James Bamber reached their first Briggs semifinal with a four-game upset over three seeds Bernardo Samper & Yvain Badan. Mariani & Bamber’s surprise run would end in the semis courtesy of a three-game loss against Stout & McArthur.
Mathur & Callis, meanwhile, maintained their strong form from Sleepy Hollow with three decisive 3-0 victories to reach the final against Stout & McArthur. In a rematch of the Sleepy Hollow final, Mathur & Callis produced the same result, edging a close three games to take the title 15-11, 15-5, 15-14.
“We are starting to find some form and it really hit home for the Briggs Cup,” Mathur said. “The timing could not have been better. Both of us felt strong physically and mentally, ready to compete. Chris especially played the best i’ve seen him play, maybe ever… all weekend. His movement and ball control was spectacular in setting us up as a team and allowing for perfect execution of our game plans.”
While Callis celebrates the largest prize money title of his career, Mathur marks his third triumph of the tour’s highest prize money event. The former world No. 1 first captured the title with Yvain Badan in 2011, and his second with five-time Briggs champion Mudge in 2017. The Briggs Cup is the namesake of doubles legend and U.S. Squash Hall of Famer Peter Briggs, who has been based at Apawamis for decades.
“Apawamis is where I really began my doubles journey and learning from Briggsy makes this event extra special for me,” Mathur said. “I know the entirety of the membership and most of them have converted into good friends over the years. Having my name on that board means the world to me and I am very excited to share the space with Chris. Not only is this the biggest event of the season, but it’s one of the best run events on the tour. The club makes you feel at home and the membership could not be more welcoming.”
World No. 1’s Manek Mathur & Damien Mudge maintained their unbeaten record this season on their way to winning the pinnacle event of the SDA calendar, the biennial Briggs Cup at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York.
The Briggs Cup, named after Apawamis pro and doubles stalwart Peter Briggs, has been held every two years since 2003 as the highest prize money event on the SDA Tour. The 2017 prize purse had $60,000 on offer for the full draw of sixteen teams.
The top seeds’ first win of the weekend came under unfortunate circumstances after John Roberts was forced to retire following an ankle injury. Mathur & Mudge then controlled three-game victories in the quarterfinals against James Bamber & Clive Leach and against surprise semifinalists Raj Nanda & Greg Park.
The bottom half of the draw included the biggest upset of the tournament when unseeded Adam Bews & William Hartigan knocked out two seeds Mike Ferreira & Yvain Badan in a five-game quarterfinal 15-9, 15-10, 12-15, 14-15, 15-6.
After a rare first round default, three seeds John Russell & Scott Arnold progressed to the finals courtesy of two four-game victories over Will Mariani & Zac Alexander in the quarters and Bews & Hartigan in the semis.
It was the three seeds who started on the front foot in the final, speeding to a 6-0 lead and earning four game balls up 14-11. At 14-11, Russell sustained an ankle injury that required treatment, briefly suspending the match. Once wrapped up, the Englishman stepped back on court and slotted home a winner to give the underdogs a 1-0 lead.
A re-calibrated Mathur & Mudge edged out a close second game 15-13 to level the score, before pushing through the third and fourth games to claim the title 15-9, 15-11.
“Right from the start I think Damien and I were a tad uncomfortable,” Mathur said of the final. “We went down 0-6 very quick, but found a way to get some momentum heading into the second. The second game was close, but we won some crucial points at 10-13 down which was the turning point in the match for us. Both of us found our feet a bit more and started moving better and in turn the ball did too.”
The tournament involved an unusual amount of ankle issues, with Roberts, Graham Bassett, Will Mariani and Russell all sustaining injuries of varying severity.
“In the first round it was very unfortunate to see John Roberts go down, it was pretty bad and his ankle swelled up pretty quick,” Mathur said. “In the final I think JR managed to twist it slightly, but his movement through the rest of the match told us otherwise. He is deceivingly quick.”
While both Mathur & Mudge have previously won the Briggs Cup, Monday night marked the first their partnership’s first title. Mathur had previously won in 2011 with Yvain Badan, while Mudge adds to titles with Ben Gould (2015), Viktor Berg (2009), Gary Waite (2005) and Michael Pirnak (2003).
“The Briggs is always a special event for me,” Mathur said. “I learned a chunk of my doubles here working for Pete and have made some of my closest relationships at the club. The members and the staff hold a special place with me and being on that board twice now is a dream come true.”
The Briggs was one of the last titles on tour evading the Mathur & Mudge partnership until this weekend as they continue their second season together.
” I cannot thank City Squash, Briggsy, Peer, Steve Mandel, Tommy Clayton, Artie and Brian Walsh enough for running a first class event,” Mathur said. “We are all getting excited for two years from now to return to Apawamis for the 2019 Briggs Cup. Last but not least to my partner: talking about learning things, I have had the opportunity to learn from one of the game’s best daily. Being on court with Damien is a real treat and I look forward to our next event.”
A better script could not have been written as the most dominant squash doubles partnership of the past five years, Damien Mudge & Ben Gould, captured the only professional title that had, up until this weekend, eluded them—the biennial $100,000 Briggs Cup—in their final professional appearance together at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York, Monday night.
The three-game final victory over Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan came after Gould, thirty-nine, announced his retirement following the Briggs, thus ending the era of Mudge & Gould that has dominated the tour since sweeping the then ISDA with a 34-0 undefeated first season together in 2010-2011.
Since the 2010-2011 season, the Australians amassed an incredible 189-7 record and fifty-five titles, which included each major title on the tour, the 2013 World Doubles title, and now 2015 Briggs Cup title to cap off one of the most dominant periods in U.S. professional squash doubles history.
The Australian world No. 1’s topped the largest draw of the season this weekend, which featured a sixteen-team main draw and four qualifying draws. Their road to the final was anything but easy, and complicated by the fact that Mudge was playing with a foot injury.
Raj Nanda & Imran Khan took a game off the champions in their quarterfinal match, and the most visible effects of Mudge’s injury shone through late in the third game of their semifinal against Viktor Berg & Hamed Anvari. The left-waller stayed close to his wall, sometimes leaning on it mid-point for support and at one point leaning in the front corner between points as he was consulted by a worried Gould. Gould was forced to step up to cover more of the court, but the Australian’s shot-making remained on point to crucially send them to the final in three games where they would meet two seeds and world No. 3’s Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan.
Mathur & Badan nearly fell victim to a first-round upset against Greg McArthur & James Stout. Stout, world Rackets champion, put on a shooting clinic that saw the underdogs just two points away from a five-game upset, ultimately falling short 15-13 in the fifth.
Mathur & Badan endured another five-gamer in the quarterfinals where they held off fellow Trinity Bantam Mike Ferreira, world No. 7, and world No. 11 Chris Callis on a simultaneous match ball in the fifth game. Canadian doubles national champions Robin Clarke & Scott Arnold met the two seeds in the semifinals after pulling off the upset of the tournament over England’s World Doubles champions John Russell & Clive Leach in a three-game quarterfinal. After splitting the first two games, Mathur & Badan pulled away to reach the final in four games.
Monday’s finals for the first time included a $25,000 WSDA full ranking draw in addition to the men’s. After winning a dramatic semifinal 15-14 in the fifth game, top seeds Dana Betts & Steph Hewitt held off a two-game comeback in the final against two seeds Natarsha McElhinny & Meredeth Quick to win the title in five.
Crucially for Mudge & Gould, Mudge’s injury vastly improved by Monday night’s final, allowing the top seeds to execute their hard-hitting, fast-paced style more effectively while covering the court more evenly. The Australians came out firing in the first game creating an 8-2 lead at one point, and maintained their lead to win the first 15-6.
The second game began drastically different with Mathur & Badan, both of whom served as Apawamis professionals earlier in their careers, creating an early lead while boosted by a vocal, packed gallery of former clients and friends. Mathur & Badan squandered what at one point was a five-point lead at 10-10, but scored a few important points to go up 13-11. Three tins by Mathur & Badan quickly turned the game on its head and saw Mudge & Gould storm back to rattle off four consecutive points to win the second 15-13.
With their first Briggs cup together within reach, there was no looking back for Mudge & Gould in the third, speeding to a 7-2 lead and maintaining until earning eight match balls at 14-7 and clinching the match and title 15-7.
An emotional ceremony ensued with Gould thanking Apawamis and the tournament’s namesake, Peter Briggs, lauding the tour’s growth since first joining the tour in 2003, and one final professional on-court thank you to his partner of five years and friend of twenty-five years.
“Twelve years ago when this event started, it was the largest prize money on the tour and that hasn’t changed so it’s no surprise that all the players show up to play, and obviously everyone puts in 1000% to win it,” Gould said of the Briggs Cup.
“Thank you, Peter, for organizing and your club’s efforts in fundraising. There’s a lot more to this event as well. You’ve set the bar as far as fundraising for urban youth programs. Almost every event on tour now is attached to some urban youth program around the country, and this was the first place to do it, and I don’t think anyone has come even close in terms of fundraising.”
Since the tournament’s inception in 2003, the Briggs Cup has raised close to one million dollars for CitySquash.
“Well done to Manek and Swiss,” Gould said of his final opponents. “We’ve been battling for almost four and a half years now, and I think we’ve probably had thirty or forty finals against each other. Thanks for all of the times we’ve had on court. Great athletes. Great friends. I’m sure they’ll be playing this game for a long time coming.”
“I’d like to thank all of the guys who have driven the SDA. We re-branded our tour five years ago, and six or seven guys really stepped up to help all of the players. Our tour has gone from just under $300,000 and eight events about four years ago, and now we’ve just hit $600,000 and twenty-five events. Our goal is to hopefully have a glass court and a mini world tour in six or seven years. I’m really proud of everyone involved. Peer is one here, Mark Dowling, Mark Hayden, Patrick Turner, Morris Clothier.”
“Lastly, obviously this is our last pro event together, Damien and I. Hopefully we have some Masters events together. It’s been a great trip. I’m going to miss you. You’ve got plenty of years left on court, but I can’t thank you enough for the last five years. Thank you.”
Although Mudge & Gould’s name grace the winners list for the first time together, it marks Gould’s second Briggs title adding to 2007 with Paul Price, and Mudge’s fourth. Mudge won the inaugural Briggs cup in 2003 with Michael Pimak, the 2005 title with Gary Waite—both on the right wall—and the 2009 title with Viktor Berg on the left wall.
While his long-time partner marks the end of his professional doubles career, Mudge reunites with Berg moving forward, with whom he recently won the Delaware Pro Doubles title. As is always the case with doubles, one is only as good as their partner and Mudge expressed his surprise and delight that his foot injury improved before the final to give Gould the best send off possible.
“This is a great event, and the fact that this is our last event together meant so much,” Mudge said.
“I had some health issues. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to play come Friday. Today was actually the best it felt. I’ve got a neuroma and it hit the spot on the neuroma which is debilitating. For some reason, I didn’t even walk on it today and I bounced around a bit, didn’t feel much and felt great. I was moving great, was feeling more balanced and felt like myself, which gave me and Gouldie a lot more confidence knowing that he didn’t have to cover so much of the court for me. He was able to play his game and executed so well on the right and came up with some big shots.
“I think this was one of the toughest events we’ve played. From an emotional standpoint, the amount of time and energy we put into this knowing it was our last event and it was the one we wanted most. But also knowing I wasn’t 100% with my foot. It was a really taxing event. I’m so happy we won our last event three love in the biggest tournament of the year.”
“We’ve seen over the years that these two guys have been the standard in the game that everyone aspires to,” Briggs said of Mudge & Gould.
“Every once in a while they got caught, and that only peaked their interest, which is great. It’s good to see a new class of younger players creeping up now, which is great to see for the depth of the tour. Both of you have played in all seven editions of this tournament. Thank you for your play, professionalism, and your emotional input into the game. We’re very grateful.”
Watch the final replay below. The SDA Tour resumes in the new year with the $40,000 Putnam Pro-Am Doubles in Boston, Massachusetts, January 6-10.
The seventh biennial Briggs Cup—offering the highest prize money on tour with $100,000—will be decided between the top two seeds in both the men’s and women’s divisions Monday night at the Apawamis Club in Rye, New York.
Both finals are streaming and scoring live on SDA Live and WSDA Live with the women’s final up first at 7pm ET and the men’s final following on at 8pm ET.
The men’s final is one of historic proportions with the most dominant partnership of the past five years, world No 1’s Damien Mudge & Ben Gould, set for the partnership’s swansong after Gould announced his impending retirement following the final. The $100,000 men’s title is the only title on tour that has eluded the Australian partnership over the past five years.
Mudge & Gould will contest the final against two seeds Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan, who defeated Mudge & Gould to win the 2011 Briggs Cup title. Mathur & Badan endured two difficult five-game matches in the round of sixteen and quarterfinals, before defeating Canadian rookies of the year Robin Clarke & Scott Arnold in four games.
The $25,000 women’s final is down to top seeds Dana Betts & Stephanie Hewitt, and two seeds Natarsha McElhinny & Meredeth Quick, who held off Victoria Simmonds & Amy Gross in a five-game semifinal Sunday.