Mike Ferreira & James Bamber won their partnership’s second SDA title and first since the 2020 Ox Ridge Open in January 2020 at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club Open Sunday, November 21, in Briarcliff Manor, New York.
The Englishmen entered the draw as the tournament’s four seeds and opened up their tournament with a four-game win over Canadians Joshua Hollings & Matthew Henderson to set up a semifinal against top seeds Manek Mathur & Chris Callis. Mathur & Callis endured a difficult four-game opening match against former Australian PSA professionals Cameron Pilley & Ryan Cuskelly. The top seeds’ hopes of a second title this season ended abruptly, however, as an injury forced retirement in the third game of their semifinal against Ferreira & Bamber.
Three seeds Greg McArthur & Zac Alexander took part in two of the matches of the tournament. After a four-game opening win over John Roberts & Robby Berner, McArthur & Alexander met two seeds James Stout & Suzie Pierrepont in the semifinals. McArthur & Alexander pulled out a five-game marathon over the two seeds 12-15, 15-14, 15-8, 10-15, 15-12.
The final proved to be another five-game battle, but this time it was Ferreira & Bamber who emerged victorious over McArthur & Alexander 12-15, 15-10, 15-14, 7-15, 15-12.
“It was a very tough final against Greg and Zac and frankly at 10-10 all in the fifth, it could have gone either way,” Ferreira said. “But the momentum swung a little more in our favor as we were able to win a hand full of big points by upping the pace and being a little more patient. It feels great to win another tournament together and it will certainly give us more confidence as a team. Special thank you to the Sleepy Hollow members, Chairman Rob Gutheil and of course Greg McArthur for all the work involved with putting together such a terrific event!”
The tour resumes in the new year as Ferreira & Bamber have the opportunity to defend their Ox Ridge Open title, January 7-9.
Thoroughly out-played throughout the opening game and just two points from losing the second as well, top seeds and first-time partners Manek Mathur and Scott Arnold responded to the exigency of the moment like the champions they are by winning nine consecutive points (and 16 of 18), then staged a five-point run from 9-10 to 14-10 en route to a 10-15, 15-13, 15-4, 15-11 victory over defending champs James Stout and Yvain Badan Monday evening in the final round of the Big Apple Open, sponsored by JLL and held as always at the New York Athletic Club. At 13-all in that crucial second game, Arnold smashed a forehand cross-court into Stout’s body, forcing a return that sailed over the front-wall boundary line, following which Mathur blazed a forehand down the middle for a clean winner at a juncture in the all-court point when both of his opponents had been maneuvered too close to their respective side walls to react in time.
The outcome of the third game became preordained after Mathur and Arnold shot out to a 7-0 lead, but the fourth was a point-for-point dogfight, with the pace, intensity and quality of play all at an extremely high level and neither team able to muster more than a two-point advantage. Badan, a two-time defending Big Apple Open champion (having won in 2018 with Bernardo Samper and 2019 with Stout), played as well as he ever has during his entire outstanding career, making some spectacular retrievals and alternating power and depth with plenty of excellent corner-work, while Stout, who committed the fewest errors of the foursome, hit a multitude of daring winners and engaged in some prolonged and high-octane cross-court battles with Arnold. The latter’s powerful presence impacted virtually every rally, and Mathur, the SDA tour’s most lethal and creative shot-maker, scored repeatedly with a variety of his imaginative salvos and was cat-quick in his court coverage, as were the three other players as well. Three of the five-straight points that brought the eventual champs from 9-10 to quintuple-match-ball in the final stretch were nick-finding winners from Mathur’s racquet, following which he barely caught the top of the tin with a daring cross-drop from deep in the court. However, the ensuing exchange ended when Arnold buried a forehand reverse-corner to cap off a scintillating performance by both teams.
It marked the second tournament win in as many SDA tour stops this season for Mathur, who captured the season-opening event in St. Louis with Chris Callis in mid-October. It was also the second consecutive time that the Big Apple Open was won by a makeshift team that had to be hastily cobbled together due to injury. Callis, who had been scheduled to play with Mathur in New York this past weekend, suffered an ankle sprain a few days prior to the opening round, necessitating an emergency call to Arnold, the reigning Kellner Cup and North American Open champion (in each case with John Russell), who had not entered the tournament but willingly came down from Toronto to team up with Mathur. Badan and Stout had similarly not planned to partner up in the 2019 edition of this event but agreed to do so when each of their scheduled partners — Samper (hamstring) and Greg McArthur (wrist) respectively — were sidelined with injuries. Stout and Badan had actually won all three tournaments they had entered — the 2018 Sleepy Hollow Open, 2019 Big Apple Open and 2020 David C. Johnson Memorial at the Heights Casino Club in Brooklyn — prior to their narrow loss in this Big Apple Open final.
Although the top four seeded teams — Mathur/Arnold, Stout/Badan, Zac Alexander/McArthur and Michael Ferreira/James Bamber — all reached the semis, the top two seeds attained the final and the No. 1 seeded team ultimately made it to the winner’s circle, this couldn’t have been further from a business-as-usual “totem-pole” tournament. Mathur and Arnold were pushed to the absolute brink in their torrid 100-plus-minute semifinal with Alexander and McArthur, who led 11-6 in a fifth game that later was tied at 13-all before Arnold was able to first power a cross-court drive into the front-left nick and then volley a three-wall into the exact same spot to close out that 38-minute game on a memorably emphatic note. Mathur and Arnold had also salvaged the first game of that streak-filled match with a 10-2 burst from 5-11 prior to letting a 12-6 second-game lead get away, following which they won the third from 7-all with an 8-0 burst but lost the fourth. Ferreira and Bamber, winners at the tour stop at the 2020 Ox Ridge Club in their first foray together, barely (15-12 in the fifth, with a pair of split 15-14 games earlier on) survived their quarterfinal match against Adam Bews and Eric Bedell, round-of-16 victors over qualifiers Bobby Burns and Lyell Fuller. Ferreira and Bamber then lost, 15-12 in the fourth, to Stout and Badan, whose quarterfinal match with Graham Bassett and Clive Leach (15-14 fourth-game round-of-16 winners over Alex Domenick and Travis Judson) also lasted four games.
In the draw’s top half, Chris Binnie and Jamie Haycocks, leading Lockie Monroe and Kyle Martino two games to one but trailing 14-12 in the fourth game of the final qualifying round, rescued that game by winning the next three points and then prevailed in three games over two-time Massachusetts State champions Hameed Ahmed and John Roberts to advance to a quarterfinal match-up against Mathur/Arnold, while recently-retired former PSA standouts Ryan Cuskelly and Cameron Pilley edged out Clinton Leeuw, the head pro at the host club, and Will Hartigan, 15-14 in the fourth, before losing in four games to Alexander and McArthur. There was a total of nine games in the tournament’s main draw (and three in the qualifying) that were decided by 15-14 scores, including all four close-out games in the quartet of round-of-16 matches and two of the close-out games in the qualifying, as well as, for that matter, the close-out fourth game of the Pro-Am final, in which Bews and Alan Kanders eked out a victory over Arnold and Will Heffernan. Of the tournament’s 11 main-draw matches, all but one was either extended to at least a fourth game or had at least one game that was decided by two points or fewer. There remains one more Calendar 2021 ranking tournament, the Sleepy Hollow Open in two and a half weeks, before the schedule really picks up with four tour stops in January that will jumpstart a full slate throughout the winter and spring months of 2022.
The SDA Pro Tour returned with its first event since March 2020—the St. Louis Open—with familiar champions Manek Mathur & Chris Callis claiming the first title of the new season Saturday, October 2, at the Racuet Club of St. Louis.
The season opened up with two competitive five-game first round matches. Jamie Haycocks & Ricardo Lopez Valdivia edged Jordan Brail & Chris Walker 15-12, 8-15, 15-4, 13-15, 15-6, and local pro Mike Puertas & Nathan Dugan held off Rafik Bhaloo & Oscar Lopez Hidalgo 9-15, 15-12, 15-12, 9-15, 15-9.
The quarterfinals brought the top four seeds into action and saw all of four teams safely progress to Saturday, which fielded both the semifinals in the early afternoon and ensuing final Saturday night.
Top seeds Mathur & Callis dispatched Adam Bews & Eric Bedel 15-7, 15-12, 15-8 to reach the final, while two seeds Zac Alexander & Greg McArthur overcame a tough challenge from Canadians Joshua Hollings & Matthew Henderson 15-13, 15-10, 15-13.
In Saturday night’s final, it was defending champion McArthur and Alexander who earned an early advantage, taking the first game 15-13 and then narrowly dropping the second game 15-13. Mathur & Callis then stepped up to clinch the title 15-5, 15-8.
“We knew we were in for a tough match, and those guys came out so accurate and precise in the first game,” Callis said. “We knew that if we could get the pace back up and make it a more dynamic, long game that we would have a great shot. Luckily we were able to fight hard, build momentum, and gain confidence as the match went along. Also have to shout out Manek for stepping up and setting the tone all weekend. He always makes my life a lot easier out on court and he stepped up in a big way after over a year and a half since our last event!
“I think we started a little bit on our heels and sluggish from the long day and previous matches,” Mathur said. “They came out with their game plan and hit their zones well, took us a bit to get going and find our zones again. They’re a good team, we were ready for a long match and no surprises that they won the first, they could have won the 2nd too! My partner Chris was an absolute star as always. We both didn’t know what to expect for our first one back but Chris showed up to the event like he didn’t miss a beat. He gave me so much confidence to be out there to do my thing, that I am so grateful we have each other to work through this season.
Mathur & Callis won all five events that they competed in during the 2019-2020 season and pick up where they left off with their partnership’s first title in St. Louis, and Mathur’s second following his 2016 win with Damien Mudge. Mathur and Callis both emphasized the positive atmosphere of the SDA Tour’s return.
“I can speak on behalf of all the guys that we missed the camaraderie we share on the court but we took the off court stuff with each other, events and sponsors for granted,” Mathur said. “The tour is such a special environment where you really get to know people at these sites and it was amazing to see so many familiar faces in STL. Can’t wait to reconnect with all the locations on tour as well. Big thanks to Mike Puertas and the entire STL RC squash community for putting on the first event of the season. They treat us like members and we really do have such a blast out there!”
“It was truly amazing to be back, we both missed it so much,” Callis said. “Both competing and spending time with such an incredible group of players and friends at the club. We’re obviously close with all the other players, but we’ve also gotten to know many members really well over years of coming to St Louis. Meant the world to us to have them be the first ones back on the calendar. Mike Puertas deserves serious kudos for putting on such an amazing event. These things are hard enough to put together, but then you add a pandemic on top of it and it’s amazing how he didn’t miss a beat. It’s such a great club full of so many amazing members.”
Damien Mudge has an intentional relationship with velocity. For twenty years he played professional squash doubles across North America. The very first time he went on a doubles court, his boss and mentor at the University Club of New York, Gary Waite, wound up and cracked a ball hard. A quick demo. It was a backhand, but Waite had a good backhand and he blistered the ball. Mudge went into hysterics, laughing. This is real, he said to Waite. This is actually a game? I can crush a squash ball like that? I can do that? I’m in.
Mudge went on to create the modern game of doubles. He was big: six foot four, two hundred pounds, massive shoulders, …
The 2019-20 SDA Pro Tour featured an undulating mix of sparkling performances, a bewildering series of ill-timed injuries to top-tier players, a host of unexpected results and a kaleidoscope of changing faces in or near the winner’s circle. The first four tournaments were won by four different teams (as well as the theoretical maximum eight different players) and only once during the 12 ranking tournaments did the same team win consecutive tour stops. That pairing, consisting of Manek Mathur and Chris Callis, won a tour-leading four tournaments but only played five of the eight tournaments they entered to completion. This was yet another indication of how present the element of caprice was as the SDA season progressed, culminating in the most capricious development of all, namely the dizzyingly swift proliferation of the Coronavirus pandemic that caused the cancellation of the final three scheduled tour stops in Cleveland, New York and Buffalo.
For both Mathur and Callis, the season-opening Maryland Club Open in late September represented a return to tournament competition after each had undergone surgery. Mathur ruptured his left Achilles tendon in his Big Apple Open final-round match in October 2018, causing him to miss the remainder of that season, while Callis had a torn meniscus in his left knee repaired this past July. Neither showed any ill effects in Baltimore, where they successfully defended their 2018 title with a final-round victory over John Russell and Scott Arnold, who had won the final two tournaments of the 2018-19 season in New York and Buffalo. Both finalist teams had advanced to that status through mid-match semifinal defaults, in each case fairly early in the second game. Greg McArthur’s wrist inflammation caused him and James Stout to default to Mathur/Callis, and Bernardo Samper suffered a right hamstring pull in his and Yvain Badan’s match with Russell/Arnold.
When neither of those injured players was able to recover in time to participate in the Big Apple Open four weeks later at the New York Athletic Club, their respective partners Stout and Badan, winners in their only prior foray one year earlier at the Westchester Country Club, decided to again team up, an extemporaneous decision that resulted in a second trip to the winner’s circle. This one was via a four-game final in which they won each of the last two games 15-14 over their opponents, the reigning North American Open champions Robin Clarke and Zac Alexander, who had defeated Mathur and Callis in the semis. Badan came up with the winning shots in each of those 14-all points. Having lost their last two games in the Big Apple Open final by a single point, Clarke and Alexander then WON the last two games of their Westchester Country Club semi one week later against Russell and Arnold by that same airtight tally, running off the last three points after trailing 14-12 in the fifth on a Clarke forehand drop shot to the front-right on the final exchange that caught Arnold leaning back. The stage appeared set for what would be a much-anticipated rematch between Clarke/Alexander and Mathur/Callis, who had won their semifinal against John Roberts and Hameed Ahmed. But Mathur had rolled his right ankle when he jumped for a volley and landed awkwardly on Hameed’s left foot. He was able to get through the end portion of that match, but the overnight swelling prevented him from answering the bell for the final.
One week later in St. Louis, first-time teammates Russell and McArthur rolled to victory, defeating 2019 Canadian National Doubles finalists Adam Bews and Colin West in the final. In the last two events of the autumn schedule, Callis and a fully-healed Mathur, who had been stopped short of their goal in three of their past four tournaments (one loss and two defaults) dating back to the 2018-19 season, strongly reasserted themselves by barging through the fields at both the Sleepy Hollow Open and the biennial Briggs Cup (seven matches overall), in each case without losing a single game and in each case defeating Stout and McArthur in the final. The rest of the Sleepy Hollow draw went mostly according to plan, but at the Apawamis Club in Rye, where the tournament honoree Peter Briggs was completing his 30th year as the head pro, some of the top teams were ousted well ahead of schedule. Russell and Arnold, the No. 1 seeded team, lost 15-12 in the fifth, to Bews and West in the round of 16; Clarke and Alexander were similarly eliminated in their opening match by Clinton Leeuw and Omar El Kashef; and Samper and Badan exited in the quarter-finals, courtesy of Will Mariani and James Bamber.
Eric Bedell and Whitten Morris opportunistically advanced to the semifinals without playing a seeded team, there to lose to the eventual champs, while in the bottom-half semi, Stout and McArthur ended the Mariani/Bamber run. After dropping the first two games of the final, Stout and McArthur then had several game-balls in the third, but at 14-all, Mathur ended the autumn portion of the season by rifling a low cross-court serve-return that rolled out of the right-wall nick too severely for McArthur to steer it back into play. In the six tournaments that were contested prior to the Christmas-holiday break, 14 different combinations of players attained at least the semifinal round, and seven pairings reached the finals (Stout and McArthur were the only players to reach finals with two partners).
The Calendar 2020 schedule kicked off with a first-time tour stop at the Ox Ridge Club in Darien, CT, where first-time partners Michael Ferreira and James Bamber triumphed in a four-game final over Mariani and Thomas Brinkman. One week later, at the 26th edition of the MFS Pro-Am Boston tournament, Ferreira and Bamber played AGAINST each other in the quarterfinals, with Ferreira and Will Hartigan prevailing over Bamber and Adam Bews. Ferreira/Hartigan then led Mathur and Callis, two games to love, and later 9-7 in the fifth, only to surrender an 8-1 match-closing run that Mathur/Callis carried through their four-game final with Stout and McArthur, semis winners over Clarke and Alexander. It marked three titles in as many attempts for Mathur and Callis, who extended their consecutive-matches-won streak to 11 (a season-end tour-leading total by far) and seemed to have acquired a substantial amount of momentum heading into the important tournaments that lay ahead. No one suspected that their decisive win at the University Club of Boston on the second weekend of January would represent their last joint foray of the season.
They were seeded No. 1 in both the late-January North American Open in Greenwich and the mid-February David C. Johnson Memorial in Brooklyn Heights. But they were unable to make it to the starting gate either time; Callis had to withdraw with a bad case of the flu just before play began in Greenwich (too late for Mathur to get a replacement), and Mathur suffered a severe left hamstring pull during the O’Reilly Invitational one week after Greenwich that prevented him from playing at Heights Casino. In Greenwich, eventual finalists Badan and Samper were nearly knocked out in the round of 16 before rallying from 10-14 to 15-14 in the fifth game against Clinton Leeuw and Omar El Kashef, who one week earlier had been runners-up to Ryan Cuskelly and Chris Binnie in Pittsburgh. Badan and Samper, buoyed by their narrow escape, then recorded consecutive straight-game wins over Alex Dominick/Travis Judson and first-time partners Graham Bassett and Clive Leach, quarters winners over defending champs Alexander and Clarke. Meanwhile Russell and Arnold advanced through the top half of the draw, staging a rally of their own after trailing Stout/McArthur two games to one in the semis. In the final, Samper and Badan won the opener 15-14 on a Samper front-right nick, but Russell and Arnold persevered through the final three games. At the trophy presentation, Badan and Samper announced that the just-completed final constituted their last match as partners that season, and a few days later, Samper posted on Facebook that he would not be playing any more tournaments during the remainder of the 2019-20 tour.
In Brooklyn Heights, the oldies-but-goodies team of Clive Leach and Chris Walker, winners of consecutive tour stops (in St. Louis and Baltimore) during the fall of 2007 and now 99 years old between them, reunited for the first time in more than a decade and pushed Ferreira and Hartigan deep into a fifth game in a memorable round-of-16 match. With Russell (who guided Episcopal Academy to the finals) and McArthur both unavailable due to coaching commitments that weekend at the concomitant U. S. High School National Championships at Trinity College, Mathur out with his hamstring pull and Samper having shut his game down for the balance of the season, this tournament was attended by a shuffling of partners among the top players. This might explain why the semifinal teams were composed of two pairs of first-time partners (Callis and Eric Bedell and Alexander and his Australian compatriot Arnold), one first-year duo (Ferreira and Hartigan) and one pair that had only played together twice before. That latter team was Badan and Stout, who, as mentioned, had triumphed in each of their previous two attempts and would do so this weekend as well, albeit barely. After getting past Callis and Bedell in a four-game semifinal, they lost the first game of the final badly to Alexander and Arnold (straight-game semis winners over Ferreira/Hartigan), but won the remaining three games, all of them close. The fourth seesawed hair-raisingly to 13-all, at which point Stout came up with two nervy winners, the last a shallow backhand cross-court from deep in the back that died in front of Alexander. One interesting new SDA team to watch is Cuskelly and Cameron Pilley, both of whom retired from the PSA pro singles tour in late autumn. They reached the quarterfinals in Brooklyn before losing in an airtight four games to Ferreira and Hartigan.
In what would prove to be the last SDA event of the season before the Coronavirus pandemic shut down the tour (and the rest of the sports world) in early March, former Princeton teammates Kelly Shannon and Dave Letourneau won the Hashim Khan Invitational at the Denver Athletic Club, beating Bedell and Jordan Greenberg in the final. Shannon and Letourneau thereby became the eighth different combination to win at least one of the 12 SDA tournaments in 2019-20. Russell was the only player to win an SDA event with two different partners (McArthur in St. Louis and Arnold in Greenwich) and Stout (who also won the non-SDA Silver Racquets with Barney Tanfield and the U. S. National Doubles with Dylan Patterson) led the tour in SDA final-round appearances with five. All told, 14 different teams attained at least one SDA final and 29 advanced to at least the semifinal stage of the draw. These latter figures make for a compelling statement about how strong and deep the SDA field has become, which can only augur well for the 2020-21 SDA tour and beyond.
Rob Dinerman was ranked as high as #10 on the WPSA pro hardball tour and served as the ISDA/SDA Official Writer throughout the 12-year period from 2001-13. He has authored seven books, all but one of them involving squash, including Histories of squash at Harvard, Princeton and four leading prep schools. He is currently writing a History of tennis at Princeton University. His book “The Sheriff Of Squash: The Life And Times Of Sharif Khan,” and two volumes of his “Selected Squash Writings” anthologies, are available on amazon.com.