The 2019 David C. Johnson, Jr. Memorial–world’s first professional hardball doubles event dating back to 1938–yielded a historic result in the form of a new world No. 1, Chris Callis, who captured the SDA Platinum title for the first time with Zac Alexander at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn.
The sixteen-team draw played out largely according to seeding with all four top seeds reaching the semifinals. Three seeds John Russell & Greg Park took the toughest route to the semis out of the top four sides. Russell & Park had to come back from 2-1 down against qualifiers Elroy Leong & Parth Sharma to win their opener in five, only to do it again in the second round, coming back from 2-1 down against Eric Bedell & William Hartigan to reach the semis in five.
After two, three-game wins to reach the semifinals, Callis & Alexander met their first hurdle in the form of top seeds Bernardo Samper & Yvain Badan. Callis & Alexander earned the advantage in a close first two games 15-12, 15-13, but Samper & Badan came back to take the third 15-5. Callis & Alexander regained the edge in the fourth to reach the final 15-13.
Fresh off their Baltimore Cup title and with their highest career top five rankings this month, Stout & McArthur came back from 1-0 down to brush aside Russel & Park 14-15, 15-9, 15-13, 15-8.
A close final saw the first two games split and a simultaneous game/match ball in the fourth, at which point misfortune struck for McArthur a broken string sent his shot into the tin to hand the title to Callis & Alexander 15-7, 14-15, 15-7, 15-14.
While both players have now won multiple titles with different partners this season, the Johnson marked their debut together on the SDA Pro Tour.
“Playing with Chris was great,” Alexander said. “I think we complement each others game really well. I like to control the pace, placement and movement of the game and with Chris’ pure power and accuracy we gelled and made it tough for the other boys to break us down.”
Alexander shifted over to the left wall to accommodate the new partnership.
“I definitely felt like Zac and I were a pretty natural fit,” Callis said. “We’re both pretty patient out there and felt confident we would be a tough team to beat so long as we’re stayed disciplined with our game plans. Credit to Zac for playing such solid squash all weekend long in his first $40k on the left wall. Many of us right wallers can attest to the fact that it’s like having to learn a whole new sport when you go over to the left. Shows how much talent Zac has to pick it up that quickly.”
The 2018-2019 SDA season has been characterized by the absence of former world No. 1’s Manek Mathur and Damien Mudge due to injuries, which has created a competitive void for experimental and talented partnerships to emerge.
“It’s super tough to win an event these days,” Alexander said. “We all know it’s wide open right now so everyone pushes harder! I’ve been lucky enough to be on the winning end of the last few and personally I challenged myself to win on both walls left and right and to have two of those be top tier events is all the more special.”
“While there’s an undeniable void with Damien and Manek out of the draws, I think we’ve seen a bunch of guys really step their games up this year,” Callis said. “The top teams are separated by razor thin margins right now and it feels like we all bring the best out in one another. Both Samper/Badan and Stout/McArthur pushed us right to the edge.”
Callis will now become just the fourth world No. 1 in the SDA era since the professional tour’s reformation in 2012 in March’s rankings, following the likes of Ben Gould, Mudge and Mathur.
“It’s pretty amazing to be world No. 1,” Callis said. “I’m not sure it’s fully sunken in yet, to be honest. I certainly didn’t think I’d be at this point back in November when Manek tore his Achilles and I was really struggling with my knee. I’m so used to seeing Mudge, Mathur, or Gould at the top of the list that I’m not sure I’ll believe it when the rankings change over. It’s an honor to know you’re sharing a place with those guys who have set the standard for our sport.”
The historic nature of the 2019 David C. Johnson, Jr. Memorial observes the end of the sport’s longest continuous title-winning streak–Mudge’s unparalleled Johnson seventeen-title streak spanning 2002-2018. Mudge was honored over the weekend for his indelible tournament legacy.
In 1938, Ned Bigelow started an open doubles championship at the Heights Casino. It was the first tournament that allowed professionals to participate and paid them if they won. Until the 1960’s, the Heights Casino tournament was the only open professional doubles tournament. In 1965, it was renamed after the early death of David C. Johnson, Jr., who was one of the tournament’s driving forces.
“A major thank you to everyone at Heights Casino for putting on another stellar event,” Callis said. “Every year they seem to find a way to one up the last. The members are all so enthusiastic and the energy is so much fun for all the players.”