US SQUASH

Mathur & Mudge Overcome Big Apple Open Hurdles to Win Season Opener

The 2017 Big Apple Open final, l-r: Chris Callis, Damien Mudge, Manek Mathur, Bernardo Samper.

World No. 1’s Manek Mathur & Damien Mudge entered the 2017 Big Apple Open—the first SDA full ranking event of the 2017-2018 season—with a thirty-match winning streak spanning nine tournaments that started with the 2016 Big Apple Open at the New York Athletic Club.

Of those thirty consecutive victories, not a single one extended to five games. This much changed in Mathur & Mudge’s first match of the new season against Australians Raj Nanda & Zac Alexander, who recently returned stateside after a spell in his home country.

The sides split the first two games with Nanda & Alexander taking the first 15-13 and Mathur & Mudge the second, 15-11. In the midst of Mathur and Nanda jockeying on the left wall, Mathur was hit by a few balls and at one point took a racket to his hand, giving the top seeds an injury scare as they conceded the third 15-11. A nervy fourth game saw Mathur recover and force a fifth game by edging the fourth 15-13. Aided by Nanda cramping up in the fifth, Mathur & Mudge regained control to progress to the semifinals 15-7, after a bumpy start to the season.

Mathur & Mudge’s semifinal opponents were one of the stories of the tournament. Bates graduate and Racquet & Tennis Club pro Eric Bedell teamed up with fellow R&T member and doubles stalwart Whitten Morris in Bedell’s Big Apple Open debut. Bedell & Morris, world No. 56 and 46 respectively, reached the main draw after two qualifying wins where they went on to claim two major upsets. In the first round, the qualifiers took out world No. 28 Shaun Johnstone & world No. 27 Adam Bews in three games, before a three-game upset over World Doubles champion Clive Leach & Will Mariani in the quarterfinals.

Mathur & Mudge ended Bedell & Morris’ surprise run in the semis, closing out the third game 15-14 on simultaneous match/game ball.

The bottom half of the main draw saw a dramatic first-round comeback as Graham Bassett & John Roberts fought off seven match balls to win 15-14 in the fifth against Alex Domenick & Will Hartigan. A new partnership between Bernardo Samper & Chris Callis flourished in the same part of the draw. After a three-game win against Bassett & Roberts in the quarterfinals, the three seeds came back from a game down to defeat two seeds and world No. 3’s Mike Ferreira & Yvain Badan 11-15, 15-9, 15-10, 15-14.

In Monday night’s final between Mathur & Mudge and Samper & Callis, it was the underdogs who drew first blood to take the first 15-10. Mathur & Mudge bounced back to take command the second and third games 15-9, 15-5, but found themselves down 10-4 in the fourth game. From 10-4 down, Mathur & Mudge fought back to claim the fourth 15-13, earning their second straight Big Apple Open title and tenth overall SDA title together.

“It’s our first tournament back after both having different preseasons,” Mathur said. “I think a lot of the guys were more prepared than we were, but we luckily were able to pull through each match. We had to dig pretty deep, trust in our instincts and really make sure our defense was good when it needed to be. Luckily for us it was. I told Damien at the end of the final that it was a rough weekend and that we need to go back to the drawing board and make sure we’re good. A lot of the guys have done a lot of work and as the tour grows a lot of people are really going for it, making strides in their games and you could see that this weekend.”

“We struggled a little bit to get our game plan going in both our quarterfinal and final matches,” Mudge said. “Our execution was just a little bit off and both of our opponents really played well. But we fortunately managed to find a way to get through to the other side.”

Mathur praised some of the new partnerships on display this weekend.

“Bernardo and Chris are both great guys and awesome talents,” Mathur said. “I think when Bernie started playing doubles we all knew he would become one of the better guys, same with Chris, he’s such a talent on the singles court and both of their talents translate well to doubles. You can see that now, they beat a really good team yesterday in Mikey and Swiss, two guys who have been at it for a while. It’s just good for the tour to see new faces and partnerships pushing the standard top teams. You have Eric and Whitten reach the semis too, that’s really rare to see qualifiers go so far, it’s amazing to see that the gap is getting closer and closer.”

The Big Apple Open is typically the second full ranking event on the calendar, but this year was the first with the Maryland Club Open—thrice voted tournament of the year—taking a brief hiatus as the club undergoes construction on a third doubles court.

The late start turned out to be advantageous for Mudge, who marked his eighth career Big Apple Open title, just three months after undergoing knee surgery.

The tour resumes November 3 with an inaugural Platinum tournament—the Westchester Country Club Pro Doubles Squash Tournament in Rye, New York. Mathur & Mudge enter the draw as the title favorites.

Watch Big Apple Open match replays below.

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