Report courtesy of Hardball promoter Tefft Smith
The 2015 U.S. Squash Hardball Singles Nationals Squash Championships—in its 108th year— were played this past weekend, February 27-March 1, in unexpectedly arctic conditions, produced by the aptly named Storm Thor, on the Merion Cricket Club courts outside Philadelphia.
Merion has a long tradition of dominating the Hardball Singles Squash Championships, having produced many past winners in all divisions, with memorable names like Lott, Brinton, Mateer, Howe, Hechscher, Page, Nimick, Edwards, etc. The current crop of Merion male marauders (Zug, Harrity, Yaeger, Mateer, Stokes, Simpson, Baker and Reda)—and three Merion women (Greer, Platt and Thain)—came out in full force, winning all but the 75+ division, notwithstanding that the coldness of the courts neutralized the Merion “home court advantage, ” at least for several of the seemingly inevitable 2015 National Champions.
The Open Division had a full sixteen draw, with newly appointed Merion Pro Mohammed Reda, a top PSA softball player (ranked as high as world No. 23), taking the crown and $1, 200 purse.
Reda used devastating rails to length to overcome the classic hardball shot making of New York’s Hamed Anvari—a top ranked professional SDA doubles player, currently world No. 13—3-1 in the finals for a 15-12, 15-10, 14-17, 15-10 win. The large crowd of mesmerized hardball enthusiasts warmed the frigid gallery with repeated ovations for fantastic retrieving, yielding long, power packed points, usually ending with perfect rails or open cross courts, with most reverses, attempted three walls and drops being readily covered.
Reda’s only weakness was his difficulty in reading Anvari’s hard z-serves. Anvari’s superior shot making allowed him (at thirty-five) to go toe-to-toe with the much younger Reda. A great Open finals, with Reda declaring: “I love hardball!”
Reda faced an early challenge in the quarters from twenty-three year old Matt Dominick, a devoted new singles hardballer—ranked world No. 32 in SDA doubles and a former Rochester University No. 1—losing one game, 15-14 on a dead three wall nick by Dominick, before Reda powered his way to the 3-1 victory.
Reda then won the semis 3-0 over the ageless Tom Harrity (a five time National Single Champion, who has also won now eight age group Championships, including the 2015 50+ Championship). Anvari was challenged by the also ageless former Merion Club Pro, Alan Grant (a former National Doubles Champion with Ned Edwards). Grant’s from nowhere, classic reverse corners garnered him one game, before Anvari’s power yielded the 3-1 victory.
The Open also saw spirited efforts by Gil Mateer and Rob Dinerman, giving further testament to the reality that hardball is a game that can be played at a very high level for a lifetime, given the ability of hardball shot making to offset youthful power and endurance, a point well made by Hamed Anvari in his gracious comments at the end of the Open finals.
As noted, Merion’s Tom Harrity used his classic hardball game, with reverses, three walls and volleys into the nick, to overcome the challenge in the 50+ Division expected from Bryce Harding, the 2011 50+ National Champion. Harding’s greyhound speed and endurance and tight rails were overwhelmed 3-0—15-8, 15-12, 15-9—by Harrity’s constant, voracious pressure, yielding eventual openings for finishing shots. The large crowd that gathered in anticipation of a possible upset was rewarded with many long, exciting, vintage hardball rallies.
In the 60+ Division, Merion’s Gary Yaeger, newly 60 and “finally” out of Harrity’s shadow, won his first National Championship. Yaeger used a combination of well executed hard serves, drop shots and speedy retrieving (surprising for the linebacker built Yaeger) to overcome a spirited effort by the always tenacious Tefft Smith, a five time past National Champion, with three in the 60s and two in the 65s. with Yaeger winning 3-1 (15-11, 9-15, 15-12, 15-11). Smith produced a crowd thrilling behind-the-back shot in the midst of a long rally, which Yaeger also won. Yaeger beat Paul Chan in the semis 3-0, with Smith beating Roy Simpson 3-0 in the other semi. David Slosburg, a devoted US Squash and Hardball promoter, won the 60+ consolations, over Chuck Matison.
In the 70+ Division, Merion’s Jim Zug, won his 11th National Hardball age group championship, 15-9, 15-10, 15-8, over Eric Berger, a two time 65+ National Champion. Zug is as elegant and talented a shot selector and maker as has ever graced a squash court. Zug used the coldness of the courts to his full advantage, with innumerable short, decisive putaways. Zug had similarly dispatched last year’s 70+ National Champion, Henry Steinglass 3-0, in the Semis. Steinglass won the 3rd place match 3-0 over a much improved Jon McBride.
The 75+ Division looked to be a renewal of the annual Ted Marmor and Lucky Young wars (between them they have ten National Championships) but Storm Thor prevented Lucky from getting out of Omaha. Ted won the trophy over Jonathan Kohn and Andy Packard, with Packard coming in from Maine, being the finalist.
In the 80+ Division, proving that hardball singles is a lifetime game, Merion’s eighty-nine year old Charlie Baker, the patriarch for the past twenty-five years of hardball singles squash and the host for these and many, many past National Hardball Championships, won his fifth national Championship beating Chase McDaniels and Dan Licky, each 3-0, with McDaniels taking second place.
This year Hardball crowned a Women’s National Championship, as three Merion women doubles players decided to give hardball singles a go. Tracy Greer, former No. 1 at Yale, won the trophy, with a closely contested 3-0 victory over former Yale teammate Pam Platt who, in turn, had beaten Whitney Thain, 3-0.
The Saturday night dinner discussion about how best to preserve and enhance hardball singles produced many good ideas and plans. In recognition of the predominance of 21-foot-wide international and 20-foot-wide converted racquetball courts, one proposal that will receive strong consideration is to have next year’s National Hardball Singles Open Championship be played on international courts, utilizing the Austral (green) ball that Bryce Harding has developed as an alternative to the fuchsia ball currently in use. Views on this proposal are welcomed. Anyone wanting to comment on this issue or make other comments/suggestions regarding the preservation and enhancement of hardball singles play should email Tefft Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or Preston Quick at US Squash at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Likewise, anyone wanting a Austral ball to experiment with can contact either to get one.
One other strongly supported proposal was to declare Merion the permanent home for the National Hardball Singles Championships, with the thought of having a simultaneous doubles event to try to attract more of the hardball doubles community, whom we hope will increasingly recognize the benefits—and joys—of hardball singles play as a complement to doubles competition.
Special thanks are owed to US Squash and Preston Quick for their support of hardball singles, to Charlie Baker and Whitney Thain for running the tournament and the Merion Cricket Club for hosting it.
For more information see U.S. Hardball Singles Championships official tournament page.