Report courtesy of Tefft Smith.
The 2017 U.S. Squash National Hardball Singles Championships were held at the Merion Cricket Club the weekend of February 24-26, with outstanding performances yielding a number of new and repeat National Champions.
Headlining the tournament, which drew new and renewed hardball singles interest from many, was the impressive play of Dane Sharp, the head Merion Pro and the 2016 National Hardball Singles Men’s Open Division Champion. After a tight, but close 3-0 victory in the semis, against ex-Naval Academy star Sunil Desai, Dane overcame a furious assault from his fellow Merion Pro Fabio Cechin, prevailing 3-0 but again always close (16-14, 15-12, 16-14), to repeat as National Open Hardball Singles Champion.
After the Finals, Sharp and Cechin both spoke to the crowd about how much they love the fast pace and exciting shot making of hardball singles. Fabio had defeated the ageless Alan Grant in the other Open Semifinal, with Alan generating several of the most spectacular, behind the back and three wall nick shots of the competition.
The Women’s Open Division drew a strong field of eight players, with Gina Stoker repeating as Women’s Open National Hardball Singles Champion, again beating Alicia Rodriguez, also the 2016 finalist. They both demonstrated awesome power, retrieval and a full range of hardball shot making, with Gina’s slightly greater consistency of tight rails giving her the 3-1 (15-13, 16-14, 14-16, 15-12) victory. Gina bested Tracy Greer in her semifinal, with Alicia beating a deceptive lefty, Kat Grant in the other semi.
The 30+ division champion Sunil Desai had a barn burner of a semifinal, prevailing over a tenacious Brit, Harrison Sebring, who is relatively new to hardball singles. Desai came back from down 12-14 in the fourth, to win 17-15, before a wildly-applauding crowd, hoping for a fifth game of superb hardball squash. Richard Glanfield put up a valiant fight (16-14, 15-11, 15-12) against Desai in the Finals, but that came after a tough, close (16-14, 15-9, 15-13) loss to the always dominant, multi-time national hardball champion, Tom Harrity in the 50+ division finals. Richard won the Ironman Award for his outstanding play in both divisions.
The 60+ Division saw a newly-sixty Peter Stokes win convincingly against all comers, including past 60+ National Champion Gary Yeager, 3-0. Last year, Stokes won the 55’s.
The 65+ Division was won by Paul Chan, for his first national title, with victories over Mark O’Brien (3-1), Rick Taft (3-0) and Kurt Johnson (3-0). Chan also received the Charlie Baker Award for his continuing and longstanding contributions to the preservation and promotion of Hardball Singles.
Ninety-one-year-old Baker proved that squash is, indeed, a sport for a lifetime by competing in the 75+ division. The 75+ title was won handily by the equally ageless, many-time national champion James Zug Sr., over an also many time national champion, Ted Marmor. Baker won the 75+ consolation and also won the 80+ Division, over Dan Lickly.
The 70+ Division drew a strong field of 10 players, with Tefft Smith winning his sixth national championship, in a hotly contested final against Eric Berger, a two time national champion, 3-1, prevailing 17-15 in the key third game. Eric had defeated No. 1 seed Henry Steinglass in his semifinal, 3-2, with those two superb shot makers trading spurts of irretrievable reverse corners, while Smith came from down 2-1 against Kit Tatum.