By Chris McClintick
The second annual joint Squash Doubles Association (SDA) and Women’s Doubles Squash Association (WDSA) U.S. Open Squash Doubles Championships crescendoed with the first SDA semifinal as Matt Jenson & Preston Quick reached match ball in the fourth game. In a match full of extraordinary gets and shot making, the world No. 8 and 7 were on the verge of upsetting one seeds and world No. 4 and 5 Paul Price & Clive Leach.
Having already dug out from 9-2 down to 14-13, Price & Leach absorbed Quick’s reverse corners and Jenson’s crosscourt volleys, hitting winners when it mattered most and Price earning a stroke on Jenson to pull back the fourth game 15-14 forcing a fifth.
The final game continued the match’s trend of undulating momentum on the score sheet and court alike, culminating in Jenson & Quick pulling away to a second match ball, 14-12. Under pressure, Price & Leach staved off two more match balls, positioning the match on a knife’s edge with a simultaneous game and match ball.
With the match in the balance and each stroke of the racquet dire, Leach won the point on a precise drop shot out of Quick’s reach earning a place in the final concluding one of the most scintillating squash doubles matches to date.
In some ways the decisive first-to-fifteen scoring system employed by the SDA for the last two years epitomizes the recent growth and strength of the professional doubles circuit— as displayed in the Price & Leach versus Jenson & Quick semifinal with three consecutive simultaneous game balls and with both SDA semifinals and final decided on simultaneous match balls.
Officially approved by the World Squash Federation at its Annual General Meeting in New Zealand this October, the first-to-fifteen rule was instated to increase the intensity and accessibility of hardball doubles scoring, transitioning from the previous method that required players to choose a tie-break set in the event of a thirteen-all or fourteen-all tie.
“We believe it makes sense to go to no tie-breakers. It is more exciting, with more simultaneous game balls,” said Tony Swift, head of the U.S. and Canadian rules committees. “It’s also simple for beginners and new fans to understand.”
Like the first-to-fifteen rule, the Squash Doubles Association was established ahead of the 2012-2013 season in attempt to revamp professional doubles, which had previously been administered by the International Squash Doubles Association (ISDA).
A season and a half in, the SDA Pro Tour has already been a resounding success with the 2013-2014 tour worth the highest total tour prize money in the history of professional doubles— over half a million dollars distributed amongst seventeen prize money events not including invitationals.
As the seventh SDA and third WDSA tournament of the season, the U.S. Open could be seen as a litmus test for the state of squash doubles as both draws enjoyed tremendous parity. The first WDSA qualifying match between four young, former Trinity College players, Tehani Guruge & Alicia Rodriguez Acosta and Fernanda Rocha & Larissa Stephenson, went into five games and were decided at 14-all with winners Fernanda Rocha & Larissa Stephenson then losing out to seventy-one-year-old US Squash Hall of Famer Joyce Davenport & Georgina Stoker—also in five games.
The second qualifying tandem of Alexandra Clark & Amy Gross made a remarkable run to the final, first defeating tournament two seeds Stephanie Hewitt & Natarsha McElhinny with all but one of five games separated by less than five points.
Above Clark & Gross in the draw, unseeded Heidi Mather & Victoria Simmonds joined the draw’s bottom half seed-killers, overthrowing third-seeded Carrie Hastings & Tina Rix—alternating games until clinching the fifth to the unseeded good to set up an unexpected semifinal.
After losing the first game in the semifinals, the Philadelphia- area based duo of Clark & Gross turned around the match against fellow unseeded Mather & Simmonds to win the match in four games. Clark & Gross then admirably fell to joint world No. 1’s Narelle Krizek & Suzie Pierrepont in the final.
On the men’s side, unseeded Fred Reid Jr. & John Russell upset two seeds and world No. 6 and 3 Manek Mathur & Yvain Badan, then stretched three seeds Imran Khan & Mark Chaloner to four games in the semifinals, losing 15-14 in the fourth.
In their second final of the season, Khan & Chaloner recovered from 2-0 down against Price & Leach, winning the third game and extending the fourth game to fourteen-all. With thirteen games already under their belts in their third match of the tournament, Price & Leach again executed with the tournament on the line to win their first U.S. Open title.
Although the SDA tour’s detractors may be quick to point out the overwhelming dominance of 2013 World Doubles Champions Damien Mudge & Ben Gould—who missed the U.S. Open due to personal conflicts—over the last few years having won sixteen of nineteen SDA prize money tournaments since the tour’s inaugural season, such detractors must not be squash fans or aware of professional doubles’ cousins, the Professional Squash Association and Women’s Squash Association, in the age of Ramy Ashour and Nicol David.