Story by Beth Rasin
Photos by Tyler Millard
For one more year at least, Americans still own a piece of the US men’s and women’s national open doubles titles. The all-American Quick siblings, Meredeth and Preston, with assistance from their English partners, Fiona Geaves and John Russell, kept the American tradition alive as they won the Open trophies at the Sotheby’s International Realty US Squash Doubles Championships in Philadelphia at the end of March.
Doubles squash was conceived in Philadelphia and has been monopolized by the US and Canada for the most of the first century of its existence. But as it celebrates its 100th year of play, hardball doubles has been overtaken by international professionals who have welcomed the opportunity to extend their competitive playing career beyond the grueling demands of the international softball. As a result, the top seeds in the men’s and women’s open draws did not include a single US player. The 15 other draws—age group and skill levels featuring 135 teams and 270 players—remained the predominant province of the US and Canadian players.
In the Women’s Open, one of the most amazing records in sport was halted as Alicia McConnell, pursuing her 12th successive women’s national doubles title, had to be helped off the court in her semifinal match, having snapped her Achilles tendon. McConnell, with new partner Jessica Dimauro, was down 12-13 in the first game of what was shaping up to be an epic match against Quick and Geaves, when the Achilles gave way. Sitting with ice wrapped around her ankle, McConnell was undeterred. “I am not getting old,” insisted the 43-year-old great American champion.
Although glad to move onto the next round, Quick was dismayed by the turn of events. “It was exciting to be in the midst of such a great match, particularly with Alicia, who has been an inspiration to me and my generation of squash players,“ the 27-year-old Quick said afterwards. “It was disappointing to have it end that way.”
Less than 24 hours later Quick’s disappointment gave way to disbelief and elation as she and Geaves saved five match points in the finals of the Women’s Open before a standing room only crowd to defeat the reigning World Doubles champions and top seeds, Australian Narelle Krizek, (now based at the Greenwich Field Club) and Canadian Stephanie Hewitt, 13-15, 15-12, 18-17, 11-14, 17-16. It was only the second tournament together for the winners who had partnered for the first time just two weeks earlier in Denver’s Hashim Khan Invitational, in which they took the title by also defeating Krizek and Hewitt.
The new US champions were behind 10-14 in the fifth and deciding game, when they hit two winners and benefited from two errors by their opponents to tie the match at 14-all. Hewitt cracked a winning cross-court and Krizek boasted a winner to take a quick 2-0 lead. A Geaves winner made it 1-2, and then a let ball awarded to Geaves on the next point was upheld by the judges, despite the adamant protests of Hewitt and Krizek. A Hewitt tin tied the score. Quick, on her heels on the back of the court, nonetheless secured the victory by hitting a winner that took all four players by surprise. “It’s an amazing feeling to win the US Championship,” said Quick, who won the 2006 National Mixed Doubles title with brother Preston, about winning her first national Women’s Doubles championship.
Geaves, who was playing in just her second doubles tournament, was equally delighted. “It’s amazing,” said the former top-ranked WISPA pro who is now coaching at Brooklyn’s Heights Casino. “It was such an up and down match. I haven’t played competitively in a year and in that fifth game, my nerves were giving me a glass arm. But the great thing about doubles is that you have a partner to help you out, and playing with Meredeth is just brilliant.”
Preston Quick had time only for a fast congratulatory hug for his sister as he and partner John Russell made their way onto the court for the men’s final. Russell, a teaching pro at the New York Athletic Club felt fortunate to be asked to partner with Quick at the start of the ISDA season and the duo complemented each other well, Russell providing the shotmaking finesse and Quick providing power and reach. Going into the Sotheby’s International Realty US Open, the number three seeds had yet to win a tour title.
Quick was not hopeful of winning a third Men’s Open title, his first two having been secured before the National Doubles became an ISDA event. “Once the US Championships became a prize money tournament with Gary Waite and Damien Mudge in the draw, I thought I’d never win another Nationals,” said the Denver native who is now coaching at the Union Boat Club in Boston. “But Tyler and Mike cleared the draw for us,” Preston continued, referring to the fact that the perennial heavyweights of the men’s pro doubles tour—Canadian Gary Waite and Aussie Damien Mudge, the head pro at NYC’s University Club—were shockingly knocked out of the first round of play by the Canadian duo of Tyler Millard and Michael Pirnak.
“Tyler played the match of his life,” said Pirnak when asked about the 15-8,15-14,15-13 victory over the defending champs, who had been the world’s number one team for seven of the last eight years and have never before been eliminated in the first round of play. But the Canadians could not capture lightning in a bottle twice and were defeated 15-12, 9-15, 17-15, 15-7 in the semis by Quick and Russell.
The other men’s semifinal was a two hour nailbiter, decided by a margin of one point in the fifth game as England’s Clive Leach (now based at the New York Athletic Club) and Australian Scott Butcher (head pro at New York’s Racquet and Tennis Club), defeated the second seeded duo of Aussie Ben Gould and Irishman Willie Hosey, 15-11,9-15,15-4, 5-15,18-17.
Gould, after two promising seasons as the number two ranked team on the ISDA tour with Preston Quick partnered with fellow Aussie Paul Price this season to displace Mudge and Waite as the top-ranked team. With Price out of the US Championships due to an injury, 45-year-old Hosey stepped in to partner with Gould. Needless to say, Hosey saw an awful lot of balls, but held tough in the face of the barrage, demonstrating great reflexes, impressive quickness and some deft shot-making.
With the packed gallery craning to see every point, the second seeds went down 5-12 in the fifth game, but refused to fold. Gould started blistering the ball and Hosey interspersed winning drop shots to take the lead at 13-12. Leach and Butcher, who had shown their fighting spirit consistently throughout the match as they battled the referee along with their opponents, sent the match into a five point tiebreak when they tied the score at 13-all. This time it was the eventual winners who had to mount a mini-comeback. Down two match balls at 2-4 in the tiebreak, Leach and Butcher ran off the next three points to reach the final.
It was all Quick and Russell in the final, as the lanky American used his reach to hit winning overheads and cross-courts and the stockier Englishman displayed some of the finest hands and shot-making in the game. The winning duo never fell behind in either the first or the third game, ultimately winning the coveted US Open title, 15-11,15-13,15-10. The sometimes laconic Quick was all smiles afterwards. “I figured it was time to win a final this season,” he said, referring to the fact that he had reached, but had not won, the National Mixed Finals with Meredeth and the SL Green against Julian Illingworth. As for his future in doubles squash, Quick is optimistic. “I have only been playing for 11 years,” said the 29-year-old. “That’s a short period of time. My dad, Taylor, is still playing at 65; I hope I am still playing when I am that age.”
After narrowly escaping with a first round victory over Portland’s Marjin Wall and Kate LeGrand, 15-10, 14-15, 16-18, 18-16, 15-7, the cumulative 38–year age difference between 65-year-old Joyce Davenport and 54-year-old Julie Harris and their finals opponents mattered not one bit. The top-seeded Canadian duo of Julie Walker and Caro Paskulin, ages 40 and 41, respectively, had no response to the shot-making, strategy and competitive intensity of the Philadelphia duo, who won their third national doubles title together, 16-15, 15-3, 15-6. Asked what keeps them in the game, Harris laughed and said, “Joyce keeps calling me.” The two, who also won the 1995 Open title, the US 40s in 2005, the World 40s in 2004 and the Canadian Open in 1991 and 1992, agreed, ”We love to compete. We’d compete with two flies on the wall. And in doubles, we can still be effective against younger players.” The always competitive Davenport was quick to add, “And there are still some shots I can get better at.”
Eight was the magic number for first time partners Rich Sheppard and Dominic Hughes as they defeated top-seeded Mike McGorry and Alan Grant 12-15, 15-7, 15-10, 15-4 to win the Men’s 45+ title. Sheppard added a seventh doubles trophy to his national collection which also includes one singles crown, while Hughes, winner of seven national age group titles took home his first doubles championship. The owner of Berwyn’s Squash and Fitness Club completed the rare double of winning a singles and doubles national age group championship in the same season. “It was fitting that Rich was my partner for this championship since he first introduced me to the hardball game 20 years ago when we both happened to be in Bermuda at the same time looking for a squash game,” said Hughes, who also acknowledged the long standing adage that the most important talent in doubles is picking the right partner.
(1) Michael Ferreira (NY, NY)/Whitten Morris (NY, NY) def. (2) Geoff Kennedy (Landenberg, PA)/Beau Buford (NY, NY) 15-12,15-12, 15-9 to win their second National Men’s A crown after losing only one game en route to the trophy.
Tracy Greer (Berwyn, PA)/ Marianne Crowe (Wayne, PA) def. Peggy Brehman (Berwyn, PA)/ Kellen Heckscher (Philadelphia, PA) 9-15, 15-12, 16-13, 8-15, 15-8.
Men’s 40 +
Doug Lifford (Boston, MA)/ Chris Spahr (Boston, MA) def. (3) Jamie Heldring (Wayne, PA)/ David Proctor (St. David’s, PA) 15-10, 15-7, 15-6.
Jay Gillespie (Toronto, CAN)/ Tom Boldt (St. Louis, MO) def. (2) Robert Massey (Crystal, MN)/ Robert Hensel (Plymouth, MN) 8-15, 15-7, 15-9, 15-8.
Sandy Shaw (CAN)/ Lolly Gillen (Toronto, CAN) def. Sharon Schwarze (Wayne, PA)/ Isabelle Benton (Haverford, PA) 10-15, 12-15, 15-8, 15-9, 17-16.
Sean McDonough (Toronto, CAN)/ Victor Harding (Toronto, CAN) def. Gordon Anderson (Buffalo, NY)/ Michael Pierce (Vero Beach, FL) 10-15, 15-9, 15-7, 15-7.
Men’s 60+ Round Robin
First place: Joseph Fitzpatrick (Riderwood, MD)/ Sandy Martin (Owings Mills, MD)
Second place: Tony Swift (Ontario, CAN)/ Molson Robertson (Toronto,CAN)
First place: D. Holleran (Hanover, NH)/ Louisa Dubin (Wynnewood, PA)
Second place: Carolyn Roper (CAN)/Dale Walker (Madison, CT)
John Osburn (CAN)/ Bart McGuire (Tucson, AZ) def. James Zug (Bryn Mawr, PA)/ John Vlcek (Brooklyn, NY) 15-13, 15-9, 15-9.
Men’s 70+ Round Robin
First place: Peter Holland (CAN)/ Barry Abelson (CAN)
Second place: Fred Bracher (Bryn Mawr, PA)/ Charles Stehle (Lower Gwynedd, PA)
Men’s 75 + Round Robin
First place: Howie Rober (Toronto, CAN)/ Bud Whitaker (CAN)
Second place: Joel Kozol (Boston, MA)/Samuel Nissenboim Toronto, CAN)
First place: Bill Rux (Erdeheim, PA)/Chris Wright (Wayne, PA)
Second place: Tim Brennan (Boston, MA) /Jonathon Hyett (Boston, MA)
First place: Peter Lutes (Hatboro, PA)/Ian McIntosh Lansdale, PA)
Hilary Armstrong (Malvern, PA)/Jennifer Wales (Worcester, PA) – First place
Eugenie Cardon (Doylestown, A)/Alexa Holleran (Northampton, MA) –Second place.