Tompkins Tames the Upset Beast

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By James Zug

Back in 1907 young Fred Tompkins invented a game. He called it squash doubles. He used the fastest balls he could find and an unused space that happened to be 45 by 25 feet. He was a full-time squash, tennis and racquets pro at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia, so he didn’t have much time to proselytize on its behalf. The court had a low ceiling and for many years it was considered an oddity, a game so obscure that only one court existed in the world.

And yet, somehow, simply because it was fantastic to play, other clubs started building courts. By the time Tompkins retired from the Racquet Club in 1936, his creation had become a bona fide sport, with a national championship, courts around the world and thousands of besotted practitioners.

One hundred and six years later and about twenty feet from that original squash doubles court, you could catch Tompkins’ game at a level he could never have possibly imagined. The fifth annual Tompkins Invitational exhibited Tompkins’ invention in a dramatic fashion. Under the direction of Jon Noel, the Tompkins was again a major, full-ranking stop event with a $20,000 purse and a Monday night final. This attracted the best players on the SDA tour which meant the Happy Howitzer tandem of Damien Mudge & Ben Gould blew into town.

The Aussie duo, both 36 years old, were in trouble. Coming to Philadelphia, they had just lost twice in a row to Paul Price & Clive Leach, in the finals in Boston and then in the semis in Greenwich.

The question was whether Mudge & Gould were really slipping into a slump or simply proving they weren’t always, at all times, invincible. The answers came fast and furious. They ran off nine straight games in three matches (two were 15-13) and in the finals they thoroughly and comprehensively blasted away Price & Leach. Price had no legs under him—he had the flu and had spent all day in bed with a fever. But still, he and Leach had no answer for the heat of Mudge & Gould’s groundstrokes nor the chill of their icy, cruel dropshots. The first game was tight. Price & Leach went up 5-0 and were down just 9-10 when Mudge & Gould opened up the cannonade. The next two were not as close. Gould, who also won the pro-am with George Connell, was happy to win. He had come to RCOP for his first-ever doubles tournament eleven years ago and had lost quickly in three. Last year he and Mudge had won and this year, well, he was steady and brilliant and Mudge was brilliant and steady. The errors of New England were nowhere in sight in the City of Brotherly Love.

In fact, the tensions of the Tompkins came early in the weekend. Before a large, appreciative crowd on Friday evening, the qualies revealed a lot of drama. Carl Baglio & Gilly Lane survived a double-match ball 14-all in the fifth struggle with Alex Strait & RCOP member Ed Garno. In the main draw, the best action was the hometown John Five-Gamer™. John Russell & John White (the latter now a part-time instructor at RCOP) outlasted Greg Park & Jonny Smith (the former grew up at RCOP) after being down 2-1.

But the Monday night final saw Mudge & Gould reassert themselves as the best in the business.