by Satya Seshadri and Dov Kleiner
In 1968, Dr. Quentin Hyder, an Englishman playing at the New York Athletic Club, snuck the nose of the softball game under the U.S. hardball squash tent by launching the first major softball tournament to be played on American soil. Graham Sharman, from Heights Casino, won that first event, and the Hyder Trophy tournament has been played annually ever since. With a winners list that is a highlight reel of New York and International squash history, the Hyder Trophy has been hoisted by such illustrious names as Mo Kahn, Stu Goldstein, Martin Heath and Jonathan Power and local legends like Ned Edwards, John Musto and Richard Chin.
The Hyder Trophy is the longest continually-running softball squash tournament in North America. To many, the Hyder is considered the main event on the New York squash circuit and its combination of high quality professional and amateur draws make it the capstone to a full squash season. This year’s men’s professional tournament featured a sixteen-player main draw, with world No. 38 Australian star Ryan Cuskelly as the top seed. The tournament is unique as it draws top PSA stars but is under no sanctioning body. As a result of no ranking points, no pressure, and a fairly decent payout for a couple days, it tends to be a lot of fun—if the player plays in the “spirit of the Hyder.” Running alongside the Hyder professional draw was an amateur draw that filled the gallery with parents, teens, weekend-warriors and fans who came to root for their favorite player. And, of course, in this, the forty-sixth year of the Hyder, Dr. Hyder and his wife were there, front row, center, to take in the high-quality finals action.
This year, the Hyder Amateur singles draw boasted over 140 participants with men’s draws in the 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5 and 6.0 divisions and women’s draws in the 3.0, 3.5 and 4.5 divisions. While most of the divisions were hard-fought, the 3.5 draw saw an epic match between league rivals as Health and Racquet Club’s Diego Diaz edged out CityView’s Michael Pepper in a five-game nail-biter. Topping that, was probably the match of the tournament in the 5.5 draw as Luis Molinari of CityView Racquet Club outlasted Harvard Club star Edward Reeves in a match that went well over an hour, with the eventual winner being Molinari with a 12-10 victory in the fifth game. The Men’s 6.0 consisted of Ned Marks’s victory over Egyptian Assem Y. Salem. The first game went a long 16-14 to Marks and that set the tone for the match. While Marks closed out the match in four, it was a heroic battle by both players to a packed audience at Sports Club LA. In the Women’s 4.5 division unseeded Rebecca Lau had upset top-seeded Isabel Young in a five-game marathon. Lau lost the first two games 11-6, 11-7 and some how managed to come back and win the third 16-14. At this point, Young was still shocked from the third game comeback by Lau and could not regroup herself to close the match. Eventually, Lau won the final two games 11-8, 11-5—a great learning experience for Young.
Sometimes, the most exciting part of a tournament is the semifinals, where the competition is fierce and the legs are still fresh. That was the case in the professional draw at this year’s Hyder Trophy. On Saturday, May 3, nine-time U.S. National Champion Julian Illingworth faced top-seeded Cuskelly in the first of the two semifinal matches of the evening and treated fans to lots of drama and excitement. The first rally of the match was over eighty shots long as each player was trying to size up the other while getting the kinks out of his own game, and from the very first point the crowd knew they were in for a treat. The first two games went to Cuskelly 11-2, 11-8. In the third, Illingworth picked up the pace a notch and, with his deft touch, hit some great winners to take the third 11-6. The fourth game saw Cuskelly take a slight early lead, although Julian hung in and managed to pull the fourth game out at the end, winning 11-8. This fourth game was the best of the match as the rallies were long, there were some amazing pick-ups and the fans were kept on the edge of their seats with the quick play and striking shifts in position. The final game was all drama. Cuskelly went up 10-7 and, holding three match balls, it might have looked like he had the match won. However, Illingworth crept in bit by bit to save three match balls and level the score at 10-10. With the pressure heightened, the last few points had both players questioning the referee’s decisions and arguing with each other. But after all the arguments and long rallies were done—the last six points had taken fifteen minutes to finish—Illingworth had come back to win the thrilling final game 14-12. (2-11,8-11,11-6,11-8,14-12)
The second semifinal saw Australian Zac Alexander, (recently ranked as high as thirty-six in the world), against an in-form American, Christopher Gordon. The match started with both players exchanging rallies with some really hard shots, destroying the poor ball. At that pace, the ball never seemed to get to the front of the court. Nonetheless, Gordon made a number of errors in the first game and Alexander pulled ahead with an 11-7 win in the opener. In the second, Gordon turned things around and used patience to play some quality squash, forcing Alexander to make the errors this time and evening things up with an 11-5 win. The theme for game three was Alexander’s frustrated exclamation from inside the court—“he’s got eight legs!” Yes, a sprawling, 6 ft., 2 in., Gordon can appear to be legs all over the place, and while it frustrated Alexander it also seemed to produce some routine lets. The third game went back and forth, with quality, error, quality, error, for each. With Gordon continuing to frustrate Alexander, the Australian asked the referee to step in and help, “with all due respect,” he added. Gordon eventually edged out the close one in the tie-break, 12-10. In the fourth, Gordon came up with a huge lead at 7-1, and there was no turning back as Alexander seemed to lose all focus and give up the fourth 11-3 (7-11, 11-5, 12-10, 11-3). With an exciting semifinal round completed, the fans were treated to a party at the club, with the real stalwarts moving on to the after-party at a nearby watering hole.
The next day, as the amateur draws wound down, the professional final got into swing as squash enthusiasts were in full attendance.
Illingworth and Gordon, who are good friends off the court, treated the crowd to some high quality play. The first game was pleasant with both players having some long rallies and showing the crowd their great retrieval skill. Gordon had the upper hand and managed to win the first game 11-8. In the second, both players tangled each other up in a front court battle with drop after drop and it was the player with the marginally tighter shot that won most of the points. Gordon seemed to be all business and had the better shot selection, so he leaped out to win the second game 11-6, while Illingworth, who was pretty flustered by a couple of the calls, opened the door to give a piece of his mind to the referees. Although Illingworth seemed to be showing continued frustration over a couple of calls, the third was his best game. With Illingworth starting to challenge Gordon’s early dominance, the third game was knotted at eight-all. But a clear stroke went in favor of Gordon, and Illingworth just seemed to have checked out for the remainder of the match. Game and match to Gordon 11-9.
On a final note, full credit to NY:SQUASH, Squash Revolution and all the players for putting on stellar performances and organizing an amazing tournament all weekend. Thanks to the many volunteers, and especially to all the clubs (Sports Club LA, The Harvard Club Of New York City, The Yale Club) for allowing squashers to use their courts all weekend and keeping the Hyder tradition going.
Below is a list of all the winners and runner-ups of the 2104 Hyder Trophy:
Winners and Finalists of each division:
Men’s 3.0 Jacob Eliosoff (W) Thomas George (F)
Men’s 3.5 Diego Diaz (W) Michael Pepper (F)
Men’s 4.0 Andrew Fu (W) Rohan Singh (F)
Men’s 4.5 A.J. Solecki(W) Olivier Saleh (F)
Men’s 5.0 Sumer Sharma (W) Ahmed Mansour (F)
Men’s 5.5 Luis Molinari (W) Edward Reeves (F)
Men’s 6.0 Edward Marks (W) Assem Salem (F)
Men’s Professional: Chris Gordon (W) Julian Illingworth (F)
Women’s 3.0 Isabella Rolfe (W) Dorothy Kim (F)
Women’s 3.5 Danielle Craig (W) LauriSklar (F)
Women’s 4.5 Rebecca Lau (W) Isabel Young (F)