Tribulations and Triumph: Hanson Puts Injury-Riddled Year Behind Him With First S.L. Green Title

Every inch of viewing space at the Philadelphia Cricket Club was occupied by fans watching the S.L. Green final.

by Chris McClintick

Chris Hanson entered the 2017 S.L. Green National Singles fully fit for the first time in nearly a year. He considered himself lucky even to be at the tournament.

The 2015-2016 season was the Dartmouth graduate’s most successful season on the PSA tour. It was his third season after turning professional with the support of the US Squash Elite Athlete Program (EAP). Only twenty-five, the Greenwich native had shot to a career-high ranking of world No. 66.

Andrew Douglas celebrated his upset victory over Todd Harrity in the semis.

One week before the 2016 National Singles, his luck turned. In the semifinals of the Manitoba Open in Winnipeg, Hanson sustained an injured hamstring in the second game against Campbell Grayson, prematurely ending his season. Compounding the problem several months later, he was in a serious car accident on Nantucket. He hurt his ankle and suffered a major concussion.

Hanson had to take the rest of the summer off. His on-court training resumed in September, including a few exhibition appearances, but the residual effects of the accident hounded him throughout the fall. In his official return to the tour, the southpaw played four events in North America from October to December, but positive results eluded him as he failed to fulfill his seeding in three of those tournaments.

Behind the scenes, Hanson worked with his local sports therapist, Greenwich Sportsmed, and with his longtime coach Rod Martin. Hanson needed to rely on his team once again in January when he suffered a calf sprain. In February, Hanson appeared to be back to full form—as the wild card in the Windy City Open, Hanson acquitted himself well in an entertaining four-game battle against Germany’s Simon Rӧsner.

Former world champion Rod Martin (l) has coached Hanson for more than a dozen years.

The National Singles was Hanson’s biggest test. The S.L. Green draw featured veteran names: nine-time champion Julian Illingworth, former world No. 8 Wael El Hindi, Princeton’s former four-time collegiate champion Yasser El Halaby. Recent college graduates Dylan Cunningham and Timmy Lasusa posed threats alongside current collegiate stars such as Harvard’s Timmy Brownell and Yale’s Spencer Lovejoy. U.S. junior champion Andrew Douglas was playing like seasoned professional, and, above all, Team USA’s top touring professionals—2013 champion Chris Gordon and two-time defending champion Todd Harrity—stood in Hanson’s way as the two and one seeds, respectively.

The draw progressed as expected with the top four seeds reaching the semifinals, at which point the breakthroughs occurred. First, Douglas shocked Harrity 11-8 in the fifth, in what was the biggest domestic result of his young career. In a rematch of the 2015 S.L. Green semifinals, Hanson and Gordon enjoyed another five-gamer, but this time Hanson came out on top with his first career tournament win against Gordon, reaching his inaugural S.L. Green final.

In front of a packed Philadelphia Cricket Club gallery, Hanson and Douglas sparred for four games and sixty-two minutes. It was a tense, physical battle requiring forty-six referee decisions and one injury break. After splitting the first two games 11-6 each, Hanson pulled away to win the third and fourth games 11-7.

Hanson was in disbelief as he addressed the crowd following the final, which included his coach Rod Martin, his girlfriend Megan, and family and friends.

“This is honestly one of the best moments of my life right now,” Hanson said. “2016 was a tough year; I’m glad it’s 2017 now. Thanks to US Squash and everyone else who supported me along the way in my recovery. I feel like I’m back. This is the perfect way to start my year.”