by James Zug
The Women’s Squash Doubles Association, now entering its thirteenth season, is on an upward trajectory.
Parity is the WSDA watchword. On the court, a different team captured each of the six WSDA events last season. Winners include college players like Kayley Leonard and Sabrina Sobhy, as well as forty-somethings like Natalie Grainger.
Off-court, prize money parity, now the norm at all major pro singles tournaments, reached the pro doubles tour. Last January, the MFS Boston Pro-Am had a $40,000 fund (the most in the tour’s history), a purse that matched the men’s Squash Doubles Association draw that weekend.
In addition, Boston’s Stephen Columbia is now the tour’s managing partner. “Stephen has an extensive business background and is a long-time squash enthusiast,” said tour director Suzie Pierrepont. “He and his family have been supporters of squash across the board, from the Boston Open to junior squash to urban squash. He will have a laser focus on growing the calendar, sponsorships and player participation. This will be the first time since the inception of women’s pro doubles that the organization will have an executive leader, and I am looking forward to working alongside Stephen to continue to develop and grow the WSDA.”
This season looks like variety at the top will still be the norm. Suzie Pierrepont, ranked in the top two over the last two years, is coming back after a six-month layout after tearing ligaments in her thumb skiing. Victoria Simmonds has returned to the top four for the first time since the birth of her twins and is looking to go higher, while two leading players—Dana Betts and Fernanda Rocha—are out on maternity leave this season. Up and coming players include Madeline Perry and Kelsey Engman who have crashed into the top five and Elani and Lume Landman who are new to the top ten.
In 2019-20 there will be eight ranking tournaments in six different states. Players from eleven countries are on the WSDA tour (there are seventeen nations represented on the SDA tour) and more are joining as the tour expands. A key event is this month, with the 2019 NBCC LA Open, where the WSDA is partnering with the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
For the men, the Squash Doubles Association is at an exciting inflection point.
Like with the WSDA, the SDA endured some significant injuries last season, as both Damien Mudge and Manek Mathur were out. The leading tandem of the tour, Mathur & Mudge had been utterly dominant. They had lost just once in their first season together, 2016-17, and then reeled off sixteen straight victories going undefeated throughout 2017-18. In the summer of 2018 Mudge had knee surgery, putting him out for the entire season. Midway through his third tournament last year, Mathur ruptured his Achilles tendon.
Suddenly, the SDA was wide open. Forty-three different pairs made a semis and twenty-one different pairs made a final. No team won more than two tournaments. There were more five-game matches in 2018-19 than ever before. It was the most level playing field men’s pro doubles had seen in a half century. John Russell marched to No. 1 on the ranking list, partnering with seven different players. Zac Alexander had a breakout year, capturing titles on both walls.
“This is an extraordinary time for the SDA Pro Tour,” said Graham Bassett, the SDA’s tour director. “Our terrific group of promoters have stepped up to offer the tour’s highest purse ever. Combined with a diverse group of teams capable of winning any given weekend, this has made the 2019-20 season the most exciting season of professional doubles yet.”
Everything is up in the air for 2019-20. There will be eighteen ranking events for the SDA’s 137 players to compete in, with prize money of $615,000. Mudge has retired—for the first time since the Clinton Administration, the awesome Aussie will not be slashing his way to victories on the tour. Mathur is partnering with Chris Callis. John Russell & Scott Arnold look dangerous. James Stout & Greg McArthur snapped up a pair of titles last year and are hopeful for more. Yvain Badan & Bernardo Samper remain dangerous. Hameed Ahmed (who won the SDA’s Most Improved Award last season) and Colin West (awarded Rookie of the Year) are poised to capture silver. And a host of younger players are flying up the rankings. This past summer, the SDA hosted its third annual SDA Combine: a day of hardball doubles instruction and competition for two dozen prospective professionals.
“This is shaping up to be a season of superlatives for the SDA,” said Kevin Luzak, the chair of the board of the SDA. “The largest number of members in the history of the tour will be competing for the largest aggregate prize money in the history of the tour. We are extremely pleased with the SDA’s growth on both fronts. We are also happy to welcome back our sponsors, Harrow Sports and Johnnie-O.”