SDA World No. 1 Mathur Announces Retirement Ahead of David C. Johnson, Jr. Memorial

Manek Mathur, one of the most dominant and influential professional doubles players of the past decade, has announced his retirement from the Squash Doubles Association Pro Tour. New York City-based Mathur will bow out at the top of the world rankings and make his final appearance at the historic David C. Johnson, Jr. Memorial, February 21-26, at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn.

A native of Mumbai, India, Mathur first made his impact on the U.S. squash scene as a college squash star at Trinity College, where he contributed to the Bantams’ record eleven-year national title streak with four titles from 2006-2009. Shortly after graduating, Mathur became a squash professional at the Field Club of Greenwich, which along with the Round Hill Club and Greenwich Country Club is one of the nation’s epicenters of squash doubles. It was there that Mathur picked up the sport under the tutelage of Narelle & Rob Krizek. In his first year based in Greenwich, Mathur made his professional doubles debut by losing in qualifying at the 2009 Briggs Cup with doubles stalwart Rob Dinerman. Two years later, Mathur reached the sport’s summit with his first Briggs Cup alongside Yvain Badan.

A left-hander, Mathur quickly established himself as one of the top left wallers on the pro tour and developed his own power-hitting style of play. Three partnerships served as pillars throughout his nearly 15 years on the circuit. First was Badan, a former Trinity teammate and experienced right waller who helped Mathur quickly assimilate to the pace and intensity of the pro game. Together, Mathur & Badan won six titles from 2011-2016, and established themselves as one of the top partnerships on the tour. That period also coincided with the dominance of perhaps the greatest doubles partnerships of all time, Damien Mudge & Ben Gould. Following Gould’s retirement, Mudge approached Mathur about playing together, framing it as Mudge’s only choice to continue late in his career with a shift to the right wall and Mathur stepping in on the left. They did just that for Mudge’s final two seasons and ended the Aussie’s remarkable career with an undefeated season that included another Briggs Cup win from 2017-2018—the first undefeated season since Mudge & Gould in 2010-2011. From 2016-2018, Mathur & Mudge amassed sixteen titles together. It was also during this period that Mathur reached the world No. 1 ranking for the first time alongside Mudge.

Following Mudge’s retirement, Mathur forged a new partnership with former Princeton star Chris Callis. Mathur & Callis won their first event playing together at the 2018 Maryland Club Open, but then faced a major setback when Mathur sustained a ruptured achilles at the 2018 Big Apple Open. Nearly a year later, Mathur & Callis made their return a victorious one at the 2019 Maryland Club Open and went on to win Mathur’s third Briggs Cup. Mathur & Callis won ten titles together and will enter Mathur’s final event as the David C. Johnson, Jr. Memorial top seeds.

Mathur ends his career with the fifth most SDA titles of all time—thirty-six with a possible thirty-seventh—only behind the likes of Mudge, Gary Waite, Gould and Jamie Bentley.

With his final event looming, Squash Magazine spoke with Mathur about his lasting legacy and historic career.

How did you first discover squash doubles?
Doubles was just one of those things you had to learn as a squash professional in the Greenwich community because the demand is so high. I managed to learn from and spend a lot of time with Rob and Narelle, and Narelle of course was one of the best players on the women’s pro tour. There was so much doubles teaching that had to be done, Narelle spent a ton of time teaching me and getting comfortable enough to play with the membership. There were afternoon games, weekend games. I also had a ton of kids to work with at the time, but the doubles was such an important social, jovial way to play with the membership and get to know a lot people. But also getting to play a lot with Narelle and some of her friends like Mark Price showed me a level above that was so challenging the first few months playing with them.

When did you decide to take doubles seriously and try playing professionally?
I decided to play the Briggs Cup with Rob Dinerman to get a feel for it because the event was just around the corner two stops down the highway from Greenwich. We lost in qualifying, but I remember watching the final with Damien Mudge & Victor Berg against Paul Price and Ben Gould and I was amazing by the level of play. I thought ‘Holy S***, these guys are so good, I’ll never be at this level.’ But it’s so amazing to watch that level of intensity and athleticism. For me, squash was always singles, and I had never been exposed to that speed of play. I started playing a bit thereafter and Swiss [Yvain Badan] was working at Apawamis at the time, and Shaun Johnstone at Piping Rock Club was also starting to get into doubles at the same time. So Shaun and I thought it would be a good way to hang out, play some events, and learn this game together. Shaun and I had a decent run at it, but then Swiss was the one who came up to me and put me on the map. He was one of the top 8 guys at the time and working for Peter Briggs at Apawamis. The opportunity came up to work at Apawamis and I was able to move there play more events. It was a perfect storm; I got to learn from Peter Briggs, train together with Swiss, and be a part of one of the most established squash programs in the country. I grabbed the bulls by the horn and that’s where my doubles journey really began.

What was an early breakthrough moment for you?
The 2010-2011 season Swiss and I had just started playing together and I had been at Apawamis for about eight months. We made the final in St. Louis coming out of qualifying and played Ben [Gould] and Damien [Mudge] in the final, and they had no idea what to expect from me. My relationship with Damien started there and he was so respectful of me as this young kid and saw my potential. We became really good friends thereafter. It was one of those moments where I realized that I could actually be competitive at this game. I had made a lot of progress in the previous six or eight months and here I am in the final of one of the bigger events on tour.

What were some of the heights you reached with Swiss?
We did a lot together. After reaching the finals in St. Louis in our first tournament together, we won the Briggs Cup in 2011. After losing in 2009 qualifying to go on and win it two years later in was so surreal. To win one of the sport’s biggest tournaments at our home club was so special. I remember that tournament like it was yesterday, we beat Damien and Ben in the semis, and then Clive Leach in the final. We won a bunch of satellite events like Buffalo and Philadelphia, and even Boston and the North American Open.

What was it like transitioning to the Mudge partnership and reaching world No. 1 for the first time?
Swiss and I got to the point where we started beating Damien and Viktor after Ben retired, but we were starting to feel a bit stale. We’re very good friends but the doubles stuff was starting to consume our life and friendship so we thought we should take the summer to figure out what was happening next season. Then Damien came over to the R&T where I was teaching at the time and was like ‘let’s get a coffee.’ He was like ‘look, my body isn’t cooperating, I’m at the tail end of my career. I’m probably going to retire, but the only way I won’t retire is if I play with you and move to the right.’ The twenty-one-year-old child in me in St. Louis who was looking up to this guy was so giddy. We were such good friends at this point that obviously I said yes and had to have that tough conversation with Swiss. It’s one of those things where Damien’s the greatest of all time and it was an amazing opportunity for me to play and learn from him both on and off court. He was so established players leading one of the most established programs, it would be an all-round experience to spend time with the guy and become even more proficient at doubles and learn from how he was able to be so successful. We had a rough start, we lost to Mikey and Swiss at the Baltimore club in our first tournament together. Up until that final we were pretty formidable, but it was Damien’s first time playing on the right and he was a bit injured and didn’t didn’t have any time to train before the tournament. That proved to be challenging against a solid team like Mike [Ferreira] and Swiss. We went on to finish the season without losing and then had an undefeated season the following season and then he retired.

Were there certain things you learned from Damien that impacted your career?
His preparation before these tournaments was special, he took them so seriously. He focused on his training, but at the same time he taught me how to be relaxed. Between Paul [Assaiante] at Trinity who was always ‘Center of the Storm’ and ‘Run to the Roar’, and then I met Damien and he was even more relaxed in the leadup to the biggest moments. It was more than just being on court, it was a life lesson to manage your emotions and stay calm under pressure. That was one of the most important things I learned from him. I also learned how to be the torchbearer almost, and one of the guys who represented the tour and maintaining the relationships at these venues, which is so important to the growth of the tour. Being the best team you have to make sure that these events keep coming back on the calendar and you’re engaging and selling the tour so that the tour can be sustainable. It was just as much managing the business and relationships that are at the core of the SDA tour, and it was almost even putting that stuff before the squash. It’s the relationships that matter, when everything is said and done, titles are part of history, but it’s nice to go St. Louis, Boston or Baltimore and knowing people there and representing not just yourself, but the tour in general.

How would you describe the trajectory of the SDA Tour while you were on it?
I started when I was really young and playing with Damien when I was young. When we first started we had a lot of guys with PSA experience on tour like Mark Chaloner, Paul Price, but we didn’t have a ton of depth and a lot of the young college guys playing. Whereas now, you don’t have a lot of the former PSA singles guys but you have a lot more depth and younger, post college squash guys playing. You have a some PSA guys who still try out some events, and some are successful like Ryan Cuskelly and Cam Pilley, but it felt like there were more of those guys back when I started. The trajectory of the tour is great, the qualifying draws are almost always full and the quality of the game is as high as its ever been. It’s a special place to leave the game where it’s thriving and doing well and passing the mantle on to someone else. 

What were some of the biggest moments as you look back on as some of the peaks of your career?
That 2011 Briggs Cup win was our first major together and that was super special and will always be right up there with the rest. Winning the Maryland Open after coming back from rupturing my achilles in October 2018 and then winning that in September 2019 with Callis was special. Winning the Kellner Cup after retiring from the R&T in 2021 with Callis was tremendous. Winning the Briggs with Damien was incredible. Winning Cleveland with Damien, his last event, was up there as well. The year before I played with Ben and we had a battle with Damien and Viktor, which was one of my favorite matches ever. Then the next year we were playing Cleveland final and at the time didn’t know it was his last. Being able to share that memory with him as his last match is really special.

Thinking of battles, are there some that stand out to you as the toughest you ever experienced?
When I played with Ben against Damien and Viktor in Cleveland, that was definitely one of them. Recently with Chris against James Stout and Scott Arnold at the Racquet Club in 2021 that was definitely one of the toughest in terms of putting everything out there to try to find a way to win. Those were probably the toughest two matches I ever played in my career.

What does it take to get through those battles?
It has a lot to do with your relationship with your partner. Knowing how to bring the best out of each other. It can be simple glances at each other, or simple things you say to each other. It can be anything. Your relationship with your partner and knowing how to give them respect, how to encourage them, how to push each other through tough times when you’re not seeing the ball well or you’re exhausted and how to cover for each other. Physically is one thing, but how to connect with them mentally is really the key in those moments.

Mathur & Chris Callis

One partnership we haven’t touched on yet is with Chris Callis who you had so much success with in the last chapter of your career, what was that period like?
Chris has been a really good friend for many years. I played my last college match against him and it’s surreal that I’m playing my last doubles match alongside him. It’s very special to have those two memories with him. It’s not been an easy partnership because my body has been so up and down since my achilles injury, and then covid, and we’ve both been sick and missed events—we missed the Briggs last year. So it’s been a very inconsistent team dynamic. I think my body could have given him a lot more than it has. The guy is one of the hardest working players on tour. He’s extremely talented. I think we aligned really well in terms of what it takes to be competitive and be the best at this sport. You can have guys that cruise and are ok with doing well occasionally. But Chris and I really had a meeting of the minds in terms of what we wanted from the game and what effort we were putting in to be the best. We both respected each other so much that we pushed each other in off season and lead up to events to perform at the highest level. Not only for ourselves, but more importantly for each other. We get each other off the court, which makes those tough moments on the court a little easier. When you know someone well, to be in those moments of pressure you can get through to them and achieve the gameplan you want to achieve.

How are you feeling going into your last event?
I haven’t played the Heights event since 2018, I had my achilles injury, I’ve had covid, I’ve been injured again. So I’m really excited to be back there. I live in Brooklyn so it feels like a local event. It has such a rich history and atmosphere that I’m excited just to be playing. I’m excited to play it with Chris for the first time and hopefully having a run at it. I haven’t done too much training over the last year and a half as I’ve switched into real estate. But I’ve really been trying to get my body ready over the last few weeks. I’m excited to be on court and close this chapter of my life.

You’ve mentioned some squash luminaries like Paul Assaiante, Peter Briggs, Narelle Krizek, who were influential on your doubles journey. Who else impacted you?
Narelle and Rob Krizek were up there, Mark Price who played with us a lot early on. Steve Scharff and played a lot when I was starting out and we won National Doubles together. Peter Briggs. Swiss, he’s a very good coach and helped me a lot. Damien Mudge helped me understand the game better, Ben Gould to an extent as well. John Russell. Morris Clothier. Paul Assaiante. There are certain things these people tell you along the way, it’s constantly improving and evolving, and if you’re not willing to listen to the people around you and aren’t willing to grow, you won’t go far. A lot of these people were influentian and beneficial to my growth as a player and person.

What are you going to miss most?
I’ll miss the relationships. Whether it’s the guys on the tour and my peers. Definitely the members and the events. The pros at all of these clubs and these members you play the pro am with and see every year who stay in touch with you throughout the years. That’s the stuff I’ll miss the most. I’ve had my fill of squash and I’ve had my fill of being competitive whether singles or doubles. I really look forward to be able to go back to these places and maybe watch a little, and spend time with these people I’ve been able to meet—to take a casual spectator role and cherish these relationships that I’ve made over the years.

What would you say to an aspiring player looking to be successful on the SDA Tour?
The biggest piece of advice I can give is that all of us come from some sort of singles background and when you step on a squash court you feel like you know what you’re doing and you should know what you’re doing. But squash doubles, especially hardball squash doubles, is so different that you almost have to think of it like platform tennis or padel, where being a squash player you have slight advantages, but it’s a different sport. Playing singles squash when you’re on a doubles court gives you certain advantages, but you have to check what you know at the door along with your ego.  You need to figure out how your string works, figuring out the angles, the strategy and not being afraid to ask the better players questions. I would spend a lot of time talking with Damien and Ben about the game, same with Swiss early on. I would speak with John Russell a lot, he was a huge influence on my career too. Asking the questions and being an open book with what you’re trying to learn and achieve and realizing you’re not playing singles squash anymore and you’re playing a new sport.