Robin Clarke/Ryan Herden and Steph Hewitt/Nikki Todd Capture 2017 Ontario Doubles Crowns 
by Rob Dinerman

Men's Open Champions Robin Clarke & Ryan Herden with finalists Rob Nigro & Tyler Hamilton.

Tyler Hamilton scrambles to clear for Robin Clarke as Ryan Herden and Rob Nigro look on.

Back row L-R: Men's finalists Rob Nigro & Tyler Hamilton, men's champions Ryan Herden & Robin Clarke, tournament co-chairs Pat Richardson & Debie O'Neill, Doug Bannan of Ridley Windows & Doors.
Front Row: Women's champions Stephanie Hewitt & Nikki Todd, Squash Ontario Executive Director Jamie Nicholls, women's finalists Seanna Keating & Marci Sier. Front Centre: Georgia Baldwin who was crowned Ontario Closed Girls Under 11 Champion earlier that day, presented the champions' cheques.

Women's Open Champions Nikki Todd & Stephanie Hewitt with finalists Seanna Keating & Marci Sier.

Dateline November 26th --- The 67th edition of the Ontario Doubles Championships, sponsored by Slaight Music and Ridley Windows And Doors, was held this past weekend at the Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club, with Mayfair Parkway and the Toronto Racquet Club providing their courts as well. Seventy-two teams, 51 men’s and 21 women’s, competed in a combined seven divisions, and when the last ball was struck late Sunday afternoon, Robin Clarke and Ryan Herden emerged victorious in the Men’s Open draw and Steph Hewitt and Nikki Todd did the same in the Women’s Open. It was the first Ontario Doubles title for Clarke, Herden and Todd, but Hewitt is now an eight-time winner (with six different partners) of this event, having prevailed with Marnie Baizley in 2007, Jessica DiMauro in 2008 and 2010, Steph Edmison in 2011, Marci Sier in 2012 and 2015, Seanna Keating in 2014 and now Todd in 2017.

  Byed to the quarterfinals by virtue of their top-seeded status, Clarke and Herden advanced to the final by defeating first Bruce Marrison and Eric Baldwin 3-0 and then the Hong brothers, Robert and Brian, with an 11-15, 15-13, 15-3, 15-6 tally that hinged largely on the close ending to the second game. The draw’s bottom half was much less orderly, with second seeds Alex Carter and Jeff Lurie barely surviving their quarterfinal with Paul Gartenburg and Rob Cooley, who, after barely dropping a first game in which they led 14-10, overpowered Carter/Lurie in winning the second and third in single figures and led early in the fourth game, which seesawed dangerously to 12-all. Carter and Lurie managed to win the last three points of that game and rode a Carter shot-making spree through the 15-8 fifth, but were unable to sustain that momentum the next day, when they lost 3-0 to Tyler Hamilton and Rob Nigro, quarters victors over Josh Hollings and Josh Ginou, in the semis.

   Clarke and Nigro, partners in the 2016 version of this tournament (in which they led Will Mariani and Fred Reid Jr. 8-6 in the fifth before yielding a match-ending 9-0 run during which Clarke badly injured his right groin muscle and was sidelined for several months) were opposing each other for the second time in a Toronto doubles tournament in barely a week, since Clarke and Scott Arnold had out-played Hamilton/Nigro in the opening round of the SDA pro-doubles-tour Bentley Cup at the Cambridge Club the previous weekend. Clarke and Arnold, the reigning four-time Canadian National Doubles champions, had then earned a fifth-game double-match-ball against Manek Mathur and Damien Mudge, the No. 1 team on the SDA tour, before losing 15-14. Just as Marrison/Baldwin and the Hong brothers attempted to do earlier this weekend, Hamilton and Nigro tried to follow a game plan of putting as much pressure on Herden as possible and minimizing Clarke’s impact on the play. And just as happened in those pre-final matches, the Clarke/Herden pairing was able to stymie this strategy, particularly during the first two games of their 15-8, 7 and 14 march to the winner’s circle.

  Herden rose to the challenge by alternating hard cross-courts and lobs that kept his left-wall opponent Hamilton on the defensive and created openings for both Herden and Clarke to exploit, and Clarke was able to find opportunities to impose his formidable presence on the action. The third game, in which Clarke and Herden led 12-7, tightened up at the end, and at 12-14 Hamilton and Nigro won the next two points by hitting winners at Herden’s expense. They went after him again on the long, all-court 14-all point, which, however ended when Herden hit a shallow cross-court that rolled out of the nick before Hamilton could scoop it back into play. In an eerie turnaround-is-fair-play coincidence, that was the exact shot that Mudge had hit for a winner at simultaneous-match-ball eight days ago in the Bentley Cup semifinal in front of Clarke, who was understandably pleased at this time being at the better end of a match that ended in that fashion.

  In the women’s final, Sier and Keating took the first game against Hewitt (making a rare appearance on the left wall) and Todd 15-11 by keeping Hewitt pinned deep in the back-left and steadily gaining a positional advantage. But as the match wore on, Todd, who has greatly diversified her doubles game during the past year, scored a number of winners, Hewitt became increasingly effective and the Keating/Sier duo seemed to gradually run out of steam. Once Hewitt and Todd gained control of the play, they never relinquished it, winning the final three downhill games 15-11, 10 and 9. Hewitt in particular is a noted “closer” who rarely gives momentum away once her team has gained it. Both finals were played in front of a packed gallery that thronged the stadium court. There is a special level of enthusiasm and positive energy that characterizes virtually all of the major provincial and national Canadian doubles tournaments in particular, and this weekend’s edition on the Ontario Doubles, run expertly by Tournament Committee members Pat Richardson, Debie O’Neill and Clarke (who thereby recorded a rare administrative/competitive “double”) was a memorable example of this praiseworthy phenomenon.

photos courtesy Lolly Gillen and Pat Richardson