Fall Recap: Orderly Tour Turned Topsy-Turvy In December
by Rob Dinerman

Dateline December 24th, 2011
– When Manek Mathur and Yvain Badan posted sequential victories over first Damien Mudge and Ben Gould (rupturing their 46-0 skein) and then Matt Jenson and Clive Leach, the top two ranked teams on the ISDA tour, in the final two rounds of the Briggs Cup, the last and most lucrative pro hardball doubles tournament in calendar 2011, they completely upended the prevailing status quo, generated the most noteworthy accomplishment in the nearly nine years since Leach and Blair Horler dethroned reigning champs Mudge and Gary Waite in the final of the April 2003 Kellner Cup (on a daring Horler reverse-corner at 14-13 in the fifth), became the first team in the 12-year history of the ISDA to win a tournament in which they faced match-point-against in the third game of their semi and culminated a meteoric ascent from having to hack their way through the qualifying rounds as recently as this past January to winning an event of this magnitude less than a year later.

  In the historic-in-several-ways top-half semifinal, Mathur and Badan, as noted two games to love down against the Mudge/Gould juggernaut (which to that point had won 20 of the 21 games they had played against the young recent Trinity College stars), escaped the 14-all third-game crossroads when Mathur spiked a volley into the front-right nick, then from 4-8 down erupted on 26-11 match-finishing run during which they played at a level which even their vaunted but on this occasion beleaguered opponents were unable to match, a rousing outcome that was followed by an unstoppable (15-5 and 7) Jenson/Leach rally from one-two down against John Russell and Greg Park to finish off a  pair of Sunday-afternoon semifinals at the host Apawamis Club that between them consumed four and a half entertaining and memorable hours.

   The breakthrough win over Mudge and Gould may have actually started not in this scenic suburban setting but rather in the mid-town Manhattan maelstrom one week earlier, where in the Big Apple Open Mathur and Badan, after winning the second game of their Mudge/Gould semi, rallied from 9-14 in the third and 4-12 and later 11-14 in the fourth, to deadlock each of those seemingly doomed games at 14-all. Though Mudge was able to come up with the winning shots on each of those simultaneous-game-ball situations (an audacious straight-drop winner from the back wall, then a backhand cross-drop from up front), anyone who saw how hard pressed the two Australian superstars were to convert even those imposing advantages, how relieved they visibly were to have escaped with those games (preceding a competitive but straight-game final the next night over Jenson/Leach, comeback five-game semis winners over Imran Khan and Raj Nanda) and how much sleekness and firepower the fourth seeds were throwing at them, came away from the experience with a heightened awareness of how formidable a force Mathur/Badan were swiftly becoming, and how capable they now were of beating any team on the circuit.

   As big a psychological hurdle as it was to hand The Champs the first defeat (after 14 tournament wins in as many attempts) of their partnership, coming up as big as Mathur/Badan did one day later in the final may in its own way have been an even more remarkable achievement, especially against as redoubtable a foe as Jenson/Leach, who had to have been thrilled at the removal of the team that has tormented them more than any other. Again an early-match game evolved to 14-all, again the eventual winners came up with the decisive salvo, this time a front-left nick off Badan’s bat, and, though it was hard-fought all the way after that (Leach was brilliant in his team’s second-game win), Mathur and Badan had just enough of a territorial advantage, just enough karmic confidence from their semifinal win (and the tough four-game quarter over Jonny Smith/Preston Quick that preceded it) and just enough of a home-court edge (Mathur is based at the host club, where Badan coached for five years before recently accepting a position at the nearby Country Club Of New Canaan) to forge their way to a 15-14 11-15 15-11 15-11 triumph and a compelling career highlight.

  The 2011 Briggs Cup marked the first ISDA full-ranking final without either Mudge or Gould in it since the March 2007 U. S. National Doubles at the Merion Cricket Club in suburban Philadelphia, 52 tournaments and nearly five years ago, when Russell and Preston Quick defeated Leach and Scott Butcher  --- and the only reason that neither Mudge nor Gould made it to THAT final was a Butcher/Leach three-point run to 18-17 in their fifth-game semi against Gould and Willie Hosey. More significantly in terms of its impact on the remainder of the 2011-12 season, it also marked the first time that the members of both final-round teams in an important midseason ISDA event would decide to go their separate ways within 36 hours of when the last ball was hit, a development that represents yet another severe shaking up of the heretofore stable ISDA kaleidoscope. Badan’s weekend responsibilities in his new position are expected to substantially limit his freedom to play the doubles circuit, so Mathur will be partnering up with Leach in the important Boston/Greenwich January tournaments.

  The Mathur/Badan body of work was fairly small ---- consisting of only 11 full-ranking tournaments as well as two Challenger events (Buffalo and Philadelphia), both of which they won, while reaching the Greenwich and Heights Casino semifinals last season and the St. Louis finals both last season and this, and, of course, winning the Briggs Cup --- but climactically incandescent. As for Jenson and Leach, in three and a half praiseworthy years together, they reached the finals of virtually every important ISDA tour stop, 10 such advances in all, including, as noted, the last two, and five of the last seven.

   Had the Briggs Cup final teams remained intact, the stage would have been cleanly set for the 2012 portion of the schedule, with each of the top three teams having reached two of the three autumn 2011 ranking-tournament finals, with each event having a different team (Chris Walker/Mark Chaloner in St. Louis, Khan/Nanda in New York and Russell/Park in Rye) filling the fourth semifinal slot, and with suddenly white-hot rivalries simmering throughout the five-week Christmas/New Year’s recess to be renewed as soon as play resumes next month. Those six teams, along with the Smith/Quick duo, which FOR SURE is too good to be denied a spot in the semis for much longer, would have made for a formidable septet, and one can only imagine how motivated Mudge and Gould would have been to redeem their first-ever defeat the next time they would have faced Mathur and Badan.

   Instead, Mudge and Gould now will not have the chance to exact that revenge, and the partner shuffle in the top tier ---including, of course, Jenson and the partner(s) he takes on, beginning with Paul Price in Boston and Badan in Greenwich --- will create a whole brave new world when the ISDA tour returns to the University Club of Boston on January 12th. The thinking here is that Mathur and Leach may well pose the biggest threat to Mudge/Gould’s ability to successfully defend the Boston and North American Open crowns they won a year ago. But Russell and Park, who lost to Walker/Chaloner in a simultaneous-match-ball quarterfinal in St. Louis (when Park hit the ball out of court) before narrowly winning the rematch in Rye, now have a big win to point to, as do Chaloner, who with Paul Price captured the invitational round-robin Cambridge Club Doubles in late-November in Toronto, and Smith, who with Khan won the lone autumn Challenger tourney, the Pittsburgh Cup. The January-April sector of the ISDA schedule will be different from and greatly impacted by the five October-December tournaments and their ferocious fall-out, but what follows this holiday break promises to be at least as exciting as what preceded it.

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