Mudge And Berg Capture ISDA Briggs Cup Title     By Rob Dinerman

Dateline October 20, 2009 --- The top seeds were in trouble, deep trouble, and every one of the hundred-plus passionate squash aficionados cramming the spacious gallery of the spectacular new glass-back-wall exhibition doubles court at the Apawamis Club knew it. The Monday-night final round of the $100,000 biennial Briggs Cup championships had seen Clive Leach and Matt Jenson, still fired up from their dominant straight-set Sunday-afternoon semifinal victory over defending champs Ben Gould and Paul Price, assert convincing control throughout the 15-10 opening game and to 6-2 in the second over Damian Mudge and Viktor Berg.

There had been nothing fluky about the manner in which Leach and Jenson had earned this advantage, nor did they seem in any way content just to have made it to the final. On the contrary, from the outset they exuded the confidence and execution of a team that fully believed that before the evening had ended they would become the first team other than Mudge/Berg and Price/Gould to win a sanctioned ISDA title in the two-year period, encompassing 26 tournaments, since the ’07 Maryland Club Open, when Leach and Chris Walker defeated both of them in that sequence en route to claiming that crown. Indeed, they were far better organized and more efficient than their favored rivals, especially Berg, who committed a quintet of first-game tins, seemingly more out of a perceived need to change the pace of the play than from any stroking deficiency.

Jenson, more than a dozen pounds lighter than he was last season and commensurately better conditioned and more mobile, was getting great leverage on his backhand drives and was hitting a reverse-corner with far more bite than those from his left-wall opponent Mudge, who had been forced to re-enter the court for this final barely 15 minutes after the end of the five-game pro-am final that he and partner Nan O’Neill had played and lost to Carl Baglio and Michael Walsh (see below). Both he and Leach had to deal with both the disappointment and fatigue that came from losing grueling early-evening pro-am finals, though the latter’s match had ended early enough to provide Leach with nearly two hours’ worth of recovery time. He was on fire throughout the first game-plus of the pro final, and at 1-0, 6-2 his team seemed well on its way to a repeat of their 18-17 15-7 15-7 rout of the fearsome Price/Gould pairing less than 30 hours earlier.

But at this stage Jenson tinned a drop shot and Leach failed to scrape a Berg forehand drive that clung to the right wall, preceding another Jenson tin and a Mudge cross-court winner than tied the score at 6-all. The game seesawed evenly along until the end-game, when a lightning-quick spurt of Berg winners led to a Jenson cross-court that soared over the right-wall boundary line to even the issue at a game apiece. The lengthy and high-quality third game, featuring a nearly unending sequence of all-court points, a tremendous amount of scrambling and some nervy shot-making, particularly from Leach (whose nick-finding sallies alternated with shaded lobs that defied even Mudge’s effort to volley them and forced him to retreat) and Berg, was in doubt halfway through before Mudge and Berg pulled away in the closing laps of the 15-9 graph

Leach and Jenson had regained their edge by the time the fourth game began, taking an 8-5 lead which would have become 9-5 had Jenson’s delicate straight-drop with Mudge totally out of position not caught the very top of the tin to make the score 8-6 instead of 9-5, an important swing in favor of the reprieved Mudge/Berg duo that launched an 8-1 run that got them to 13-9 and essentially decided the outcome. Ultimately, though Leach and Jenson were clearly the better team throughout the first third of the match, Berg and Mudge proved physically and mentally tough enough to bootstrap their way to victory. It was the third Briggs Cup crown for Mudge with three different partners, namely Michael Pirnak in the inaugural ’03 edition of this biennial championship, Gary Waite in ’05 and now Berg in ’09. Mudge and Waite lost the ’07 final to Price and Gould.
Finals Recap: Damien Mudge/Viktor Berg d Matt Jenson/Clive Leach, 10-15 15-12 15-9 15-10

Pro-Ams Summary
In addition to the Pro championship, the Briggs Cup extravaganza featured three highly competitive $15,000 pro-am flights, namely the Kane Cup, the Karlen Cup and the Jennings Cup, named in honor of significant past Apawamis Club members. Briggs himself commented in a speech immediately preceding the Pro final on how hard the ISDA pros played and how supportive they were of the partners to which they had been assigned.

In the Kane Cup final, Raj Nanda and former Princeton varsity player Bill Ullman defeated ’09 Trinity captain Manek Mathur and former WPSA top-20 Mark Barber in three tight games. Mathur and Barber had received a walkover in the semis when their opponents, former Harvard captain Pete Karlen and former Yale captain Josh Schwartz (whose father, Sanford Schwartz, had founded the Citysquash youth-enrichment organization that was the designated charity for the Briggs Cup event), had to default due to the severe cramps that befell Schwartz in the wake of a two-hour quarterfinal.

The Jennings Cup competition saw Walker and Rob Dinerman rise superior, albeit barely, to first Gordy Anderson and James Hewitt and then Leach and Mark Walsh, 15-12 in the fourth in both cases. Leach’s lethal shot-making accuracy and creativity had enabled his team to win 20 of the first 21 points, but the outcome turned first on a four-point run from 11-14 to 15-14 in the second and later when Walker/Dinerman rallied from 7-10 in the fourth, which they closed out from 13-12 on a Dinerman forehand reverse-corner winner followed by a tremendous feat of court coverage by Walker culminating in his powerful forehand cross-court that concluded matters after a 75-minute war of nerves and attrition.

The Karlen Cup final matched Mudge and his partner Nan O’Neill against Carl Baglio, an assistant pro to Mudge at the University Club of New York, and Michael Walsh (no relation to Mark), an aspiring high-school talent. O’Neill, who played the entire match with a winsome smile on her face that belied the degree to which she was understandably the target of most of the Baglio/Walsh attack, stood up remarkably well under the constant pressure. For his part, Mudge, who could have easily “coasted” and saved his energy for the impending Pro final, especially when his team fell behind 3-0 set-5 in the fourth-set tiebreaker, instead demonstrated the professionalism that permeates the entire ISDA tour when he impelled a furious comeback by covering virtually the entire court in a 5-1 run that he finished off by lashing a cross-court past Walsh for an 18-17 score, necessitating a fifth game that Baglio and Walsh were able to win by the close count of 15-12.

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