A History Of The Briggs Cup By Rob Dinerman

    January 12, 2007
-Though only entering its third edition this weekend, the Briggs Cup during its brief but noteworthy history has already been the site of some memorable matches, outcomes and twists of fate that have often defined, for better or worse, the tenor of the remainder of the season in which they occurred. The inaugural holding of this biennial championship in early February 2003, for example, likely set the stage for the historic breakthrough that would occur just one week later at the Canadian Pro tourney in Toronto.
   Gary Waite and Damien Mudge had been dominating the ISDA tour to such a degree during the early 2000’s (with 23 straight tournament wins and 73 consecutive matches since their only loss to Anders Wahlstedt and Scott Stoneburgh in Wilmington more than two years earlier) that Tournament Chairman and longtime Apawamis Club Director Of Racquet Sports Peter Briggs, in whose honor the event got its name, requested that they “split up” for this tournament and agree to play with different partners.
   Accordingly, Willie Hosey and Michael Pirnak, whom Waite and Mudge had defeated in mid January in the North American Open final in Greenwich, agreed to a partner swap in which Waite wound up with Hosey and Mudge played with Pirnak. The nearly universal expectation was that this pair of realigned duos would meet in the Monday night final for the right to claim both the biggest winner’s share in the history of professional doubles on this continent (as well as in the entire world) and the status of becoming the first-ever Briggs Cup champions.
    Pirnak and Mudge meshed immediately and motored unimpeded through the draw’s bottom half, dispatching two qualifiers in the 16’s and quarters and getting to the final without having to face a single seeded team. But Waite and Hosey were never able to fully click, as they stumbled into the semis, there to be convincingly bested by fourth seeds Josh McDonald and Viktor Berg, who had come close to knocking off The Champs three weeks earlier in the Boston final (where they led 11-8 in the fifth before being overtaken at the very end) and whose sharp-shooting and early momentum on this occasion were more than enough to carry them to a four-game victory.
    It was the first loss of any kind since that Wilmington distant setback for Waite, who had supplemented those 23 ISDA trophy runs with Mudge by capturing the two interceding Cambridge Club Doubles with Mark Chaloner and Stewart Boswell, the 2002 U S National Doubles with Morris Clothier, the 2001 U S Mixed and 2002 World Mixed with Jessie Chai and all four pro hardball singles events in which he had competed during that period, as well as the 2002 U S Nationals.
   By the time McDonald and Berg had ascended to the final round (where they became the fourth consecutive 3-0 victim of Pirnak and Mudge), another major upset had occurred as well when first-year partners Scott Butcher and his Australian compatriot Jeff Osborne followed a somewhat expected first-round win over Noah Wimmer and Ben Gould with a totally unexpected quarterfinal triumph at the expense of third seeds Blair Horler and Clive Leach. The latter pairing had been giving Waite and Mudge more trouble than any other team in the recent prior events; in fact, the Greenwich semi less than a fortnight before had seesawed all the way to a simultaneous match-ball, and only a loose Round Hill floorboard near the left wall, causing the ball to bounce so unpredictably that Horler whiffed on his swing, had enabled Waite and Mudge to play for (and win) their third straight North American Open crown.
   Even though Horler and Leach were not playing at their best during large portions of the first four evenly divided games, they appeared to have gained control in blasting their way out to an 8-4 advantage in the fifth. But out of the blue, Butcher and Osborne conjured up a magical 10-0 run to reach match-ball, which they converted immediately when Leach, disgusted with the turn the match had taken, deliberately smashed Butcher’s serve into the ceiling to punctuate his team’s collapse.
     It is worth noting, however, that, galvanized rather than being demoralized by that defeat, Horler and Leach responded by surging to their first-ever ISDA tournament title two weeks later at the Canadian Pro, avenging their loss to Butcher/Osborne in a ruthless 3-0 quarterfinal and then manhandling the reunited but badly out-played Waite and Mudge in a four-game final in which they held Wate and Mudge under 10 points in the fourth game. This result would provide an important precedent when these titans met several months later in the Kellner Cup final, in which Horler and Leach again rose superior, rallying from a two-game deficit and answering a last-ditch fifth-game Waite/Mudge run from 10-14 to 13-14 when Horler hit a clear backhand reverse-corner winner to seal the outcome.
   Proof of the transitory nature of  ISDA tour partnerships can be can be found in the fact that, by the time the 2005 Briggs Cup was held, and given the requested Waite/Mudge separation two years earlier, only one of the 16 main-draw entries remained intact from the ’03 version, namely McDonald/Berg, who again reached the final round, where they were again defeated in straight games, this time by Waite and Mudge, who were by that early-February juncture fully launched towards an eventual third wire-to-wire undefeated season (previously 1999-2000 and 2001-2002) in six years.
   Waite and Mudge, as noted, had maintained their dominance during the two-year interim between Briggs Cups, and McDonald (who disappeared from the ISDA tour after the autumn of ’05) and Berg (a two-time Briggs Cup pro-am champion in addition to being a two-time Briggs Cup pro-draw finalist) had remained an elite team, but, those exceptions aside, the competitive scenario had undergone massive changes, as witness both the host of partner realignments and the emergence of a whole new crop of protagonists in the top tier.
     Todd Binns, Ned Edwards and Scott Dulmage, possessors of seven late-1980’s/early 1990’s North American Open titles between them, had retired from pro competition, as had Jeff Stanley, Dean Brown and Taylor Fawcett, while Osborne and Shane Doherty had returned to their native Australia. The Horler/Leach tandem that had terrorized the tour with their trio of winter/spring ’03 ISDA crowns had been disbanded in the wake of Horler’s severe knee injury during the winter of ’04, and tour veterans James Hewitt, Doug Lifford, Tyler Millard, Jamie Bentley, Steve Scharff, Alex Pavulans and Eric Vlcek were all playing with different partners.
   PSA standouts Jonathon Power, Mark Chaloner and Paul Price, each of whom had won the Cambridge Club Doubles in the early 2000’s when the format for that event matched an ISDA player with a PSA player in composing each of its teams, all noted the $ 100,000 purse that the Briggs Cup was offering, the highest by a good margin of any tournament in professional doubles history, and entered the ’05 event, and David Kay, who had been sidelined throughout the 2002-03 season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon, had rejoined his early-2000’s partner Chris Walker. Lastly, Preston Quick, who had still been finding his footing on the ISDA tour in ’03, and Ben Gould, a qualifier in that first Briggs Cup, formed a team at the start of the 2004-05 campaign that by the winter of ’05 was well on its way to becoming the biggest threat in years to the Waite/Mudge dominance and to earning by season’s end the No. 2 team ranking in the ISDA computer standings.
   In fact, 10 of the 13 losses that the Quick/Gould pairing sustained during the 2004-05 season (five times in the finals) came at the hands of Waite and Mudge, and the Quick/Gould ascent to the No. 2 spot would have happened earlier than it did they had not been lucklessly slotted in the top quadrant of the draw on several occasions, including the ’05 Briggs Cup, in which (as had happened a few weeks earlier in a torrid five-game semifinal) they challenged Waite and Mudge far more severely than any of their subsequent opponents were able to do.
    The sheer numbers of the 15-6 15-11 10-15 15-6 tally don’t begin to describe how high-paced and captivating the all-court action was throughout the match, in the wake of which Waite and Mudge posted far more convincing 3-0 wins over first recent North American Open finalists Hosey and Leach (whose partnership ended with this Briggs Cup performance) and, as noted, Berg and McDonald, whose semifinal opponents, Walker and Kay, had attained that stage by rallying from two games to one down to overtake Horler and Pirnak in what was to be the swan song for the latter partnership as well. Major tournaments like the Briggs Cup have a way of becoming tipping points, given both their magnitude and midseason placement, and in their wake a frenzied shifting of partner alliances among the top tier has become fairly common in recent years.
   That continuing phenomenon, as well as the emergence of a new crop of stars, has given a whole new dimension to this ’07 Briggs Cup as well. Of the 16 main-draw teams in the ’05 Briggs Cup, only one, Waite and Mudge, are among the top 12 teams entered in this weekend’s main draw; indeed, only four such sets of partners are intact from as recent an event as the ’06 Kellner Cup this past April, namely three of the four semifinalists (Butcher/Leach, Walker/Berg, the Kellner Cup finalists, and Waite/Mudge) and quarterfinalists Hewitt/Millard.
   Gould and Quick carried their impressive 2004-05 momentum into the early portion of the following season, finally breaking through against Waite and Mudge in the early-November Big Apple Open finals, capturing the Wilmington and Boston titles in January and reaching at least the finals of seven of the first 10 stops on the 2005-06 tour. But they endured a sour late-winter/early-spring patch that spelled the end of their partnership after the late-April Kellner Cup, in which for the second time that month they let multiple-match-ball opportunities get away. Gould then latched onto his Australian compatriot Price, who, like Gould two years earlier, had been a first-round loser in the ’05 Briggs Cup but had exploded into a superstar during the interim between that Briggs Cup and this one.
   Gould and Price steam-rolled Waite and Mudge twice in as many events in capturing the season-opening Maryland Club and Big Apple Opens this past autumn (the first time Waite and Mudge have ever lost two consecutive matches to the same opponent), with Price also partnering Bentley to the winner’s circle in the Cambridge Club. Quick and new partner John Russell have reached the final round in both Baltimore and Vancouver. Waite and Mudge rebounded from their slow start to come away with the trophy in both Vancouver and Wilmington, where in the final round they out-played Berg and Walker, who previously had lost in the semis in Baltimore, New York and Vancouver.
   Kay, now based in Chicago, where he runs the youth-enrichment organization MetroSquash, has pretty much left the ISDA tour, as have Pavulans, the former Apawamis and University Club assistant pro, who has returned to his native Latvia, McDonald, as noted earlier, and, at least for the time being, Horler, who underwent a second knee operation this past summer and is still rehabilitating in the hopes of rejoining the tour later this winter. Forty-somethings Hosey and Bentley, the No. 2 ISDA team behind Waite and Mudge a half-dozen years back, have reunited after productive spells with different partners, and Butcher and Leach, who led Price/Bentley 2-1, 12-9 in the Cambridge Club final, have become fully ensconced as a current top-five contending team entering this weekend along with Waite/Mudge, Price/Gould, Wilmington finalists Walker/Berg and Russell/Quick.

This first appeared on isdasquash.com

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