A Thematic History Of The Kellner Cup
 By Rob Dinerman

April 10, 2010 -This year’s Kellner Cup competition will represent the eighth edition of what has become perhaps the most prestigious professional squash doubles championship in the world. The previous seven Kellner Cups (from 2000-2006 before the recent switch to a biennial format resulted in a “gap” year in 2007) have effectively comprised the equivalent of the postseason playoffs of one of the four major team sports, due to the late-April time slot, top-tier purses ($40,000 the first year which subsequently expanded to the $ 70,000 to $90,000 range thereafter) and bright-lights mid-town Manhattan location hosted by three of the most highly regarded private clubs on the continent, namely the University, Union and Racquet & Tennis Clubs. Indeed, the absence of this tournament last spring caused the 2006-07 season to end more or less in mid-air as opposed to with the kind of dramatic and season-defining culmination with which this championship has perennially imbued the ISDA schedule.
    The prior septet of Kellner Cups fully reflected the dominance during this extended period that Gary Waite and Damien Mudge enjoyed over their ISDA counterparts, as this record-shattering duo had a pair of Kellner Cup three-peats (’00 through ’02 and ’04 through ’06) precisely bisected by the memorable Blair Horler/Clive Leach breakthrough at the expense of Waite and Mudge in the 2003 final. Horler and Leach had never progressed past the quarterfinal round prior to ’03 (they suffered an upset loss to Todd Binns and Jeff Mulligan in ’02 when Mulligan punctuated his career-best performance by blasting a cross-court past Horler at 14-13 in the fifth game) and would be playing with different partners by the time the ’04 event rolled around.
   But in the winter/spring of ’03, Horler and Leach first emphatically terminated a Waite/Mudge undefeated skein that had consumed 24 tournaments, 76 matches and 22 months with a blow-out (15-7 in the fourth) early-February win in the Canadian pro final; then captured the early-April Creek Challenge Cup when Mudge (partnered by Preston Quick since Waite was back home in Canada, where he and wife Natalie were celebrating the birth just days earlier of the couple’s third child) incurred a match-ending late-second-game concussion when a deep-court collision with Horler caused him to crash head-first into the left side wall; and then capped off their surge two weeks later with their heroics in the Kellner Cup.
   In so doing and in thereby becoming the first team ever to defeat Waite and Mudge twice in the same season, Horler and Leach rose superior to their early-tournament travails (a fifth-game first-rounder against qualifiers Chris Walker and a returning-to-action David Kay, who had suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon six months earlier, followed by a patchy 3-1 quarter over James Hewitt and Tyler Millard before a more convincing four-game semi over Willie Hosey and Michael Pirnak), their shaky prior Kellner Cup history and the two-games-to-love deficit that confronted them after Mudge nailed a serve-return reverse-corner winner at simultaneous-game-ball in the 15-14 second game to provide his team with a formidable edge, both statistically and psychologically, that Horler and Leach nevertheless convincingly overcame. This they accomplished with meat-grinder efficiency and a relentless attacking style that led to 15-10, 15-9 tallies and a 14-9 fifth-game lead which nearly disappeared under a desperate last-ditch Waite/Mudge rally to 13-14 that was thwarted when Horler, who had committed two nervous-looking tins in that frenzied final stretch, fully redeemed himself by boldly and successfully going for broke with a tin-defying backhand reverse-corner that neither of his two opponents even came close to tracking down.
   Almost from the moment that that untouchable Horler salvo bounced the second time, Waite and Mudge were setting their sights on regaining the trophy, and everything it symbolized, that they had held so proudly for so long. And regain it (again and again and again) they compellingly did, first by subduing Viktor Berg and Josh McDonald 3-0 in the ’04 final, keyed by a 10-0 mid-match spree from 10-11 in the second game to a 5-0 lead in the close-out third; then a year later by breaking open what had been a close final with Quick and Ben Gould with a 6-1 ending to a 15-7 third game preceding a runaway 15-5 final fourth; and finally with a 9-0 run from 2-3 to 11-3 in the fourth and final game of the ’06 final against Berg (who along with Hosey had also been on the receiving end of an 11-0 Waite/Mudge explosion in the third and final game of the ’02 final) and Walker that virtually clinched that match’s outcome.
   Proof of how difficult it is to get to (much less through) ONE Kellner Cup final, much less reaching all seven and winning six of them, lies in the fact that in the last six finals Waite and Mudge faced six different teams and a combined nine different players, just three short of the theoretical maximum (only Berg and Hosey, with three each, have recorded more than one final-round appearance among the Waite/Mudge field of challengers) and, other than the ascent of Hosey and his early-2000’s partner Jamie Bentley to the 2000 and 2001 finals, no player other than Waite and Mudge has reached two consecutive Kellner Cup finals (see accompanying chart). In fact, possibly as a consequence of the demoralizing impact of those earlier-referenced blistering and match-clinching final-round Waite/Mudge runs, those runner-up teams have rarely emerged intact from the defeats that they suffered.
  Bentley and Hosey, finalists 19 out of 21 times in their two seasons together but only 2-17 in those finals, went separate ways after losing the ’01 Kellner Cup final, as did five-time 2001-02 finalists Hosey and Berg after dropping the ’02 final; a severe Horler right-knee injury just nine months after his and Leach’s triumphant ’03 effort permanently derailed his career in its prime and caused Leach to seek out other partners; ’04 finalists McDonald and Berg frittered away two fourth-game match-balls in the first round of the ’05 Kellner Cup, then contributed 10 tins to their opponents’ (John Russell and Steve Scharff) tally in the 15-7 fifth game of what would prove to be the final match in their three-year partnership; and ’05 finalists Quick and Gould had already decided to part company even before the ’06 Kellner Cup, in which they let two third-game match-balls get away against Walker and Berg and barely contested the tame pair of 15-7 games that followed.
   The foregoing semi was preceded by an even more wildly undulating top-half tilt between Waite/Mudge and Leach and his recently-acquired partner (Leach’s fourth in the past four Kellner Cup appearances, with yet a fifth slated for this upcoming edition) Scott Butcher, who after trailing two games to love, took leads of 10-1 in the third game and 13-1 in the fourth in a pair of 15-5 match-evening frames against their vaunted and top-seeded but temporarily completely lost-at-sea foes, who, however, responding to the crisis like the champs they are, fully reversed the situation in capturing the 15-6 fifth game.
   That was likely the most bizarre occurrence in Kellner Cup annals, save for what happened two years earlier on the same Union Club court, where Bentley, who with partner Quick trailed McDonald/Berg in an ’04 semi, two games to one, but was serving at simultaneous-game-ball in the fourth, appealed his own serve after his team lost the point, got a favorable “fault” ruling from the two judges, and then, having unfortunately lost track of the fact that he thus had one fault against him, hit his subsequent risky serve low to the front-wall red-line. The referee correctly called that serve a fault but initially failed to realize that that had been a second serve, until one of the judges alerted him to this fact, resulting in a match-ending double-fault to the vocal dismay of the Bentley/Quick team and its many supporters in the gallery.
  An injury-plagued Bentley has long since departed the ISDA scene, as has his fellow 40-something Canadian compatriot Waite along with Horler, Binns, Kay, Butcher, McDonald and many more. In fact, only three of the participants in the inaugural Kellner Cup eight years ago --- namely Mudge, Pirnak and Hosey --- are listed in the main draw of the current Kellner Cup tournament. A whole new generation of talented contenders has risen to the fore just in the brief two-year period since the last Kellner Cup was held. Given the series of “waves” that have characterized this 2007-08 campaign --- with Leach and his fellow British stand-out Walker winning the first two season-opening tourneys and getting to four of the first five finals, followed by 2006-07 No. 1’s Gould and Paul Price capturing four of five November/December events and regaining the top slot, only to be displaced by Mudge and his new partner Berg, who have won six of the last seven tour stops and five in a row --- the field is much more “open” now than at any time in the history of this championship. What can be stated for sure, however, is that whichever team winds up in the winner’s circle in the cathedral-like Racquet & Tennis arena this coming Monday night will have come through the most exacting competitive crucible that the sport of doubles squash possesses and will have joined what has already in less than a decade become a rich and resplendent tradition.
Editor's Note: This article was submitted to the 2008 Kellner Cup committee for inclusion as the feature piece of the Tournament Program for that event.

This first appeared on isdasquash.com

Back To Dinerman Archive