Horler And Leach Dethrone Waite/Mudge, Capture Kellner Cup
By Rob Dinerman

April 29, 2003
- Trailing two games to love after seeing the last of their pair of second-game game-points fall victim to the most remarkable shot of the night, and behind early in the fourth game as well against the top-seeded three-time defending champions, fourth seeds Blair Horler and Clive Leach determinedly bootstrapped their way to an 11-15 14-15 15-10 15-9 15-13 victory over Gary Waite and Damien Mudge that brought them the $ 80,000 2003 Kellner Cup championship.

Their airtight win was a riveting conclusion to an eventful tournament, one which began with five present or recently former softball luminaries---Brett Martin, Martin Heath, Paul Price, Joe Kneipp and Chris Walker---playing roles on three of the four teams that won their qualifying brackets---and ended with the landmark upset earned the hard way by frequent ISDA finalists Horler and Leach.

In so doing, the latter pairing banished the ghosts that have haunted them in big-money ISDA tournaments (all three prior instances of which above the $ 50,000 level, namely the 2001 and 2002 Kellner Cups and $ 100,000 2003 Briggs Cup, had seen them eliminated in the quarters), consolidated their victory over Waite and Mudge 10 weeks earlier in the Canadian Pro final in Toronto, won their fourth ISDA event of this season and became the first team ever to defeat Waite and Mudge twice in a single season.

When Horler's tin-defying backhand reverse-corner winner on his team's fifth consecutive match-point brought the curtain down on this 150-minute epic, thereby averting what would have been an agonizingly thrilling fifth-game tiebreaker, it also marked the first time that Waite and Mudge, winners of 40 of their previous 43 career tournaments over the past four years, had lost a match in which they had even led two games to one, let alone two games to love.

Indeed, they were fortunate to even be in that position after facing substantial mid-game deficits (9-6 in the first game and 7-3 in the second) due to the ferocious pace Leach and especially Horler were generating.

In the first game, however, and pretty much out of the blue, this pair
contributed five tins, most of them unforced, to the 6-0 Waite/Mudge run that
brought them from 6-9 to 12-9. A Leach cross-court drop shot that nicked in
front of Waite (a sign of what was to follow) and a stroke call against Waite
made it 12-11, but a lapse by Horler when he was so sure that Waite had
played a double-bounce that he tinned an open ball, cost his team a chance to
tie the score and gave The Champs just enough breathing room to close that
game out 15-11.

Leach's alternation of depth and deftness and the battering Horler was
administering on the left wall were the main reasons for their good start in
the second game, but a five-point Waite/Mudge run followed, built this time
more on their winners than opponent's errors. The tally seesawed evenly along
for a few more points, one of which, at 9-all, ended oddly when Mudge's
racquet broke in mid-point. The handle flew forward, but he resourcefully
grabbed the remaining half-racquet that contained the head and readied
himself for the next shot, only to be thwarted by referee Larry Sconzo's
correct decision to award the point to Horler and Leach.

Though they thus lost this point, Waite and Mudge earned their way to 12-10, and then to 13-11 on a miscommunication between Horler and Leach on a ball that either could easily have gotten but both thought the other would cover.
However, a Leach cross court winner preceded a Horler blasted rail past
Waite that brought the score to 13-all, creating a moment whose urgency
became even more apparent when Waite and Mudge elected to call "no-set," a
decision they regretted an instant later when Mudge tinned an attempt to
crush Leach's loose serve past him. On the ensuing exchange, Waite glued a
backhand rail so tightly to the left wall that Horler couldn't scrape it
back, following which, and incredibly, both because of how lively the court
had become and in the wake of the bad serve-return tin he had hit less than a
minute before, Mudge went for and buried a serve-return reverse-corner winner
on Horler's lob serve to give himself and Waite a two games to love lead and
seemingly a commanding lock on the match outcome.

The feeling has always been during their extended and near-complete domination of the ISDA tour that to defeat Waite and Mudge, a team needs to win an early game, a lucky game and, of course, the last game. In this case, Horler and Leach, who could well have taken each of the first two games, had won neither an early game NOR a lucky game. In fact, what luck the match to this point had contained had mostly gone AGAINST rather than for them, and Waite and Mudge appeared well on their way to their second straight four-match, 12-game march through the Kellner Cup and their fourth Cup crown in as many holdings of the event.

Even many of the squash aficionados who packed the overflow Racquet &
Tennis gallery failed to really understand how hard Waite and Mudge had had
to work to win those two games, how vulnerable they appeared throughout most
of the action and how capable Horler and Leach still were of winning the
match, provided they didn't fragment, as they had done in several of the
early-round losses they had suffered earlier this season, and provided as
well that they stayed the course, even in the face of the disheartening
conclusion to the second game.

Stay the course they certainly did, with a grimness of purpose that
gradually took its toll on even their renowned foes, especially the now
36-year-old Waite, who had played (and barely lost with Ed Minskoff) a long
pro-am final that ended less than two hours before this Kellner Cup final,
and who was less than three weeks removed from the birth of his and wife
Natalie's third child. To say Waite faded under the avalanche of heat that
Horler's fierce rail drives were putting him under would surely be an
overstatement, but he did bend just a little under both Horler's frontal
attack and Leach's probing short game, just enough to enable Horler and Leach
to establish the same mid-game leads that they had in the first two games,
but this time a little bit bigger (6-2 and 11-5 in the third game, 12-7 from
5-all in the fourth), too big to be overcome.

The fourth game was particularly deflating in light if its (temporarily) encouraging 3-0 beginning, when unforced tins by first Horler and Leach were followed by a perfect Mudge three-wall nick and an emphatic high-five with his partner that seemed to indicate how important this excellent start was to them and, by extension, how worried that third game had made them, even up two games to one, about their prospects of winning the match. But this early momentum inexorably gave way to the Horler/Leach meat grinder, by the end of which the normally resolute Mudge had been reduced to over-hitting, and the besieged Waite was being muscled out of position on the left wall by the much younger and much larger Horler in a scenario that marked time's unrelenting passage as clearly as had been true decades before for Joe Louis at the end of his career against Rocky Marciano's prime beef.

Waite's ability to come through in the clutch has deservedly acquired a
mystical and mythical character over his many seasons (and with several
partners) at the top, including this season, when he had survived pre-final
match-points against him both at the Cambridge Club Doubles (with Stewart
Boswell) and the North American Open (with Mudge) in November before
eventually winning both tournaments. Indeed, he has turned impending defeat
into victory so often that at times it has almost seemed as though
supernatural agents are operating in his behalf.

Although he and Mudge never led in the fifth game, never gained any sustainable momentum, almost never solved the problems engendered by Leach's wily shot making and Horler's crackling pace, and fell behind 4-1, 10-6 and eventually 14-9, those sovereign forces nearly delivered him yet again, when an innocuous-appearing Waite drop shot winner was followed by three consecutive points that ended on nerves-induced Horler tins when he tried too hard to finish off the win.

The last of these brought the score to 13-14 amid a raucous reaction from a gallery that had become suddenly energized by the real possibility of a winner-take-all tiebreaker.

That Horler was able to face down the immediate memory of those three tins
and nail the match-ending reverse corner under the pressure of the moment is
evidence of their concentration and determination.

And that he and Leach, zero for their first 14 matches against Waite and Mudge, were able to rebound from the wounds, some of them self-inflicted, that they have absorbed during their three-year partnership, and come up with the biggest performance of either player's career against an opponent of this caliber in an environment of this magnitude and for a title of this prestige, is a tribute to the qualities that earned them the 2003 Kellner Cup championship.


Blair Horler/Clive Leach (4) d Gary Waite/Damien Mudge (1), 11-15 14-15 15-10
15-9 15-13

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