Long U. S. National Doubles Final-Round Streak Ends In Baltimore,
Clothier Ousted In Airtight Semi   by Rob Dinerman

April 3, 2010
-When Morris Clothier and Gary Waite lost by a score of 8-15 16-13 17-16 15-11 to Addison West and Ryan O’Connell in the semifinals of the 2010 U. S. National Doubles in Baltimore on the last weekend of March, the tally brought to an end an extended run in this hallowed competition that, for high-level consistency and longevity, is extremely unlikely ever again to be approached, much less surpassed. Excepting the two years (namely 2006 and 2007) when the National Doubles had been a prize-money stop on the ISDA pro-doubles tour, the West/O’Connell victory marked the first time in the 14 years since Baltimore last hosted this tournament back in 1996 that Clothier had been eliminated prior to the finals of this championship.

Both the ’96 and ’10 outcomes hinged on simultaneous-game-balls: at 17-all in the fifth game of a ’96 quarterfinal pitting three-time defending champions Clothier and Jon Foster against Peter Maule and Pete DeRose, the latter found a dead-nick with a backhand cross-court drop, while in the match late last month, Clothier and Waite let three game-balls in the third-set best-of-five tiebreaker slip away on two Waite tins, following which Waite blasted a drive down the middle at West’s feet, only to have West reflex-half-volley a mis-hit roll-corner winner, a miraculously successful stab-in-the-dark that fueled his team’s match-winning 6-2 run from 9-all in the subsequent close-out fourth game.

In between this pair of widely separated Maryland mishaps, and beginning in ’98 (after he had been sidelined by a broken leg from the ’97 National Doubles), Clothier advanced to (and, the majority of the time, through) the finals of all 10 of the non-ISDA editions of this fabled championship, which has been held every year beginning in 1933 other than a three-year World War II-caused hiatus from 1943-45. He and Eric Vlcek won the title throughout the four-year period from 1998-2001 (in Denver, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Portland), following which, after the event was “opened up” to pros, they played AGAINST each other in the next three finals, with Clothier and Waite defeating Vlcek and Clive Leach 15-12 in the fifth in New York in ’02. Waite then had to miss both the ’03 and ’04 tourneys (due to the birth of his third daughter and a bad wrist injury respectively), during which Vlcek and Preston Quick first out-played Clothier and Scott Butcher 3-1 in Denver in ’03 and then eked out a 15-13 fifth game against Clothier and Damien Mudge in Chicago in ’04.

Waite returned to the fray for the ’05 event, which was held in New York, where on his “home” Racquet & Tennis court, Clothier and his Canadian superstar left-wall partner, leading two games to one but trailing 14-12 in the fourth in their final with Quick and his new partner Steve Scharff (simultaneous-match-ball semis winners the day before over Butcher and Josh McDonald), embarked on a match-ending 5-1 run to 17-15, mostly on a host of winners by Waite, who was by that late-March juncture well on his way to the wire-to-wire undefeated 2004-05 ISDA tour sweep that he and Mudge would accomplish. The pair would capture the ’06 National Doubles in St. Louis before, shockingly, being ousted in the first round by Tyler Millard and Michael Pirnak in ’07 (Waite’s last season before announcing his retirement) at the Merion Cricket Club, where Quick and John Russell would eventually emerge victorious, after which U. S. SQUASH decided to discontinue its two-year experiment of having its flagship event become part of the ISDA tour.

At the Fairmount Club in suburban Philadelphia in ’08, Clothier and Scott Stoneburgh, winners of the Canadian National Doubles in Toronto 13 months earlier, managed to wend their way through a pair of five-gamers (against first O’Connell/Hamed Anvari and then Rob Whitehouse and Greg Park) to reach the final, where, inexplicably, they saw a 14-5 first-game advantage over Trevor McGuinness and Whitten Morris dissolve into a 17-14 defeat and never recovered from that shocking reversal during the subsequent two games. Similarly, a year ago in Denver, Clothier and Michael Ferreira, Gold Racquets champs a few months earlier, led big in the first game and were at 2-all, set-three in the second (preceding a McGuinness’s reverse-corner dart eluded Ferreira’s diving retrieval effort), yet wound up losing, three games to love.

All told, Clothier has played in 13 National Doubles finals (with eight different partners), winning nine of them (three with Foster, four with Vlcek and two with Waite), a record for a right-wall player, and a total that is exceeded overall only by the 11 that Diehl Mateer earned in 1949-51, 1953-54, 1958-59, 1961-62 and 1965-66. En route to winning each of his first eight National Doubles finals, Clothier has had to weather several severely testing mid-match reversals (as when he and Waite failed to convert either of their two consecutive championship-point chances in the 15-14 fourth game of the ’02 final before coming through in the airtight fifth) and at least once has had to rally from near-oblivion; he and Vlcek trailed Dave Rosen and Jeff Mulligan 2-0, 12-5 in 2000 in a St. Louis semifinal before somehow salvaging that game(!) in a best-of-five tiebreaker and surging to the winner’s circle from there.

Whether or not Clothier, now 45 years old, proves interested in and/or capable of making a bid for a 10th National Doubles title in 2011 in Chicago or in the next few years (and don’t bet against it) remains to be seen; doubles is currently perhaps the most vibrant and ascendant of the three squash disciplines (i.e. hardball, softball, doubles) in this country, and athletic young stars like McGuinness have the potential to take the game to an even higher level. Either way, Clothier’s National Doubles record will always deserve to be regarded with respect and admiration --- and besides, this tournament is unlikely to return to Baltimore (where, ironically, he was inducted into the Maryland Squash Hall Of Fame in 2001) for at least the next several years!

This first appeared on squashtalk.com

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