History Of The New York State Open

by Rob Dinerman
September 15, 2001 -It was during their last monthly meeting of the 1975-76 season, in the late spring of that year, that the USSRA's largest regional member Association by far, the Metropolitan Squash Racquets Association(MSRA) made the significant decision to make their most prestigious annual tournament, the New York State Championship, open to professionals as well as amateurs.

Squash at the time was in the process of "opening up" on several fronts-a pro tour, the forbear of the WPSA that had such a successful run throughout the 1980's and early 1990's, was just rounding into form, with New York hosting the famed North American Open just a few months earlier in January at the University Club; public commercial clubs, which would for the first time make the game accessible to people who couldn't or didn't belong to the exclusive private clubs that had for so long been the game's domain; women, heretofore such a rarity, were becoming much more numerous and visible a presence; and leagues and teams were better subscribed, deeper and encompassing more levels of play than ever before. And the MSRA itself was in many ways playing a leading role, both on the court and off.

One New Yorker, Victor Niederhoffer, had reached the final of that North American Open and was the second-ranked pro player(trailing only Sharif Khan); his decision to turn pro in autumn of '75, following a run of four consecutive National Championships from 1972-75, provided a huge boost to the fledgling pro game, and his success and notoriety were responsible for much of the media coverage and sponsorship the game was beginning to attract, especially the diametric-opposites nature of his rivalry with Khan, whom Victor had managed to defeat in winning the '75 North American Open in Mexico City. Stu Goldstein was right on Niederhoffer's heels in his swift rise up the pro ranks; Peter Briggs had just succeeded Niederhoffer as National Champion in February of '76, having won the final over yet another Gothamite, MSRA President John Reese, in the final.

In light of the foregoing, It seemed only natural that the MSRA would take the lead in declaring its biggest championship an open event as well. Still, the decision was not without controversy. All associations of that era, regional as well as national, were still predominantly supported by amateurs, and therefore had to walk something of a diplomatic and political tightrope: Would opening up the States essentially "professionalize" this title, which had such a solid several decades of history behind it as a highly popular amateur event, and make it impossible for the very group that had been so responsible for its long-time success unable to have a representative presence in a few years? Would the pros support an event that didn't offer prize money and that had excluded them for so long? Wasn't it risky to change what had been a good event to one whose future was uncertain? Wasn't the "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" axiom a sensible one, especially in this case, where there could be backlash of ill will if this "opening up" process went too far too fast? Â…

Ultimately, the MSRA's vision in facing down these caveats was enormously productive, in jump-starting the growth of the game as a whole, both nationally and locally, and in dramatically improving the quality of its flagship event. Other regional associations all over the country took their cue from the MSRA in opening up their important events, and the resultant sense of heightened involvement on the part of the appreciative pros(many of whom had come to internalize the message they had heretofore received of being second-class citizens)had an immensely salutary effect on both the quantity and the quality of play at their clubs.

And the event itself enjoyed easily its greatest period from the '76 edition(its debut as an Open title)all the way to the early 1990's, when, mirroring the decline of the hardball game as a whole, its popularity faded during the last few years until a very quiet ending in 1995. During the glory-days period, and no doubt aided by its very fortuitous mid-December position as the culmination of the fall schedule(where it was the last event before the holiday break, with the Gold Racquets Invitational and Lockett Cup Tri-City New York-Boston-Philadelphia competition as helpful run-ups), the States drew at its peak 75-80 entrants, necessitating an extensive month-long preliminary self-scheduling playdown to whittle the field down to a manageable 16 coming into the tournament weekend And the weekend itself played host to an endless stream of memorable matches, moments and milestones.

Glenn Greenberg, who reached the State final three consecutive times during the same late-70's period when he was also reaching the Met A amateur final four straight times, wrote important chapters in his career highlight album, especially in his long back-and-forth rivalry with another MSRA legend, Jay Nelson, who symbolized his agelessness by winning his third State title 16 YEARS after his second! Ned Edwards provided an early sign of the greatness that awaited him when, as an MSRA and pro rookie in 1981 he capped off his only States appearance by winning an electric four-game final against his Penn teammate Jon Foster, who himself would be highly successful in New York competition but whose luckless fate it was to play three taut States finals interspersed throughout that decade without ever hoisting the winner's trophy.

Rob Dinerman won a record six State Open titles and played in 10 finals, all against a different final-round opponent; Stewart Grodman announced his return from an extended back injury in winning in '83; Will Carlin enjoyed his only significant hardball accomplishment when he survived three five-gamers en route to the '85 title; Joe Dowling, fresh out of Harvard(after captaining the '87 team to an Intercollegiate championship) won the '87 States and later duplicated Greenberg's dual run nine years earlier by also winning the Met A that spring;

Anil Nayar conjured up a twilight-of-his-career run to glory in '82; and Bruce Horowitz, after a decade of relatively anonymous toil during which he had never previously survived the quarter-final round, soared to victory in '88 as part of his career-highlight 1988-89 season, while Roger Alcaly, a much-decorated shotmaker for many years on both a singles and doubles court who had won the first-ever National 35-and-over championship the previous February, ran out of steam late in his quarter-final States match with Rick Woolworth late one Saturday afternoon in '78, looked into the locker room mirror immediately afterwards, recognized that he had given the game all he had to give, and never entered a tournament again..

Career launchpad, highlight or farewell, the New York State Open Championships was for two full decades one of the most noteworthy events of the entire season and a defining moment in the careers of many of those who played their hearts out in search of this coveted title.

1976    Jay Nelson   
1977    Jay Nelson   
1978    Glenn Greenberg   
1979    Glenn Greenberg   
1980    Rob Dinerman   
1981    Ned Edwards   
1982    Anil Nayar   
1983    Stu Grodman   
1984    Rob Dinerman   
1985    Will Carlin   
1986    Ray Gale   
1987    Joe Dowling   
1988    Bruce Horowitz   
1989    Neal Vohr   
1990    Rob Dinerman   
1991    Rob Dinerman   
1992    Rob Dinerman   
1993    Jay Nelson   
1994    Rob Dinerman   
1995    Dave Steere   

This first appeared on squashtalk.com

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