2016 Doubles Club Championships
What a mixed bag of results. If anyone could have predicted the winners of all 3 categories at the start of the event, they either would have had 1. Bribed the players; 2. Literally pulled the names out of a hat; or 3. A time machine. Since we haven’t seen any flying DeLoreans around or a kooky long haired scientist, I assume we can eliminate number 3 at least…
A total of 64 players were wrangling for the titles, which also surprised me since it fell 2 players short of last year’s record entries. The doubles contingent is growing - based on the fact that the ranking has 100 players listed - and looking at the results this year, so is the parity.
I find this category the most unpredictable because the draw is always a hodgepodge of veteran teams that understand the angles and read the game fluently, and young fledglings that indiscriminately chase the ball and swing for the fences hoping for the best. Generally speaking, experience I find is rather valuable on the doubles court (more so than on a singles) as I think we have all suffered at some time in our careers a humiliating beat down from an elder opponent who, if judging a book by its cover, looked like they couldn’t manage tying their own shoelaces let alone navigate a 40 x 25 foot arena. Although some rookies have won this category before, history is on the side of the well-versed, and 2016 kept to that script.
Now, I am certainly not suggesting that Ken Katz and Joe Moran cannot tie up their shoelaces – I am sure they can – but these two are not strangers to competing for the club championships. In fact, they won it in 2012, were runner-up in 2011 and 2010, and Ken can also claim the title in 2006 (with then partner Peter Fortune) and was a finalist in 2005 with Sandy Hudson. In other words, they have been around for a while! Of course, even with the proven success, Ken is one of the biggest worry warts of them all, fearful of all upcoming opponents, fretting he won’t be up to scratch. He does, indubitably, underestimate himself. Ken and Joe churned themselves to the final dropping only 1 game along the way, which was against Justin Winkelman and Andrew Spohn, results that should have given the pair confidence.
Meeting them for the final showdown was another pair that also shared quite a bit of experience between them. Dave Devine and Tom McCarthy had a slightly more difficult task reaching this far, their campaign almost didn’t get them past their first match. Curt Pedersen and Chuck Doyle pushed them all the way to the edge, but they survived the scare to take the 3-2 win, regrouped for the next encounter, performing well for the solid 3-0 victory. Neither Dave or Tom had reached the Doubles C final before, it was their first chance to play for the title.
The difference one rally can make. And of course timing is everything. When you win that rally can (and did) change everything. The teams took turns. Dave and Tom claimed the first, Ken and Joe the second, and back to Dave and Tom for the third. Close scores, neither team was dominating, it could easily have been different to the 2-1 game total. Fast forward to the end of the 4th game… 14-all. Game-ball for Katz / Moran; match-ball for Devine / McCarthy. Tensions were no doubt high, and really when it comes to this point of a match, it’s a matter of luck above anything else. Ken and Joe won that coin-toss, and from that point onwards the momentum was in their favor. It’s an absolute let-down when you have the title on the tips of your fingers and it slips away, for Dave and Tom it would be a difficult task to pick themselves up for the 5th. It was not to be for them and Ken and Joe ran away with it and claimed another club championship title! Final score: 12-15; 15-11; 13-15; 15-14; 15-10.
Going in as favorites for this category, I had Sante Fratarcangeli and Manny Tancer at the top of the draw. Last year for this pair they experienced a heartbreaking loss in the final where they went down 15-14 in the 5th to Bret Williams and Paul Ward. They needed to redeem themselves.
Going in as second favorite, I had Jason Curry and Dave Walker. Jason and Dave also suffered through an unpalatable loss last year in the semifinal 15-13 in the 5th – which was to Sante and Manny. I was looking forward to another blockbuster showdown between these 2 teams for the final… however we had a spoiler alert!
Not for Manny and Sante – they got through to the final almost unscathed. The 2 matches they needed, they won both of them 3-1. I think those results were closer than the pair would have predicted or liked, but again it does show that you cannot take any team lightly, it is pretty straightforward to find yourself on the wrong end of a winning streak.
Going in as no favorite at all, was Chris Van Tol and Matt DiDio. Last year this team lost first round 3-2 to Paul Flanagan and Andrew Spohn, and as far as I could tell were so dejected about the loss hadn’t stepped on the doubles court since. So how this pair defied the odds is a mystery, maybe they had been secretly training in the middle of the night…? Chris and Matt were veritably thrown randomly into the draw and quietly went about their business. They won their first two matches 3-1, which although I didn’t really expect them to do so, I wasn’t inordinately astonished about it either. I didn’t give them much hope against Jason and Dave in the semifinal though, I was sure their run would end rather abruptly. But no, once again whatever I predict would happen just comes back to haunt the innocent. The Currie / Walker team must have been as befuddled as I, as Van Tol / DiDio sent the second seeds packing with another 3-1 victory.
|Manny Tancer, Sante F, Matt DiDio, Chris Van Tol|
Setting up an interesting final, I was no longer going to prophesize anything. Chris and Matt were on their own, I wasn’t about to ruin it with some idiotic jinx. Would they be able to continue on their Cinderella run? Even at their best, combatting the Sante – Manny duo that felt robbed just 12 months ago would be a huge assignment, their determination not to let another get away would be at an all-time high. Keen to dominate from the start, Sante and Manny set the tone early and kept the pressure on. ‘Pedal to the metal’ for three straight games was the theme and Chris and Matt were constantly forced to play from behind, their magical streak coming quickly to an end. The 3-0 score was clinical and convincing: 15-11; 15-9; 15-8. It’s Manny’s and Sante’s first doubles club championship title and they have just earned their way up to the big boys next year!
And the most predictable of all, the Doubles A. Stand up and applaud, once again, for the 142nd time, the 2016 Doubles Champions, Kirk Haggar… Hang on! Hold the phone! Back the truck up! The streak has finally been snapped! For the first time since at least 2005, the Doubles A final did not feature a Haggarty, a Eugenio, or a Logan!
Kirk Haggarty and Mike Eugenio have been reigning champions since 2012, with no reason to think they wouldn’t win it again this year. But from the outset, it looked shaky. They almost didn’t make it out of the gates as they were taken by surprise by John Dunwoody and Eric Green. John and Eric pestered themselves to a do-or-die 5th game, but failed to complete the (unlikely) job. Kirk and Mike’s escape was only temporary. Their semifinal was a repeat of 2015’s adventure against John Rakolta (JR) and George Kordas – a match Kirk and Mike only won in 5. This year’s version would be very different. At 1 game apiece, during the 3rd game, Kirk pulled up lame with an injury and regrettably had to default the match. It’s a dissatisfying way to win, but JR and George weren’t about to let the opportunity to compete for DAC glory slip.
On the opposite side of the draw, Peter Logan teamed up with Vikram Chopra. Vikram is still relatively new to doubles and hasn’t quite reached the level he needs to be in order to be a viable threat – yet. Don’t worry, though, it won’t be long. Peter and Vikram reached the semifinal easily enough and came up against Jed Elley and Ryan Covell. Jed and Ryan played together last year, so they are somewhat familiar with themselves, and in 2015 they lost the semifinal 15-14 in the 5th to Peter Logan and his then partner Robin Basil. Going one better in 2016, Jed and Ryan took down Logan / Chopra 3-1 to set up an unlikely final with 4 players that have never been in such a position before.
The hype leading up to the match was nothing short of outrageous. E-mail trails that took on a life on its own and grandiose ideas only matched by the Superbowl by comparison. Fog machines, laser shows, disco lights, choir, emcees, VIP lounge… A production that proved too much to put together, but at least we got an e-mail or two out to announce the spectacle and we did get a decent amount people coming out to witness history in the making.
|Ryan Covell, Jed Elley, John Rakolta, George Kordas|
In matching outfits, the two teams were happy to pose for a photo op before the ‘clash of the titans’ began. JR and George, who call themselves the “Blue Chips” (?? – huh?) were in red… (ummm… huh?) and team Jed-Co were in… in… is that teal? Let’s call it blue.
Doubles is typically a game of power and angles. Hit the snot out of the ball and use the walls and corners. And, most importantly, get out of the way. So, it’s really no surprise that JR’s tactic is virtually the complete opposite: soft, high, float the ball, and put the body on the line. A tactic that throws most people off. After losing the first game 15-10, the Blue Chips nonchalantly continued their game plan and slowly team Jed-Co were creeping into the realm of unreliability. Mistakes started to appear, “easy” tins that may have been winners… and the harder they tried to avoid these errors, the more that seemed to emerge. Evening it up, the third game was the pivotal moment.
Not too far into the set, a power backhand stroke by Jed collected JR flush in the face with the racquet. It did not look good. A deep gash to the chin, JR needed medical attention and the first aid kit was depleted of its supplies to stop the flow. The knock to the head did not seem to faze JR however, and when play resumed, both teams were holding their ground admirably going point for point. The sudden death point at 14-all fell JR and George’s way, and it decided the outcome.
|JR and George. Battle scarred.|
Jed-Co were rattled. They were not expecting to be in this position – nor were the enthralled audience. Was this an upset in the making? Quite frankly – yes. The 4th game was a one-way mauling. All the momentum was with the Blue Chips, Jed and Ryan looked despondent as if they were waiting for the inevitable and they simply could not stop the rot. Final score: 10-15; 15-11; 15-14; 15-6. Say “hello” to the new DAC Doubles Club Champions: John Rakolta and George Kordas!
“JR and I (The Blue Chips) had one strategy heading into our Championship match last Friday and that was to hopefully serve up the freshest, most creative Squash that The DAC has seen since Executive Chef Kevin Brennan’s award winning Casserole a few years back”, said team captain George Kordas. Well put George, I’m sure Chef Brennan would be proud to have his gourmet creations be compared to your doubles squash game.