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OPEN
SQUASH IN THE BIG APPLE

by Rob Dinerman

THE HISTORY OF THE NEW YORK STATE OPEN
CHAMPIONSHIPS

 


New York. September 15, 2001 © 2001
Squashtalk.com- By Rob Dinerman

HISTORY OF THE NEW YORK STATE OPEN
CHAMPIONSHIPS
By Rob Dinerman

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? …

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.

SUMMARY OF OPEN RESULTS (Winner-Finalist-Two
Semi-Finalists)

Year Winner Finalist Semifinalists
(played winner) (played finalist)
1976 Jay Nelson John Reese Khalid Mir David Linden
1977 Jay Nelson Glenn Greenberg Roger Alcaly Palmer Page
1978 Glenn Greenberg Peter Talbert Rob Dinerman Rick Woolworth
1979 Glenn Greenberg Lawrence Franklin Stu Grodman Rob Dinerman
1980 Rob Dinerman Kevan Pickens Dave Johnson Tom Rumpler
1981 Ned Edwards Jon Foster David Johnson Mo Hussain
1982 Anil Nayar Rob Dinerman Peter Talbert Jon Foster
1983 Stu Grodman Jon Foster Mo Husain Dave Barrett
1984 Rob Dinerman Peter Talbert Tom Rumpler Jeff Sawyer
1985 Will Carlin Rob Dinerman Martin Goldberg Kevan Pickens
1986 Ray Gale Rob Dinerman Jay Nelson Larry Gile
1987 Joe Dowling Rob Dinerman Jay Nelson Larry Gile
1988 Bruce Horowitz Jack Polsky Steve Berliner Rob Dinerman
1989 Neal Vohr Jon Foster Rob Dinerman Tom Harrity
1990 Rob Dinerman Steve Rumsey Bruce Horowitz Jay Nelson
1991 Rob Dinerman Eric Christainson Steve Rumsey Chris Jackson
1992 Rob Dinerman Cyrus Mehta Anil Nayar Jay Nelson
1993 Jay Nelson John Winchester Rob Dinerman Peer Pederson
1994 Rob Dinerman John Winchester Brad Carlson Jay Nelson
1995 Dave Steere Rick Walstedt John Winchester Rob Dinerman
         

 


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