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UPDATED ISDA RANKINGS
SHOW WAITE/MUDGE DOMINANCE

By Rob Dinerman, March 15 2002    

HARDBALL DOUBLES RANKINGS:
1 (tied) Mudge/Waite
3 (tied) Hosey/Berg
5 (tied) Kay/Pirnak
7 (tied) Horler/Leach
8. Bentley
9. Binns
10.
Mcdonald
11. Wahlstedt
12. Dulmage
13. Mulligan
15 (tied) Martin/Butcher(co15)
17 Lifford

18. Walker
19. Hewitt
20. Stoneburgh
21. Brown
22. Quick
23. Vlcek,
24. Deratnay
25. Scharff
26. Slater
27. Shane doherty
28. tyler millard
29. (tied) Briggs/Flynn

The International Squash Doubles
Association (ISDA) published its second set of midseason rankings late
last month, ranking an all-time high of 71 players, which reflected how
much of a magnet the still less than two-year-old tour has already become
for aspiring professionals, many of whom have wisely decided that their
opportunity for financial remuneration is better on this pro doubles circuit
than it would be on the struggling PSA international softball tournament
schedule.

NEW FACES
Many current and recently former softball stars, from Brett Martin (who
at one point was ranked No. 2) to 10-time Irish National Champion Willie
Hosey to present top-50 Viktor Berg to 2001 British Open finalist Chris
Walker, are now casting their lot, in whole or in substantial part, with
the ISDA, as are a number of stand-outs from the WPSA pro hardball tour
which had a solid run in the 1980’s and early 1990’s before closing down
at the conclusion of the 1994-95 season.

INTERNATIONAL LOOK
Seven countries-Australia, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Sweden,
the UK, and Ireland—are represented in the top 15 ranking positions
alone, and there seems little doubt that this number will expand in the
next few years, especially if, as seems likely, the ISDA schedule, which
will have offered 16 ranking events by the time this 2001-2002 campaign
concludes in early May, adds more sites and a greater amount of prize
money.

Although the ISDA has grown rapidly
enough to have singularized itself in comparison with of its counterpart
squash associations in a number of important areas, one characteristic
that it does share is that of having a clear-cut and dominant No. 1.

Just as reigning British Open and
four-time and current World Champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald has dominated the
WISPA women’s pro circuit for the past several years, winning 12 of her
last 13 ranking events and buzzing through the recent Weymuller Cup in
New York’s Grand Central Station without coming close to losing a game,
and just as the Trinity Bantams have gone undefeated in their last 78
team matches, won five straight NISRA Intercollegiate championships and
posted an individual dual-match record of 142-2 this pat season, so the
ISDA No. 1 ranked team of Gary Waite and Damien Mudge, winners of 24 of
the 25 ranking tournaments they have entered in the last three years,
including their last 12 events, 11 of them this season, are threatening
to go undefeated for the entire season and have at last count each compiled
a 339.17 ranking point tally, a figure that stands almost twice as high
as that of their nearest pursuers, five-time 2001-2002 finalists Berg
and Hosey, each of whose ranking average is 181.88.

RACE FOR #2
The fact that all of the top nine have a 130 average or better and that
there are 14 players averaging 100 or better accurately depicts both the
magnitude of the top team’s dominance and the closeness and degree of
competitiveness that exists among the four or five teams that have been
battling hard since the season began in late September for the No. 2 position.

The Hosey/Berg alignment, which was
formed over last summer after Hosey had been a clear 2000-2001 No. 2 with
two-year partner Jamie Bentley, with whom he had reached all but two finals
over those two seasons but won only two of those 19 total finals, has
assumed the second slot ever since they began this season by reaching
the finals of two of the first three tourney (the opening event in Denver
and the North American Open just before Thanksgiving) this past fall.

Although they have frequently been
on the brink of defeat in the quarter-finals, they have shown a remarkable
ability to extricate themselves from these early-round predicaments, failing
to do so only in the mid-January City Athletic Club stop, where they saw
a two-game advantage and later a 12-11 fifth-game lead yield to a match-winning
four-point run by qualifiers and eventual finalists Anders Wahlstedt,
a CAC member, and Josh McDonald, for whom this tournament would represent
the first final-round appearance of the talented southpaw Canadian’s young
career.

Hosey and Berg augmented their autumn
pair of finals by also reaching that stage in Wilmington and Boston in
January and at the most recent tour stop in Baltimore this past weekend,
but, as noted, have often seemed vulnerable to lesser-ranked opponents
and, in Hosey’s estimation, have not really played at their peak since
forcing Mudge and Waite to a fifth game in the North American Open final
at the Greenwich Country Club.

HORLER/LEACH ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Their closest rivals for the No. 2 slot and the pre-final freedom from
Waite/Mudge that it represents has for much of the season been the power-hitting
duo of New Zealander Blair Horler and his British-born two-year right-wall
partner Clive Leach, which spent last year learning their way around the
league and exploded in the second event this season, the Tom Page Memorial
Invitational in Philadelphia in late October, where they sequentially
toppled Denver semi-finalists Dave Kay and Walker, second seeds and Denver
runners-up Hosey and Berg and third seeds Bentley and Michael Pirnak to
advance al the way to the final.

Horler/Leach came close to duplicating
their win over Hosey and Berg three weeks later in Greenwich, leading
10-8 in the fifth before a shooting spree by the mercurial Berg accounted
for a 7-1 closing run and a 15-11 victory. These two teams have subsequently
exchanged semi-final wins, with Horler and Leach triumphing in Greenwich
in late January and Hosey/Berg responding just now in Baltimore, and their
head-to-head record against eachother this season therefore now stands
at two matches apiece.

KAY/PIRNAK RISE
But, in what is the most significant top-echelon development from the
last set of rankings to the one that has just been released, Horler and
Leach have been displaced from the co.-No. 5 position they shared as the
third-ranked team by Kay and Pirnak, who had been several slots behind
Horler and Leach in the December rankings but now occupy the Nos. 5 and
6 slots respectively.

Kay’s productive autumn-long alliance
with Walker came to at least a temporary an end a few weeks ago due to
the latter’s heavy softball schedule and the Pirnak/Bentley partnership
which began the season with deservedly high hopes had gone so sour by
midseason, buried under the avalanche of what seemed an almost conspiratorial
series of blown leads and snake-bit defeats, was mercifully terminated
after yet another disaster in late January at the Greenwich Field Club,
where a two games to none lead over the solid all-Aussie contingent of
Martin and Scott Butcher dissolved under a wave of tins and recriminations
into a five-game defeat, within five minutes of the last lost point of
which Bentley was in his car and driving back to Toronto, the tournament
and the partnership permanently behind him.

The talented Pirnak, who won the 2001
Heights Casino tournament with Berg last February, joined forced with
Kay just in time for this year’s version of that event, and they advanced
all the way to the final, the first of Kay’ six-year pro career, whence
they got to double-game point in the third, with a clear chance to take
a two games to one lead over Mudge and a flu-ridden, exhausted and clearly
struggling Waite, who appeared more vulnerable at this juncture that they
have at any time this season.

But a bad tin and a possibly bad
“no-let” call gave The Champs that third game and a mostly Mudge-manufactured
eight-point run from 7-10 gave them the final fourth and a momentum that
carried over to their rematch with Pirnak/Kay, also in the final, six
days later in Chicago, where the outcome was not nearly in as much doubt
in a straight-game drubbing. Notwithstanding that latter one-sided outcome,
the attainment of the final round twice in as many weeks for Pirnak and
Kay in their first tournaments together and their undefeated record against
every team other that Waite/Mudge (who ousted them in the semis in Baltimore)
have been rewarded in the current rankings, where they have moved ahead
of Horler and Leach, at least for the time being.

BENTLEY BLUES
Bentley, the highest-ranked player not yet to have reached a final this
season, is ranked No. 9, followed by Todd Binns, then Bentley’s current
partner McDonald and Wahlstedt, both of whom obviously reaped the benefits
of their CAC performance. The highest ranking American player, Binns’s
two-year partner Jeff Mulligan, stands at No. 13, right behind Scott Dulmage
(who reached several January semis with Kay), with co-ranked Butcher and
Martin, who like Mudge/Waite, Hosey/Berg and Horler/Leach have played
every tournament with eachother as partners, rounding out the top 15.

Five ranking events remain this season-Buffalo
this weekend, Denver, Long Island and the Kellner Cup in Manhattan in
April, and St. Louis on the first weekend in May. How the final positions
play out, and whether any team can spoil Waite’s and Mudge’s bid for a
perfect season-long slate, will undoubtedly constitute the storyline of
the closing stretch that lies ahead.

To reach Rob Dinerman
write to
robd@squashtalk.com

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