|SquashTalk>Features>History> US Nationals in New York - Part I of III|
US Nationals in The Big Apple - A Historical Celebration
By Rob Dinerman, November 2001 [part II] [part III]
When the Harvard Club of New York hosts the still continuing U S National Hardball Championships in late February 2002, it will mark the 90th playing of this prestigious tournament and the seventh time it has been held in New York. The US Nationals is traditionally a revolving tournament, having been held at virtually all of the important squash centers in the USA during its history.
It will be a first for the 44th Street venue, though, since on all previous occasions it had been the main gallery courts of the University Club, with their majestic galleries, cool temperatures and distinguished ambiance, that had provided the setting in which the mutitudinous battles were joined.
The solid maple walls that were constructed more than 75 years ago by Brunswick, the renowned bowling-alley company, at the behest of Arthur Lockett, a multi-millionaire squash enthusiast after whom the famed annual Tri-City competition between New York, Boston and Philadelphia was named, characterized those now long-gone arenas. Just as was the case with the William White Invitational and the cathedral-like courts at the Merion Cricket Club, the horde of contestants at those New York Nationals were always inspired not only by the competitive forum the University Club provided but also by its rich legacy in the overall history of the National Championship.
New York hosted the Nationals six times in the past 62 years, the first of which was won in 1940 by a 29-year-old Philadelphian named Arthur Willing Patterson. Eight years earlier, Patterson had captained a Harvard squad that featured two-time ('32, '33) National Champ Beekman Pool and Jack Barnaby, destined to become the greatest college coach in squash history until his retirement in 1976 after 44 glorious years at the helm.
Though somewhat obscured during his undergraduate days by those prominent teammates (as well as by a freshman on that '32 team named Germain Glidden, who would sweep to three straight National titles in the mid-30's), Patterson quietly developed a solid game based on sound fundamentals, excellent conditioning and great cool. This latter attribute would serve him well in his Nationals semi-final with Dick Wakeman of Boston, especially in a do-or-die fourth-game overtime which Patterson survived 18-14 before pulling through the fifth 15-9.
Patterson's appearance in the finals of this 18-man field, while not shocking, was a surprise to some. He had always been a consistent player who frequently hovered near a draw's late rounds, but was thought not to possess the firepower needed to win this championship, especially against a power-hitting opponent like Sherman Howes of Boston, whose severe drives had always brought him victory over Patterson in the past, and who was accompanied throughout the weekend by his personal coach (a decided rarity in those understated days), Eddie Standish.
But for this match, Patterson devised the unique strategy of hitting everything at an angle, and breaking the ball sharply in on the less nimble Howes, forcing him to extemporize from these unusual positions. This novel approach enabled Patterson to grab two quick games and reach another fourth-game overtime, which he knocked off to emerge with an unexpected 15-10, 15-8, 9-15, 17-14 triumph. Underrated throughout much of his career, Patterson parlayed his several traits to victory in this prestigious tournament and thereby finally gained the enduring fame that had previously eluded him.
One decade after Patterson's achievement, the action returned to the University Club, where a virtual unknown from Detroit named Eddie Hahn shocked the experts by becoming the first midwesterner ever to win the national title, a feat even more surprising for his being 37 years old at the time. Forced to rally from a 2-1 deficit in a second-round encounter with the formidable Calvin McCracken, Hahn then benefited greatly from a stunning quarter-final upset of the top-seeded Diehl Mateer at the hands of Pittsburgh's Jack Isherwood, who was spent by this great effort and offered little resistance to Hahn in their straight-set semi. Hahn then faced the local favorite Dick Rothschild, who himself had pulled off a major upset over Philadelphia's four-time national champion, Charlie Brinton, which Rothschild followed with a four-game victory over highly-regard Roger Bakey of Boston.
However the much-anticipated clash between this pair of unheralded finalists turned out to be anti-climactic, as Rothschild was fatigued and jaded by his long weekend of play while Hahn, despite his advanced years, inexorably pounded his way to a 30-minute 15-4, 15-10, 17-14 win to earn the title which he would successfully defend one year later (disproving the "fluke" theory that initially arose) in Chicago. Hahn was aided not only by his excellent conditioning but also by the unseasonably warm weather, which gave the ball a lively character that blunted Rothschild's normally effective short game.
This would not be the last time that the court conditions of the University Club's two exhibition courts (which were relatively exposed to the outside weather) would affect the tenor of a National's competition. This is not a denigration of but rather a tribute to the achievements of the eventual champions, who were thereby able to demonstrate the crucial capacity to adapt and adjust to all aspects of the competitive environment that confronted them.
One other noteworthy detail about this final concerned the distinctive footwear of both participants. Hahn was clad in high-top, coal-black canvas basketball sneakers, while Rothschild's feet were covered by old-fashioned saddle-soled shoes of white leather bound by a brown-leather band across the middle. Neither man was responding to any orthopedic difficulty or other medical exigency; both simply felt more comfortable in their various selections, which seemed respectively more suited to a Harlem playground or country fair than the sacred turf of the University Club's main gallery court. The presence of unusual sneakers would resurface several decades later in this thematic history of the New York Nationals, of which more anon.
This page last updated 25-Nov-2001