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Ted Gross: California
Torch Bearer

Highest Ranking Californian
to Play Pro Circuit


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Oct 31, 2003, By Rob Dinerman © 2002 SquashTalk

Ted Gross – Berkeley Star

The only
West Coast product to ever attain a top-25 WPSA ranking, let alone top-15,
Ted Gross followed his future wife Deborah (who had been admitted to Columbia
to go for a Masters in Art) to New York in the summer of 1978 and proceeded
to single-handedly change the stereotypically condescending perceptions that
the eastern squash establishment had previously had of west coast
squash with his rock-solid, error-free game and admirable competitive attitude.

At various
times during his six-year WPSA career, he defeated such top-10 WPSA luminaries
as Ned Edwards, John Nimick, Clive Caldwell, Jon Foster and Tom Page while
also recording a series of praiseworthy secondary wins (he was remarkably
upset-proof, rarely losing a match to an opponent ranked below him), reaching
a number of WPSA quarter-finals as well as the semis at a tour stop in Toledo
in 1983, and twice earning a spot on teams that represented the United States
in international team competition.

The most
noteworthy of these was the historic 1981 squad that placed seventh in
the World Team Championships in Sweden and that consisted of himself,
Bill Andruss, Stu Goldstein and Edwards. This (by a wide margin) highest-ever
U. S. finish was keyed by an upset victory over a heavily favored Canadian
contingent (with Edwards defeating Doug Whittaker and Goldstein doing
the same to Dale Styner) that for the first time ever elevated America’s
standing in the world squash community.

Gross
had saved several match-points against him when he played current U. S.
45-and-over champion Foster for the final spot on that team on the last
day of the team trials.

Buoyed
by that team experience, as well as by his participation on a U. S. team
that competed in Pakistan in 1980, Gross promptly embarked upon returning
on perhaps his career-best extended stretch when the 1981-82 WPSA tour
picked up that autumn, successfully forging his way through the tough
qualifying draws in five of the next six tournaments and knocking off
both Nimick and
Foster on the same day at the prestigious Boodles British Gin Open. This
latter tournament, a highlight of the WPSA tour at the time, was held
in New York at the Uptown Racquet Club, where Gross was a teaching pro
from 1979-83, when he moved 50 blocks southwest to begin a two-year stint
as the head professional at Fifth Avenue.

He maintained
this level of play for most of the remainder of that season and the following
one, twice (against Frank Satterthwaite in ’82 in Toronto and against
Dave Johnson in ’83 in Minnesota) eking out close fifth games after being
down two games to one and exiting each season with a ranking just inside
the top 15.

A San
Francisco native who permanently returned there with his wife and two
children in the fall of ’94 at the end of his 16-year sojourn in New York,
Gross had an off-court self-presentation that typified the image of the
easy-going and laid-back Californian, but his on-court persona was something
quite different, as was his game. Both had gritty determination and relentless
execution as their foundation, and there was a distinctly blue-collar
aspect to his playing style. He often seemed to be playing with a chip
on his shoulder, perhaps as an understandable reaction to the skepticism
that greeted his arrival on the east about the competitive prospects in
WPSA play of a product of the Berkeley squash program and the Nor Cal
tournament circuit. Though Gross lacked
the racquet firepower and shot-making precision of many of his extraordinarily
gifted WPSA peers, he evinced a willingness to grind out long and wearing
points that more than nullified whatever natural superiority an opponent
might enjoy. And his up-and-down-the-walls production and ability to get
good depth on his ground strokes were traits that fully conformed to the
Jack Barnaby
fundamentals of classic squash.

Nowhere
were these qualities more in evidence than at the virtual outset of his
"rookie" New York season when in just his second tournament
Gross shocked everyone by winning the Slazenger Open in Philadelphia,
winning both his semi-final with John Bottger and his final with Peter
Talbert in five games. Bottger, who earned the No. 2 USSRA ranking that
season, came from the famed Merion Cricket Club, while Talbert was tennis
and squash captain at Williams and the son of tennis Hall of Famer Billy
Talbert-when Gross out-lasted both of them just hours apart on a late-September
Sunday afternoon he thereby jumped into the consciousness of the squash
establishment in a way that his several prior seasons’ worth of multiple
California tournament titles hadn’t even been able
to approach.

His subsequent
tournament wins the following season, first in the Boodles A-1 draw (featuring
victories over Rick Woolworth, Bill Kaplan and Frank Brosens, with the
first and last of these going five games) and later at the Park Avenue
Squash Club Invitational, in which he defeated Foster and Edwards, both
in five, before routing Juan deVillafranca in the final, only added to
his reputation and set the stage for the productive run on the WPSA circuit
that would follow.

Injury-free
throughout his career, a considerable achievement in itself given his
long-points playing style and full lesson schedule, Gross retired from
active competition and his position at Fifth Avenue during the 1984-85
season, right around the time of his 30th birthday, to pursue a career
in real estate. He remains to this day the only native Californian to
put his game up against those of the best products of squash’s major historical
centers and make a significant impact on professional squash during perhaps
its most celebrated era of expansion.

(photos anyone? Please
send to editor@squashtalk.com or to SquashTalk, 409 Massachusetts Ave,
Acton MA 01720.

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