The doorman at the 58th Street entrance of the New York Athletic Club kindly wanted to make sure I knew where I was going. To the squash courts, the doubles court I more specifically say. I see a list of the weekend’s events in front of him and in upside down letters I see “Big Apple Open.” I point at it. I think it’s on the top floor. He nods politely and says he’ll call to make sure. When no one answers, he says I can take the elevators at the end of the hall to the right, but I can only go to the 20th floor. I must take another elevator or the stairs after that. I walk down the marbled hall toward the main entrance, the doors opening onto Central Park West and catch a glimpse of the still auburn and gold autumn leaves across 59th Street. A horse and carriage trots by. I love New York City and its leftover old world charm. It may not be my world, but I like that I can still visit.
If you’re looking for something worthwhile but not too taxing to do on a Sunday in NYC, I’d suggest that you visit it, too. You’ll even have time to have a nice brunch and then a leisurely stroll over to Central Park. Then walk down to NYAC on Central Park West between 6th and 7th Avenues to see some excellent squash. Some of the best doubles players in North America will be playing there in the semi-finals of the Big Apple Open (part of the ISDA tour) beginning at two p.m. As long as you’re wearing something a bit more formal than jeans (a kilt, perhaps?), the doormen will direct you to the elevators to the 21st floor where the courts are located.
I took an early look at some of the competition in the Qualifying Draw on Friday as I knew players in the first three matches. Watching doubles is hard work in the morning though, so I was glad that I had picked up a latte and a muffin across the avenue at Le Pain Quotidian. The caffeine and carbs helped me focus on the first match featuring Nanda/Khan vs. Baglio/Erasmus, also known as touch vs. power. Nanda and Khan were more in control of the ball than their opponents and ran Baglio, playing left wall, all over the court, hitting a good percentage of their shots in his territory. But some players seem made to be great retrievers and Baglio’s fitness and speed, combined with his quick reflexes, are a good match for his partner’s impressive power. Unfortunately, quick reflexes don’t always mean perfect placement and many of Baglio’s shots put the ball more to the middle of the court where Khan (also left wall) could put the ball away with a reverse corner or volley drop, or a nice lob to the back to get Baglio out of position. And Khan was also getting a high percentage of nicks. As a novice doubles player and observer myself, I’m not sure how he does it, but I’d be willing to bet they aren’t just lucky.
Nanda and Khan won in three, but the points were long and they weren’t given the match easily. They had a solid game plan, keeping the ball out of Erasmus’s prime firing zone and patiently waiting for the optimum time and place to shoot to kill. In contrast, their opponents were often on the defensive and seemed more frenetic. I would’ve liked to have seen if there was any difference if Baglio and Erasmus had moved the ball around the court more and played more lofty lobs, but that will have to wait for another match.
I didn’t have to wait long for another player to do a lot of lob lofting. John Musto and Rob Dinerman came on next to face Eric Christiansen and Sean Johnstone. Musto is a master of the high float lob and it’s a good thing, because he needed it to give him time to move from one end of the court to the other. Christiansen and Johnstone were mixing up short and long and Musto was going for every ball he could. His volley drops weren’t especially accurate at first, but Musto isn’t one to keep making mistakes, he’s constantly fixing and reconfiguring and testing the wind patterns (or something) so that he can find the flight trajectory to a winning shot. He made quite a few, but, let’s face it, no matter how well built older engines are, it’s harder for them to out fly the stealth bombers of today. Christiansen and Johnstone flew both steady and fast and didn’t let a game get past them.
I was looking forward to seeing the third match-up because I’d seen Graham Bassett and Tim Wyant play in the DONAT tournament in Southampton back in August. They’re both great players, but virtually opposite styles and builds. Bassett is slender and long-limbed and moves the ball around the court with the look of someone who is continually practicing and perfecting shots. I had remembered his backhand volley reverse corner which is highly effective when it’s on and undoubtedly a bit frustrating when it’s not. I mentioned it to him after the match and he said something about needing to prove to himself that he can still pull it off after it flames out for a while, which I guess is like getting back on the proverbial horse. Problem is, his opponents sometimes see the horse before he does and lie in wait. But maybe I’m getting too metaphorical here….
Wyant, in contrast, is much more compact and reminds me of those toys that you push down and when you let go they go flying about ten feet. He doesn’t have Bassett’s reach or perhaps his deliberation, but watching him is as thrilling and as perplexing as watching a hummingbird; he’s here and then he’s there and you don’t know where he’ll turn up next. But you know if a ball is there, he’ll be buzzing there, too, his racquet ready.
I’m not very good yet at keeping two eyes on four players, so in each match I seem to neglect at least two, and in this match I lost sight of how Shrubb and Power were faring. Bassett and Power took the match 4-1, and extremely decisively in the last game, so next time I’ll try to refocus (and recaffeinate) before each match. They went on to win against Scharff and Barker, a Canadian team who pretty much blew away their first opponents Carter and Crozier. Wish I had seen that match, the second one that is.
As of this writing, Badan/Mathur will play Mudge and Gould (surprise surprise) and Nanda/Khan will play the winner of Jenson/Leach vs. Russell/Park. Play begins at 2 p.m. I strongly suggest a double shot latte from Le Pain Quotidian. The doorman will let you in with it, provided you’re not on your cell phone or baring your midriff…..
Semi finals update: Damien Mudge/Ben Gould d. Manek Mathur/Yvain Badan, 3-1; Matt Jenson/Clive Leach d. Imran Khan/Raj Nanda, 3-2. Full report here on the ISDA website.
Finals update: See my full article Lob. Lob. Lob. Smash. The ISDA Big Apple Open Finals
Hi Tracy: even tho I don’t understand squash, I do so enjoy your wonderful descriptions of the
plays and the players and I feel like I’m sitting right there next to you. also loved your vivid view
of the ending, but with some life still in it, of fall in NYC – central park area.