Starting last month, the PSA has revised it terrible tiebreaker scoring system. No longer was it reported 11-10 (5-3) or something (meaning the actual score was 15-13). But they blew it in not reverting to the old American tiebreaking system.
What is the most exciting thing in sports? When a tied game goes into sudden-death overtime. Extra innings in baseball is boring. Overtime in soccer, football or basketball is tedious. But give me ice hockey, with the chance in a split second, the game can be over. That is a thrill.
Squash in America used to have that. Hundreds of thousands of matches had a game (or two) in which both players had a simultaneous game point, and thousands of matches turned on a point that if either player won it, the match was over—the fifth game tiebreaker that stretched to one final double match point. It was that 14-all, 15-all, 16-all or 17-all nailbiting point that is the ultimate for any squash fan.
Very rarely, double match has deliciously occurred in the finals of our ultimate tournaments, the U.S. national championships:
—In the men’s singles, 1931. Donny Strachan chose no-set at 14-all giving himself another championship point but also giving his opponent, Larry Pool, one. Dumb idea. Pool won it.
—In the men’s singles, 1951. Henri Salaun flipped a desperate lob out of court to lose to Eddie Hahn. Eddie’s classic statement, which he told me a few days before he died, fifty years later, was “I looked up and it didn’t come down.”
—In the women’s singles, 1978. Gretchen Spruance won, on a stroke, over Barbara Maltby. A stroke at double championship point. Ugh.
—In men’s doubles, 1964. Sam Howe & Bill Danforth chose no-set, giving both themselves and Kit Spahr & Claude Beer a championship point. Danforth’s crosscourt drive nicked on the back wall.
—In men’s doubles, 1988. The Mateer brothers fought back from a 13-8 deficit in the fifth game, only to lose the game, the match and the championship when Drew Mateer flubbed a forehand into the tin.
—In women’s doubles, it happened just last year, in the 2007 finals. Meredith Quick & Fiona Geaves climbed back from being down 10-14 in the fifth to force a tiebreaker against Narelle Krizek & Steph Hewmitt. They went down 0-2 in the breaker, before pulling it out. At double championship point, Quick dug out a deep crosscourt by hitting a desperation double boast.
It never happened in the national juniors, apparently, or any age-group nationals, but it did happen four times in the national intercollegiates, three for the men and one for the women:
—Bernie Ridder, Jr. (the founder of what was the Knight Ridder newspaper chain) lost double-match points two years in a row. In 1937, having gone undefeated all year, he tinned a winner with his opponent, Dick Dorson, sprawled on the ground without a racquet in his hand. In 1938 Ridder lost to LeRoy Lewis. Ridder knew about losing: he brought the Minnesota Vikings to Minneapolis. But he did alright: he married FDR’s neice, served on the board of the USGA and when he died in 2002 has nineteen great-grandchildren.
—In 1939 Stan Pearson returned a hard serve into the right corner just above the tin for a winner, to be Kim Canavarro. Stan later told me it was the luckiest shot he had ever hit.
—In 1990 Jenny Holleran beat Berekely Belknap, making it four of the past five years that a Holleran sister had won the intercollegiates.