England claimed two of the three titles on offer – for the second time in a row – when Clive Leach & John Russell and Suzie Pierrepont & Georgina Stoker struck gold in the Men’s and Women’s events, respectively, in the Stifel World Hardball Doubles Squash Championships in St Louis in the US state of Missouri.
There was home success earlier in the day when sixth-seeded US pairing Natalie Grainger & Christopher Callis triumphed in the Mixed championship.
Despite being the title-holders, Leach & Russell were the fourth seeds – but made their breakthrough in the semi-finals where they despatched No.1 seeds Michael Ferreira & Jonny Smith
The established English duo – appearing in the final for the fourth time in five years – took a two-game lead against their younger Canadian opponents Thomas Brinkman & Robin Clarke. The unseeded pair soon drew level to force a decider – but it was the seasoned English pair, aged 43 and 38, who reached match-ball first at 14-12.
After two match-balls were saved, it was sudden death at 14-all. With Leach pressuring Brinkman to hit the ball back to himself and give away a stroke, it was the English duo who retained their title 15-10, 15-10, 3-15, 7-15, 15-14.
“I got sucked into hitting aimlessly across court and lost the battle with Thomas in the middle but then got back to the plan of mixing height with width and some down the middle to try and force an error,” said Russell later. “It worked but it was close!”
Women’s favourites Narelle Krizek & Natarsha McElhinny, the Australian sisters formerly known as Narelle and Natarsha Tippett, duly reached the final – but the title remained in English hands.
It was a joyful climax for second seeds Suzie Pierrepont & Georgina Stoker who competed in the 2015 final – on opposite sides of the court. After dropping the first game, the England pair stormed back to take the title 12-15, 15-11, 15-3, 15-7 – marking a successful defence for 2015 champion Pierrepont.
“I lost to Suzie in the final two years ago in the final,” said Stoker. “So it was really great to have won with her this time. I was so nervous for the first game and could hardly hit it he ball, but after we won the second I settled in and we came out firing in the third and fourth.”
Seasoned hardball doubles campaigner Natalie Grainger, the 40-year-old former world No.1, was partnered by 28-year-old Christopher Callis in the Mixed final. The USA pair had already accounted for the No.4 seeds in the first round and now faced third-seeded Canadians Stephanie Hewitt & Viktor Berg.
After taking the opening game, Grainger and Callis fell 2/1 behind – then had to save three match-balls in the fourth to force a decider. But experience shone through as the home duo marched on to win 15-9, 10-15, 11-15, 15-14, 15-7.
“We knew we had to be on high alert with Viktor on the court as he is so dangerous,” said Grainger. “We had to up the pace and add variety – we are so pleased to have got the win.”