Waite and Mudge
Leaders in Doubles and Singles
As the 2001-2002 ISDA Professional Doubles Tour ended a season-longest stretch of five ranking tournaments (Toronto, Brooklyn, Chicago, Baltimore and Buffalo) in as many weeks and prepared for two open weekends (the USSRA National Doubles, in which many ISDA stars will be competing with amateur partners, and then Easter), a number of recent developments are worth describing. Unfortunately for those who like suspense, nothing—not illness, injury, the grind of the schedule, opponents' shooting sprees, nor several perilous predicaments—was able to prevent the top team of Gary Waite and Damien Mudge from extending their undefeated season-long slate, which now stands at 12 for 12 in terms of tournament titles and a match record of 37-0.
They have now won the last 13 events they have entered, going back to the season-ending Kellner Cup last spring; Waite, who won four straight events with Viktor Berg last winter when Mudge was injured, and who teamed with PSA softball stand-out Mark Chaloner to win his record-tying fifth Cambridge Club tourney this past Thanksgiving, has thus won the last 18 ISDA-sanctioned tournaments. Waite's last loss occurred in February 2001, when he and Mark Talbott fell in the semis at Heights Casino in what proved to be the last tournament of the latter American all-time superstar's glorious career. And the Waite/Mudge sweep of the quintet of midwinter tournaments brought their career title total to a milestone 25, in just 26 overall attempts.
It is now a distinct possibility, maybe even a probability, that this nonpareil duo will win the remaining tour stops in Denver, Long Island, New York, Toronto and St. Louis and thereby go undefeated for the entire season. Such a record would make their 2001-2002 performance the best of any team in North American doubles history, given the unprecedented number of tournaments, the wide variation in court conditions that exist on the schedule and, most significantly, the strength, determination and depth of the field they have been dominating—a ranking list that goes more that 70 names deep.
But one change that did occur during the just-concluded five-tournament period was in the identity of the leading rival and foremost threat to the monarchy that currently exists. For four and a half months, the finesse-oriented contingent of Berg and Willie Hosey, five-time finalists this season, vied with the power-hitting partnership formed by Philadelphia and Greenwich runners-up Blair Horler and Clive Leach for the No. 2 status and the pre-final freedom from Waite and Mudge that it represents. But a midseason series of realignments among several disenchanted members of underachieving teams has resulted in Michael Pirnak joining forces with Dave Kay in what has proved to be a very productive alliance. They have reached three finals, upending Hosey and Berg in the semis in Brooklyn, Chicago and Buffalo, and gone undefeated in all eight matches they have played against teams other than Waite/Mudge. They actually held a third-game double-game-point against The Champs to go up two games to one at Heights Casino before a bad tin and a questionable no-let call cost them that game and the control of the match it would have conferred on them.
Prior to Heights Casino, Kay had never reached the final round of a pro ranking event in four and a half seasons on the circuit, though he and Josh McDonald had been frequent semifinalists in 2000-2001. His alignment with softball star Chris Walker had produced several fine performances in the autumn of 2001, and Kay and Scott Dulmage had forced Waite/Mudge to five games twice this past January. It was not until he began playing with Pirnak that Kay's improved conditioning and maturity began to reward the racquet skill and talent he has always possessed.
Especially against their thrice semifinal victims Hosey and Berg—who are 2-2 this year with Horler/Leach and who hadn't lost even twice in a row to any team other than Waite/Mudge—Kay's firepower, especially his crushing forehand crosscourt, has been able to force defensive returns from Hosey and open up the court for his and Pirnak's outstanding sharpshooting. They are even largely able to nullify Berg's mercurial shotmaking forays by playing up in the court and backing each other up when Berg responds by going deep. Despite this trio of semifinal wins, they haven't displaced Hosey and Berg from the second seeding yet and therefore are always in the opposite half from Horler and Leach, whom they have therefore never met. But what had been a two-team race for No. 2 has definitely now become a three-team competition for that spot. These top four duos have filled the semis of every tournament since January and, as noted, Waite/Mudge have opposed Kay/Pirnak in all of the last four ISDA finals save Baltimore, when they met in the semis.
Waite also has recently won the USSRA National hardball singles title and the pro hardball singles event in Baltimore, a nine-player competition in which he defeated his doubles partner in a match whose quality and pace substantially out-did the great Talbott-Ned Edwards WPSA final of the 1980s. That these two great champions were able to recover from this grueling though straight-game match and rejoin to handily defeat Hosey and Berg just a few hours later bears graphic testimony to their greatness and to the extraordinary campaign both of them are having.