M. Henri Does It Again - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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M. Henri Does It Again

The Boston Frenchman found just the right touch to beat the Philadelphia strong boy

Sunday afternoon at Annapolis, Henri Salaun proved himself the indisputable master of squash racquets in America. For the second straight year he defeated G. Diehl Mateer Jr. 3 games to 1 in the final round of the U.S. Singles Championship. A year ago Salaun beat a somewhat rusty Mateer to take the title; on Sunday he defended it against a Mateer in top form and did it with appalling brilliance.

Wedged in the gallery of the new Naval Academy field house, 200 squash buffs, assorted Navy brass and British Ambassador Sir Harold Caccia saw Salaun get off to an anything but promising start. Mateer's strong cross-court and rail shots were near-perfect and Salaun did not seem able to take the pressure. Diehl won the first game 15-9. The second was a different story. "I had to win that one," Henri said later. "You can't go two down to a player like Mateer and expect to win." Henri won the second game 15-13, but he did not do it with his usual spray of uncanny shots. Instead he played the "long point." He used his fantastic speed to retrieve everything he could, to keep the ball in exhausting play and force Mateer to commit errors.

Salaun used the same strategy in the third game. He retrieved shots that few ranking players would even try for. He led 9-2, and someone in the gallery said, "School's out." But it wasn't. Diehl bore down superbly and pulled up to 7-9. He fell behind to 7-11, swept back to 10-11. Every point brought a roar from the spectators. Salaun held his advantage, however, until at 14-13 Mateer hit a perfect shot. Salaun made a perfect swan dive in an attempted retrieve—and missed. The game was tied at 14 all and it was Henri's option to call for either one or three extra points. He set three. Each man won a point and then, at the most critical stage of the match, Mateer flubbed two shots and Salaun took the game 17-15.

When play resumed after the rest period Mateer lost four points in a row. His face was white, and he was visibly upset as well as tired. From time to time he muttered, "Too good, too good." Salaun won the fourth game 15-7 and kept his title.

Mateer had no alibis and needed none. Would he try again or, as he had wondered out loud last fall, had the time come to play "for fun?" "I don't know," sighed Diehl Mateer.

While Diehl Mateer wondered seriously Henri Salaun wondered lightly. "Yesterday I looked at the draw sheet," he remarked, "and suddenly I noticed I was the only player over 30 in the quarter-finals. That scared me." Indeed, many a ranking veteran bowed to youth. Midshipman John Griffiths, 22, toppled third-ranked Calvin MacCracken of Englewood, N.J. Little-known Ray Widelski of Buffalo, 22, downed two ranking players plus Griffiths before meeting Salaun in the semifinals. Twenty-year-old John Smith Chapman of Sir George Williams College in Montreal steamed into the semifinals also and forced Mateer to five games. Stephen Vehslage, 19-year-old U.S. Junior Champion, from Princeton and Philadelphia (SI, Jan. 6), almost toppled fifth-ranked Harry Conlon, who almost toppled Henri Salaun. It was an exceptionally fine tournament, tough, exciting and, for some, upsetting. But there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the best squash player won it, and he is 31.