Amherst, MA — Harvard sophomore Ali Farag defeated Ramit Tandon of Columbia to win the Pool Trophy and the 2012 men’s individual title. The match was played at Amherst College’s Davenport squash courts.
Farag, a sophomore transfer, was making a bid for Harvard’s 34th individual national squash title. Colin West was Harvard’s last men’s winner, claiming the 2010 title. Farag, who won the 2010 junior world title, was undefeated this season, going 15-0 at #1 for Harvard.
Tandon, on the other hand, was playing for Columbia’s first-ever national squash title, individual or team. The first-year standout for the Lions was also undefeated this season. This was Columbia’s second season as a varsity program and first playing a full Ivy League schedule. The Lions had staged a remarkable run at the Men’s National Team championships, coming in second in the B Division to Penn and earning the team’s highest ranking ever. Tandon, who plays #1 for the Lions, has been an important part of Columbia’s rapid rise as a team.
Tandon did not play in Harvard and Columbia’s regular season meeting, and he and Farag had not yet played this college season. The two did meet in the finals of the 2011 Price-Bullington Invitational, where Farag won in three competitive games.
Farag came into the tournament as the top seed, and he advanced through the draw with a string of three-game wins. He defeated Adam Perkiomaki of Rochester in the first round and beat Crimson teammate Brandon McLaughlin in the round of 16. Wins over two Trinity players — Antonio Diaz in the quarters and Vikram Malhotra in the semis — put Farag into the finals.
Tandon was the number 2 seed coming into the tournament. He defeated Yale’s Ryan Dowd in three in the first round and then had to work harder to advance through the round of 16 and quarters, as Kenny Chan of Yale and Andres Duany of Rochester both took him to four games. In the semis, Tandon faced defending individual champion Todd Harrity, who was coming off of helping Princeton win the men’s team title two weeks ago. Tandon secured his place in the final with a three-game win over the Princeton junior.
Because Tandon and Farag had not played during the regular season, there was a feeling of suspense surrounding the match. Tandon won the serve to open the first game, and he rolled a shot to claim the first point. After a let ball, Farag answered with an ungettable drop shot, tying the score 1-1. After only a few points it was clear the audience was in for a treat.
The two players kept the first game close, trading points. It was tied 3-all, then 4-all. Farag tinned one shot and lobbed another ball out of court, giving Tandon a slight edge, but the Harvard sophomore evened the score with a winning reverse corner and then a hard cross court off a Tandon forehand drop. Tandon began to pull away, and at 8-6 Farag hit a tin that sent the ball soaring high into the air as the crowd let out a collective “Oh.” A stroke to Farag shifted the momentum of the game as Tandon tinned the next two points. At 9-all the two battled back and forth through an incredible point that ended on a stroke to Farag. The crowd groaned in frustration. Farag and Tandon played to 10-all and another stroke to Farag put the Harvard player ahead. Farag took the first game 12-10 with a winning cross court to the backhand.
The second game began with a series of flashy shots and fakes from both players and the first point ended with a let. Tandon took an early lead, going up 4-1 on Farag. At 3-4 with Tandon leading the two dueled through a long point that drew multiple gasps from the crowd, and a tin from Farag allowed Tandon to open his lead again. The two played through a series of let balls, with Farag tying the score again at 5-5 with winning length off of a forehand drive. Both players made great gets and feathered unreturnable drops, winning points by hitting good length as well as making some jaw-dropping shots. With the score tied 8-all Tandon made a dramatic fake, wowing the crowd, but a few shots later his drop was down. Farag capitalized on a stroke to open a lead, and another stroke ended the game 11-8 in Farag’s favor.
The tone of the third game was more subdued. The score was tied early at 1-1 , but at 2-1 Farag began to run Tandon around the court. Tandon tinned several balls, and the points began to fly by. At 8-1 one of Farag’s volleys was down, giving Tandon an opening to start another run. In the next point, Farag moved Tandon out of position, and with the Columbia freshman stepping the wrong way, Farag placed a forehand drop relatively high. Tandon didn’t go for it. Tandon earned two more points, but after a boast from deep right was not up, the rest of the game went quickly. Farag won the third 11-4.
The two players embraced at the end of the match and laughed, making a show of who would hold the door for whom.
Farag walked out first, the 2012 men’s individual champion.