The 2022 edition of the Canadian Amateur Rackets Championship was full of firsts.

Forced to reschedule the tournament after yet another pandemic-related lockdown in January, the tournament held its first spring iteration, though the inclement weather certainly belied the late April date. But what the weather gods lacked in hospitality, the Montreal Racket Club and its members certainly made up for. Eager to host this first tournament since 2019, some of the boys got the party started a few nights early, notably with the arrivals of faraway friends Andrew Ness and Mats Johnson earlier in the week, and others trickling in for a Wednesday night Lebanese dinner and a show.

This tournament was also the first to begin the Thursday Night Stag with the literal loading (and firing!) of a cannon, courtesy of Deep Kosla and Charles Vennat, who in doing so nearly burnt down the wood-paneled dining room the 133 year old club with it. With disaster averted and following a spectacular meal courtesy of chefs Phil Chang and Trina Fraser, and inspired by the culinary imagination of Frank “Bagel Boy” Joyet, the customary stories and introductions followed in a raucous room. While some old friends were noticeably absent, Paul Beattie, absent in body, was brought to life by Frazer Anderson’s vivid reenactment. With the pleasantries out of the way, attention turned to games of chance and catching up with friends old and new until the wee hours.

Despite fewer participants in the tournament than years past, there was a tremendous amount of talent on and off the court displayed throughout the weekend. The Friday night dinner dance was a particularly festive one, with nimble numbers and high quality leading to an all-time soirée. The MRC’s younger cohort led the way in what was for many of them their first CanAm tournament. It would be safe to say that this will not be their last!

And as for rackets, the smaller draw was loaded with talent at the top, leading to some outstanding matches throughout the weekend. The crowd, of course, shall never forget the first all-Armenian pairing of Scott Paskerian and John Kalaydjian reaching a CanAm Doubles Quarterfinal, a feat they accomplished by besting Frank Joyet and Lucas Walsh who were showing some leg in their kilts.

 

There were some incredibly spirited bouts, namely between the ageless Bart Sambrook and Felix Clarke, who would have won some silverware on top of that match if an award were given for combined on and off court performance. Henry Prenn and Gus Edwards also acquitted themselves particularly well in this combined category.

Then, of course, was young Julian Owston, nephew of the great Jonathan Larken, who got noticeably better throughout every day of his title defense. Coached by his uncle and partner, he consistently rose to the occasion in the later matches, notably in a thrilling Doubles Semifinal matchup against Guy Devereux and Charles Buaron which preceded the Saturday Night Steak & Magnum Stag. The match also saw Owston avenge his narrow loss in the Singles Quarterfinals against Buaron.

The other Doubles Semifinal featured Felix Clarke and Alexi Pitallis, a former Montreal fellow, against Mark Farmiloe and the MRC’s very own Steven Chamandy, who somehow has found the time amidst his busy wolf-trapping and moose-hunting schedule to keep his rackets game in top form. So much so, in fact, that he earned a rare “YOU!” call from Farmiloe in the match, which they took 15-10, 15-9, and 15-12.

Under the keen and watchful eye of referee Guy Devereux, the Sunday Singles Final featured Mark Farmiloe and Jonathan Larken, who engaged in a highly entertaining match before their post-brunch Doubles Finals. Ultimately, Farmiloe was no match for Larken, who bested his opponent 15-4, 15-12, 15-3, and found himself once again crowned the Canadian Amateur Singles Champion.

Following a healthy heaping of eggs benedict and Championship Cocktails for the spectators, they returned to the gallery only to be treated to a great Doubles Final between the defending champions Jonathan Larken and Julian Owston versus Mark Farmiloe and Steven Chamandy, whose tremendous serving led to his pair taking the first game 15-7. The defending champs, however, quickly answered, taking the next two games decisively 15-5 and 15-7, before the gallery was treated to a 15-10 thriller in favour of Larken and Owston, who won their second consecutive Canadian Amateur Doubles Championship.

If Montreal is the Mecca of Rackets, then Larken is its Mohammed. Coming into this year’s tournament, there were four players who had won the CanAm 8 times: John Prenn (1979-1992), C.C. Pell (1921-1935), Robert Grant III (1937-1953), and Jonathan Larken (2001-2019).

And so in his first CanAm visit as President of NARA, Jonathan Larken became the first player in the 21st century to win the tournament 9 times, matching only the MRC’s Frank Rolland (1896-1912), an incredible achievement capping 21 years of dominance. Based on his form throughout the weekend, one would be ill-advised to bet against him winning a record 10th next year.

Never one to steal the spotlight altogether, Jonathan, awarded Montreal’s Mike McLernon the prestigious President’s Trophy for his outstanding contributions to rackets, including his recent tenure as NARA President during which he famously oversaw the acquisition of Nigel Gordon’s famous ball machine and moved it to Chicago, thereby securing the supply of balls for NARA clubs. This, of course, among other notable achievements such as the creation of the NARA Under-35 Interclub Tournament, overall increase in tournament play and membership, and a revamping of the NARA communications and outreach strategy. Smash continues to be a stalwart of the game and got a well deserved standing ovation from the Saturday night Stag crowd.

Last but certainly not least, congratulations to the Americans, led by TJ Dougherty (a last-minute substitution as Captain for Pete “Missing in Action” Roessler), who bested their Canadian counterparts in the annual bleary-eyed Rolland Cup.

Special thanks to Rick Spensieri, who navigated his first (incredibly sleep-deprived) CanAm as the MRC’s club steward and made all feel welcome. Of course, immense gratitude as well to Dan Fisher, head pro, Sean Faguy, tournament chair, Andrew De-Courcy Ireland, Club President, and the entire team at the MRC for a memorable weekend. Oh… and I suppose the fellows aka George for marking the matches, albeit poorly.