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The sweet THWOCK! of success Add to ...

And over it all, there's the slurry of racquets beating the air, an octet of sneakers squeaking as the players rotate and lunge and that satisfying thwock . I'm sitting next to a woman who has never seen a game of doubles squash: "I like the way they touch each other, and move each other out of the way," she says.

The scoring system is so complex it ought to be a question on the SAT. If the game ties at 13, players can elect to play to 2, 3 or 5; at 14, they can play to 1 or 3.

"Why is it so complicated?" I once asked Waite.

"It's a plain white room," he replied. "You have to have something to do."

And 160 minutes later - more than an hour longer than a game of soccer, often said to be the most physically demanding professional sport - it's over. Mr. Mudge and Mr. Berg win, three games to two. The gallery gives the players a standing ovation.

"This is amazing," says Jeff McNair, a spectator. "I've never seen anything like this."

If that awe translates to TV, Mr. Waite has it made.

The snob snag

The biggest obstacle to the spread of doubles squash may be its perception within the status-obsessed world of racquet sports. Tennis and squash players still argue about which is the harder game, but doubles is considered even more infra dig by skilled squash snobs.

Nick Griffin comes from a family of skilled tennis and squash players: He played varsity squash at the University of Western Ontario, his father plays in the over-50 Canadian national doubles tournament and his brother Adrian, the pro at the Adelaide Club in Toronto, won this year's Canadian Open doubles-squash championship.

What irritates Nick is that he can run circles around his father in singles squash, but on the doubles court "the war of attrition is taken out of it. If you're 22 and you're on the court with two guys in their 50s, and they're beating up on you, you think, what's with this? Doubles squash is an equalizer. Everyone's competitive."

"I think that's why a lot of people think doubles is a bit of a sideshow," his brother Adrian adds. "Because they think it's not a true test of athletic capability.

"Is it a true test if some 40-year-old can get out there with a 25-year-old and still beat him?"

Good question. Maybe higher, faster, stronger should add smarter to the crest. Maybe in an age when steroidal team productivity is financially over-rewarded, people are relieved to see what Mr. Waite and his fellow pros represent - individual talent that plays less for money than for the love of competition and the game, what Italians who played tennis (the painter Caravaggio was one - he had to flee Rome after he killed a man on the tennis court in a dispute over the score) once called sprezzatura . You can't score it, and it doesn't pay much, but it has value.

Actually playing doubles squash is the proof of that. A few days after our meeting in the café, Gary Waite and my lawyer, Allan Kling, paired up against me and John Lennard, an old friend of Mr. Waite. Mr. Lennard, an internationally successful painter and jazz saxophonist, is a former professional squash player. Mr. Kling and I are as inept as they are brilliant.

But in equalizing doubles the sublime can face the useless: All that matters is being well matched.

Our contest lasted an hour and a half. Waite-Kling won, three games to two, but they were all as close as three points. Two went to tie-

breakers. I never actually saw Gary Waite crack a sweat, but he never seemed bored.

"Any advice?" I asked him before we started the second game.

"Yes," he said. "Hit the ball." Sometimes that's enough.

Ian Brown is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail.

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