Most people play doubles when they are playing social tennis but in the professional ranks it is singles that garners the most attention. The doubles game has been carried by two or three teams over recent decades but there has always been a solid supporting cast.
There were singles players like John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg, and you could definitely even throw the “Super Macs” – Paul McNamee and Peter McNamara - into the mix as a team that was recognisable around the world. However, when many of these players began to leave the game it began getting harder for the doubles game to stay a focus of attention.
As I indicated a couple of teams carried the burden of keeping doubles simmering on the professional levels – a team such as The Woodies which dominated doubles, and Jonas Bjorkman who teamed with Max Mirnyi and later Woodbridge to become very formidable.
The banner was then well and truly picked up by the Bryan bothers, Bob and Mike. Doubles still had an impressive supporting cast with personalities and combinations that also won the big ones on a consistent basis. Players like Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, Radek Stepanek, Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor.
But now the doubles game in men’s tennis is in a crisis. There is no team ready to pick up the baton. The Bryans are not going to be around forever, maybe another couple of years and you’d probably same the same for Paes, Stepanek and Mirnyi and Nenad Zimonjic.
Not one tandem has really stood up to be counted and even the Bryans have expressed serious concerns about the future of the doubles game.
There is no team on the horizon that has started to really win consistently and at the same time revealed a personality that allows the everyday tennis fan Joe Schmo to say “wow I want to go and see them play”. That was the case with the Woodies, McEnroe and Fleming, Paes and Bhupathi and most definitely Bob and Mike.
It is tough for the governing body of the sport to do a heck of a lot about it. A few years ago measures were introduced to shorten and speed up doubles and they proved very successful – like the third set match tiebreak. But it has not, unfortunately, helped to bring in new teams that world tennis is craving to go and watch.
Oh you can toy with combining singles and doubles rankings to allow singles players to get into doubles but that is only a passing fad. You need consistency with the tandems. The singles players will play doubles to get a bit more court time or for a bit of fun, a quick fix, a band-aid, but it is not a long term plan.
Tennis is part of the entertainment industry and Bob and Mike have gone beyond the call of duty to promote doubles. They would idolise the Woodies and the Jensen boys Luke and Murphy who overflowed with personality, growing up and took a leaf out of the Todd and Mark book in keeping doubles at the forefront.
No team is doing that now. No team is showing they have a personality. Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers are a good combination but who would know. Lopez refuses to speak English and getting Granollers to smile is tough, granted that has something to do with the fact that English is a second language, but it makes things difficult to promote on a global scale.
Fernando Verdasco and David Marrero who won the ATP World Tour Finals title have almost come from nowhere in 2013 but they have to do much more. Fernando has a singles record and is a terrific individual and has a personality but nothing is known about Marrero. If Verdasco is serious about the doubles, then maybe he has to step up to the mark to carry the baton.
A big problem also with doubles is that 95% of teams don’t remain teams and fans lose interest in trying to identify with them. The beauty of the Bryans. The Woodies, Bhupathi and Paes, and even a little while ago the Indo-Pak Express, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Ul Haq-Qureshi, was that they at least stayed together for a length of time. They were exciting to watch and most had a story to tell. There is nothing like that on the horizon for the future of doubles and that is concerning.
If things don’t change soon and we don’t start to see a consistency with teams and teams making the effort to promote the doubles game, then the fear is that it will slowly leave the calendar. Tennis should not and cannot afford to allow that to happen.