The more the merrier, right? Well, for doubles players on both WTA and ATP tours, this is far from the case. Singles player receive more prize money, more TV time, and more attention from fans. The shadow the singles game casts over doubles is large and continues to expand with no end in sight.
From nearly-empty stadiums at Grand Slam doubles finals to only a handful of broadcast doubles matches during Masters Series 1000 events, doubles receives neither respect nor coverage it deserves. It’s a sad commentary on the state of top-flight doubles when one can access an endless number of challenger level equivalents each week but can rarely watch it at its best. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that challenger level events are being streamed online, but if these events can broadcast live doubles matches, than we should be seeing more of the top WTA and ATP players playing doubles.
In 2014 Gilles Simon, who is currently ranked No. 21 in the world, won 27 matches and earned $1,260,730 in prize money. By contrast, American Eric Butorac, ranked No. 18 in doubles, won 33 matches and has amassed $309,639. To quickly crunch the numbers, that’s nearly $1,000,000 less than the Frenchman, who won six fewer matches. Such a pay disparity seems to be a representation of not only how much more attention singles draw, but also a substantiation of the idea that doubles is exponentially less vigorous of an exercise than singles.
I’m not here to tell anyone that doubles players should be getting paid more than singles players, nor that they necessarily deserve more attention. But I will argue that doubles players should get paid more than they do now, and receive more media coverage. Speaking from my own experience, I sit here ashamed of the fact that though I’ve opined on hundreds of singles matches, I can only remember analyzing one doubles match.
This all needs to change. We are selectively depriving ourselves of one of the most compelling art forms in all of sports.The game of doubles needs better advertisement. It’s not simply singles with an additional player thrown on each side of the net and extended tramlines.
Doubles is an entirely different game.
Where singles can might be more closely correlated to a boxing match – with pulling and prodding occurring over an extended period of time – doubles strikes a better resemblance to a battle to the death in the Roman Coliseum. Both teams charge forward with unrestrained amounts of desire to seize the net for their own.
When you are watching doubles at the World Tour Finals this week – and yes, it’s actually being shown – think of the 02 Arena as the Coliseum. Put yourselves in the shoes of these doubles teams. The intensity displayed is undeniable. They are playing in front of a packed crowd, with no other matches going on, a rarity for them to say the least.
Notice how, even though each point is a battle to conquer the net, there are aspects of aesthetic beauty and delicacy intertwined between these moments of unmitigated ferocity. Whether it be a sharply angled touch volley or a silky smooth topspin lob, doubles players must be ready to integrate both power and feel into their games to achieve victory.
And while each doubles player has a partner, it’s crucial to realize that each player still only has one brain, and must still individually analyze the actions of not one, but two players on the other side of the net. Working with a partner makes court coverage easier, but it also leaves room for disastrous lapses of synchronization. Each player must think about their next action and movement on the court but these decisions must be made in relation to what their partner is going to do.
Ironically, even though tennis is being played on slower surfaces these days, the professional doubles game has remained fast-paced. Outside of the Grand Slams and Davis Cup, doubles arguably become quicker. No-ad scoring and a ten point match-tiebreak that decides final sets has sped up the game, really putting a priority on winning points when it counts.
In the biggest moments, doubles players are placed under immense scrutiny. Their margin for error is significantly diminished relative to singles. Hitting three reflex volleys down break point from a screaming Mike Bryan forehand will mean nothing if your racket moves slight off the path of the ball, causing you to mishit the fourth volley.
Being at the net increases the pressure of an already intense game.
I could go on for days but instead, I suggest that if you have the opportunity this week, take some time to watch a doubles match. There may be names that you don’t recognize but after a while, the differences of doubles will feel a whole lot more familiar.