By: Jane Voigt
The world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this week. The barrier had divided a country, families, and economic growth across Europe. Maybe the ATP should consider bringing down the wall between doubles and singles. It might help create an international community of tennis, rather than what seems like a class system with doubles stuck in the second-tier.
But one cannot shift the perceptions of sponsors and mega-media organizations until their executives can project a positive return on investment. And they cannot foresee that positive cash flow until doubles is spotlighted more and sells more tickets.
Singles has historically led the game. Players are marketed differently, as is the thrill of their individual games. We hear “the Federer forehand,” “Djokovic’s return of serve,” and “Nadal’s spin.” Their very movements are branded and sold. Doubles teams, though, go through divorces so frequently, save for twins Bob and Mike Bryan. The splits hinder any continuity that marketing and promotion can hold onto and build from.
Singles is easier to understand, too. Two players, each one in control of their side of the net, each one responsible to keep the ball in play.
Doubles is more strategic and complicated to follow. Points can be won or lost in a snap. But doubles gives insider fans frequent thrills with its brisk at-the-net volleys, and deftly feathered angles combined with the kind of power tennis that drives singles.
A step forward might be as simple as increasing prize money. Singles players that normally play qualification tournaments and bounce out of main draws in early rounds are now compensated better. Doubles players could receive more, as well, as tournaments raise total prize money. But is it enough?
Bob and Mike Bryan turned pro in 1998, the same year as Roger Federer. Per the ATP, Bob Bryan’s career prize money totaled $11,104,862 while Mike Bryan’s was $10,875,939 coming into the 2014 season. They ranked Nos. 35 and 37 in career prize money. Roger Federer earned $79,218,415 as of that date, and ranks number one.
The money issue is reminiscent of the one which hovered over the women’s game until major tournaments got on board with equal pay. No matter the gender of a tennis player or the category of game they select, their efforts, commitments and risks are pretty much on a level playing field – or tennis court, as it were. Their lives are 24/7 tennis.
A few years back, the ATP tried to fix doubles. It changed the scoring in the hopes of enticing singles players, which would theoretically raise the number of viewers. Rafael Nadal hooked up with several players for Indian Wells. Federer and Stan Wawrinka sometimes joined in. But overall, the changes didn’t meet the goal. In fact, it almost seemed to harm doubles by relegating it even farther to the fringes. Now the matches are shorter and the game – as seen through the eyes of purists – doesn’t hold up. Reasons to keep earning potential low remain because teams don’t work as hard.
Doubles may never reach the glamorous center stage appearance of singles. But this week it has, and partial credit is due to the scheduling. Doubles matches were first on, for the day and evening sessions.
Watching the last two round robin matches today were thrilling reminders of how doubles has risen on its own merits, even if the worlds remain divided. No. 8 seeds Robert Lindstedt and Lukas Kubot squeaked into the World Tour Finals a little over a week ago. They ended up making a clean sweep of their group and qualifying for the semifinals. Though the berth had already been clinched before first ball, the underdogs kept the streak going for a third straight match, defeated Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, 6-4, 7-6(4).
Lindstedt and Kubot had never played together before the Australian Open this year, but they immediately clicked, winning their first Grand Slam title in the process. Their power game has had a dominating effect on their opponents this week. However, they can also lighten up their tactics; Kubot clinched the match with a lovely drop volley.
Meanwhile, the Bryans clinched their spot in the semifinals today as well, defeating No. 3 seeds of Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares, 7-6(3), 7-6(2).
The twins make for the doubles game’s biggest assets. They won their 102nd career title this year, the most of any team in the history of the game. They have 16 Grand Slam titles and have won all four Majors at least twice.
Yesterday, they were honored for winning the Year-End No. 1 for the sixth consecutive year and 10th overall. They also won their 10th ATPWorldTour.com Fans’ Favorite award.
“It’s been a special year for us,” Mike Bryan said, the ATP reported. “This year is definitely special — getting to 100 titles at the U. S. Open and doing it at our home slam. I’d like to thank my brother for being my partner all these years and not giving up on me.”
The World Tour Finals have been somewhat a struggle for Mike and Bob. They have won three times: 2003 and 2004 in Houston, and 2009 during the inaugural event held at its current location — London’s O2 Arena. If there’s any team that can shake off a mediocre record, it’s them.
First up tomorrow in the semifinals is Kubot and Lindstedt versus Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, at noon London time. The evening session begins at 6 P.M. with Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin facing Bob and Mike Bryan.
Follow Jane on Twitter @downthetee!