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Grand Slam Doubles: Love it or Leave it?

By: Jane Voigt

The top two doubles teams are out of the Australian Open.

One pair plays both singles and doubles, the other pair, only doubles. As much as the ATP and WTA have pushed to spread the wealth, when singles players also play doubles, the question remains: can they do both and win?

Serena Williams and Venus Williams pulled out of the women’s doubles before the first round. They didn’t want to split their talents, deal with the scheduling nightmares both events present, and wanted to concentrate full force on singles. So far, their decision has reaped rewards. Both sisters have reached the quarterfinals, Venus for the first time since 2010.

Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci play both Rarely do they pull out of doubles to focus on singles. Their stronger suit is, undeniably, doubles, with five major titles, and a career Grand Slam to boot.

On Monday, though, they lost to Germans Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld, No. 16, in three tight sets, 6-3 4-6, 7-5. The loss cut the Italians’ hopes of winning three consecutive Australian Open titles, after taking home the hardware in 2013 and 2014.

In the men’s event, Bob and Mike Bryan are doubles. They symbolize what that game stands for: allegiance through disagreements, synchronized talent blessed with twin genetic bonds, a dancing duo of athleticism that has captured 103 career titles and 16 Grand Slam doubles titles.

But they won’t get one at this year’s Australian Open, which would have been their seventh at the site of their most successful Slam. They lost to the No. 14 seeds, Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea, 7-6(4), 6-3.

“Up 4-1 in the first, usually that’s a good position to be in for us,” Bob Bryan said, the Associated Press reported. “A lot of times we’ll run away with a match like that and we let them back in and it just got sticky. We just weren’t as sharp as we wanted to be in pretty much every category.”

Of the eight remaining men’s doubles teams, half comprise players that dabble in both disciplines, and half of those men were seeded in singles:

  • Pablo Cuevas and David Marreo. No. 27 singles seed Cuevas lost in the first round of to Matthias Bachinger.
  • Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini. Bolelli took a set from Roger Federer but Fognini, seeded No. 16, went out in the first round.
  • Feliciano Lopez and Max Mirnyi. No. 12 seed Lopez just lost in the third round of singles.
  • Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut both play singles, but had little success this year in Melbourne. But they did pick off Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Nenad Zimonjic (No. 8) in the third round on Monday.

Three of the 16 men in the men’s doubles quarterfinals are playing singles and doubles. All three are seeded in singles, as well.

Not a bad ratio.

The highest-ranked women’s team that remains is Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina at No. 3. Both play singles.

Makarova earned a berth in the women’s singles quarterfinals as the No. 10 seed. The Russian could well be one of the more successful women on tour who actively competes in both categories. She and Vesnina were the 2014 runner-ups to Errani and Vinci, and it’s their third year as a team in Melbourne. Makarova made headlines last year as she pushed through to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, plus the semifinals of the U. S. Open, both for the first time in her 10-year career.

Of the eight remaining women’s doubles teams, six comprise players that dabble in both disciplines while three of those women were seeded in singles:

  • Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenfeld (No. 16). Goerges played some of her best singles to reach the round of 16.
  • Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson. Bertens was manhandled by Eugenie Bouchard as Larsson was taken to the shed by Agnieszka Radwanska, both in the second round
  • Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova are looking strong, although Safarova (No. 16, singles) lost in the first round to a tricky Yaroslava Shvedova. Mattek-Sands, back after an injury-prone couple of years, lost to No. 3 Simona Halep.
  • Yung-Jan Chan and Jie Zheng (No. 14). Chan lost in singles qualifying, Zheng in round one of the singles main draw.
  • Michaela Krajicek and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (No. 13). Only Strycova (No. 25) plays singles; she lost to the stinging aggression of Victoria Azarenka in the third round.
  • Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina (No. 3). Makarova, as mentioned, is into the quarterfinals; Vesnina lost in the first round.

Therefore, 11 of 16 women in the doubles quarterfinals are playing singles and doubles. Three of those 11 are seeded.

Although we’ve only looked at one Grand Slam tournament, a conclusion about whether to play both singles and doubles seems to depend on gender and other factors associated with the games. Men’s singles is demanding at the majors with a best-of-five format. Therefore, concentrating on singles seems to be the answer, and it shows in the results.

But for the women, that might not be as true. Eleven of the women remaining in doubles have a crack at the title, meaning their success factor remains higher than the men.

The Williams’ sisters are probably the most successful players in singles and doubles. Serena will vie for her 19th singles Grand Slam title and Venus her 8th, this week in Melbourne. They share 13 Grand Slam doubles crowns, as well, four from The Australian Open. They are not twins, like Mike and Bob Bryan, but they come as close as any two women have in sharing the success of both spotlights without the twin gene. Could doubles success come down to genetics?

What do you think of players who balance singles and doubles? Sound off in the comments!

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About Jane Voigt (89 Articles)
Jane Voigt is a recognized tennis journalist who has covered the pro game for over 12 years. She created and owns DownTheTee.com, and has contributed to TennisGrandstand.com, WorldTennisMagazine,com, TennisWeek.com, Tennis Week Magazine, TennisServer.com, and Tennis.com.

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