By: Jane Voigt
As dominant as Mike and Bob Bryan have been in doubles, they were nearly no where to be seen at the Australian Open, least of all as we prepare to watch the semifinals from Melbourne on Thursday.
The best team in the history of the game, winners of six doubles crowns Down Under, lost in the third round this year, matching a similar loss from 2014.
The brothers’ early exit probably felt like a fresh breeze to the remaining teams, as if a door had swung wide open.
The men’s doubles semifinals kick off the day’s action in Melbourne. On Rod Laver Arena, No. 6 seeds Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau play unseeded Italians, Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini. Over on Margaret Court Arena, No. 4 seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo play Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.
Rojer and Tecau, along with Dodig and Melo, are decidedly more serious doubles players. All four men have bounced around the tour with other partners. However, these men have learned that the relationship figures strongly in the outcomes of their matches.
“We are friends first,” Rojer said, after winning Citi Open last summer alongside Tecau. “We can say things to each other and we don’t get too upset. We work hard and enjoy competing.”
Both teams records earned them a golden ticket to the Barclays ATP World Tour Final last fall. Dodig’s and Melo’s dominance in the round-robin phase of the competition put them face-to-face with the Bryan Brothers in the final. As we frequently write, Mike and Bob pulled off the win for their fourth year-end title. The score, though, indicated the battle was a stubborn one – 6-7(5), 6-2, 1-0(10-7).
Rojer and Tecau missed their chances at the final, losing in the last round-robin match.
Dodig and Melo are the highest seeded pair in the semifinals. Their opponents, Herbert and Mahut, are playing together for the first time. Yet, Mahut is a familiar face in doubles draws. He reached the semifinals last year with countryman and Grand Slam doubles champion, Michael Llordra. Seeded No. 13 then, they lost to Lukasz Kubot and Robert Lindstedt in their inaugural competition; Kubot and Lindstedt went on to win the title.
Mahut is the only returning player of the four men left standing. This is his fourth consecutive year in the competition. His partner, Herbert, is wet behind the ears when it comes to this level of play. His doubles resume is scant. He has four first-round loses from Roland Garros.
The natural assumption would be to discount Mahut’s and Herbert’s chances against the stronger, more decorated ‘real doubles team.’
Remember when Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil teamed up on a whim to win Wimbledon, defeating the Bryans in the final? Fluke win? Yes, but it shows what can happen once any player — singles or doubles — achieves a high-level of success in a major draw.
Bolelli and Fognini have also kicked around the tour and at Grand Slams with different partners. As much as Fognini prances and dramatizes during his singles matches, he seems to minimize his act alongside a teammate. He has played doubles in 24 of the last 28 majors, while Bolelli has played in 20 of the last 32.
In 2013 they teamed up in Melbourne, made the semifinals and lost to the Bryan twins. Sandwiched around that major run, they lost in the second round to Dodig and Melo. We can only guess at the fireworks, should Fognini and Bolelli face them in the finals.
Predicting an outcome from these two semifinals is a guessing game with little to no ground on which to stand. We could bet on Dodig and Melo because they are seeded the highest. We could make the same move with regard to Rojer and Tecau.
A couple seeding spots isn’t a big deal, we think.
Bolelli and Fognini are talented at singles and doubles, which makes them dangerous. They may not intuitively sense the finer touches of tactics around a doubles court, but can fend for themselves on a greater scale compared to their opponents.
Herbert and Mahut are the wildcards. A couple slips from Dodig and Melo could spell disaster. The mysterious elements of tennis could then seep into the match.
Bottom line: we’ll pick the seeded teams of Rojer and Tecau, plus Dodig and Melo, to pull off the wins and advance to their first Grand Slam doubles final of the year.
One more thing: no matter which team gets the job done Thursday, there will be a brand new men’s doubles champion crowned come Saturday in Melbourne Park.
Which teams do you think have the edge in the men’s doubles semifinals? Sound off in the comments!