Break ups are hard.
Relationships, when harmonious, are like the robins welcoming Spring. They lift spirits, color life, and deepen bonds.
On the tennis court, the relationship between a doubles team is the foundation of long-term success. Italians Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were one such success story, until they announced they would separate Thursday.
“After living a wonder journey for the past several years, which has given us the chance to reach amazing results, we release the following not to inform you about our decision to our doubles partnership,” the women announced on the WTA website. “It’s our common purpose to start new individual career paths and set brand new goals to try to reach, also for us to enjoy and take pride in.”
The obvious question: will they now focus only on singles? They have had decent results at the majors of late, but are thought to lack the aggressive game to compete with the power players that dominate the game: Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova, and Eugenie Bouchard.
Yet, the two take with them a record in doubles many envy.
They are one of five doubles teams to have won the Career Grand Slam, with five total majors: the Australian Open (2013, 2015), Wimbledon (2014), Roland Garros (2012) and the US Open (2012).
Errani and Vinci have always looked in sync on court, saying many times that they are best friends. “When I’m down she help me, and when she’s down I help her,” Errani told The Oregonian last fall.
Though the team hadn’t reached the heights of Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver (who won 20 major Doubles titles), the Italians thrilled millions around the world – especially in Fed Cup. They teamed up to play from 2001-2007 and again between 2009-2015. With their help, Italy won Fed Cup four times — 2006, 2009, 2010, 2013. They also played in the Olympics in 2004 and 2012, but failed to medal either time.
Together, they earned 25 WTA doubles titles, and have swept the WTA Doubles Team of the Year three years running.
Errani and Vinci were as close as any team outside the blood-connected Bryan Brothers.
The identical twins, who have a total of 104 titles, are hardly beaten on a regular basis. A plethora of men’s doubles teams have split up with the upset in mind. Not one team has been consistently capable of pulling that off.
However, young guns Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil have damaged the confidence of the two-time BNP Paribas Open champions. On Thursday night, the American and Canadian duo defeated the American defending champions in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open, 6-4, 6-4. The two singles specialists also took out the best doubles team in the history of the game at last year’s Wimbledon, swinging the head-to-head 2-1 in their favor.
“Whenever two singles players come together a lot can happen on the court. We’re a pretty good team,” Thanasi Kokkinakis said about his wildcard doubles run at the tournament, alongside former singles No. 2, Andy Murray. They defeated Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the first round, 6-3, 7-5. However, Murray and Kokkinakis were no match for Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic, two dedicated doubles players.
The wildcards lost 6-1 6-4.
In their press conference after winning the Citi Open doubles title last summer, Tecau and Rojer talked about their working relationship. At the time, they were ranked No. 12.
“We are friends first,” Rojer said. “We can say things to each other and we don’t get too upset. We work hard and enjoy competiting.” The team qualified for the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Final in November, having won six titles last season.
Third up today on Stadium 1 today is the semifinal between Pospisil/Sock, and Matkowski/Zimonjic. Sock and Pospisil endear fans with their power tennis and lively game. With Sock’s heavy topspin and Pospisil’s his sharp net game, the two could cause problems for seasoned competitors. It they advance to the final, they will play Italian pair and Australian Open Doubles Champions, Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli.
“It’s 100 percent natural chemistry,” said Pospisil. “We haven’t worked on anything. We don’t do any doubles drills, nothing. We’re still 100 percent focused on singles. All of our decisions throughout the year and geared towards singles success.”
The women’s doubles final is set for Saturday between the two top-seeded teams: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza and Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina. Hingis’s and Mirza’s partnership is new; despite being veterans of the doubles tour, have never teamed up in the past. Hingis has 12 doubles titles and won the Australian Open Mixed Doubles title with Leander Paes in January. With Cara Black, Mirza won the WTA Finals in the fall after a successful year, and as Black announced that she wanted to concentrate more on her family.
Mirza began 2015 playing with Hsieh Su-Wei, who had split with Peng Shuai. However that partnership came to an abrupt end, as Hsieh said she wanted to focus on her singles career. Since then, Mirza has bounced around, winning Sydney alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Makarova and Vesnina are without a doubt the team to beat, fast approaching the credentials and chemistry of Errani/Vinci.
They are ranked No. 8 on tour. Together they captured their second Grand Slam doubles titles at the US Open last fall, defeating Hingis and former partner, Flavia Pennetta, in three sets. The Russians also won Roland Garros in 2013; at the start of the season, they progressed to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, losing to eventual champions Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova.
But there’s something to keep in mind: Hingis won nine major doubles titles in her prime. She may be 33, but we could certainly see age translate to wisdom in a tennis match, especially a final of this magnitude.
How do you think the doubles results will shake out? Sound off in the comments!