A comment on a post I wrote a little while ago got me thinking, and I’d like to thank “Mark” for making this particular post possible. Yes, American men’s tennis is rough right now, but this does not take into account the other half of things, the doubles side of the draw.
Doubles is something of a difficult thing to define. It lacks the singular stardom that singles produces, but witnessed in person, it’s hard to understand why this is. Good doubles is mesmerizing in person. The reflexes that are required to play it well are really impressive, and the ESP that partners have to have in order to be effective, to read switches, to cover lobs, to always know where the help is, is truly a joy to perceive. Not to mention the fact that a player’s groundstrokes and volleys have to be infinitely more finely tuned to be effective, as two players are covering the opponent’s court instead of one.
At any rate, the US of A has a beautiful doubles tradition dating back to the 1980s and earlier. John McEnroe, perhaps the original singles-doubles hybrid player, had a saying about him that went “McEnroe and anyone,” as a response to who could be his doubles partner (though usually he chose Peter Fleming; they won 52 titles, seven of them at Grand Slams).
He was that preternaturally talented, and his volleys were second-to-none. Somewhat expectedly, identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan have been the top-ranked doubles duo for 344 weeks, the longest stretch in history. They have won 92 titles, 15 of them at the Slams, and an Olympic gold medal. They just missed completing a calendar Grand Slam this year, losing at the US Open after winning the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon Championships. Nowhere to be found is the overwhelming mainstream recognition they deserve.
Similarly, extra brownie points have to be given to the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, both of whom regularly compete in the singles draw, and at the Grand Slams, in the doubles as well.
And they’re good. Really good. They don’t play enough tournaments together to regularly be seeded, but it hardly matters. They demolish the competition, in Grand Slams and at the Olympics (to the tune of 13 titles, in several of which one or the other sister also took the singles crown, and three gold medals). Serena is the rare breed of player who has been ranked the number one doubles and singles player in the world at the same time.
Again, it’s not as surprising that they can read each other’s movements well; having grown up and trained together, they should know each other’s game like the backs of their hands. But the difference in the style of play, and their collective ability to switch from singles to doubles mindset, often within hours of a match, is just superior.
So while the American (men’s) singles game recovers, look to the doubles draw to see some spectacular tennis and some Americans regularly at the top of their game.