Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal in Marquee (Doubles) Match Today. Is Dubs Starting to Count?

Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, winning the doubles gold medal at the Beijing Olympics

When a bunch of the world’s best players — or do I need to say singles players? — entered the doubles draw in Indian Wells, and started beating top doubles teams, I thought the mandate was on the Bryan Brothers again:

Save doubles. They were playing for the honor of their niche.

The question is whether the best doubles players have reached the top because they have perfected their specialty? Or is it because they are the JV of tennis, and the best players off playing varsity, singles, instead?

Well, then Bob and Mike Bryan lost, too. All of the true doubles teams were eliminated before reaching the semifinals.

Something new is coming to tennis today: A marquee doubles match. It’s Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. (And their partners, of course: Stan Wawrinka with Federer, Marc Lopez with Nadal).

Doubles keeps re-inventing itself, which is good, as the other option was to die off. But with Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all playing doubles in Indian Wells, Calif., something new is going on.

Doubles has a new meaning on the pro level. I’m just not quite sure what that meaning is. Maybe the new doubles is still finding its way.

Is it an exhibition? Is it just practice for singles players? Is it a specialty? Just a side act? Varsity or JV?

Or maybe the best singles players are just finding another avenue for their competitiveness.

Doubles players are usually the ones who can’t make it in the big-dollar singles world. But I thought that’s just where it started. Then, they perfected a new craft.

I mean, are the Bryan Brothers the best doubles team in the world or just the best tennis players after those who can’t make it in singles?

Federer-Wawrinka won the Olympic doubles gold medal. Nadal is defending champ in Indian Wells doubles, while the Bryan Brothers have never won here.

Why?
“I am better than them,’’ Nadal said, laughing.

It was a joke. But really, maybe that is the reason.

So why have so many top players decided to play doubles this week? It’s possible that billionaire tournament owner Larry Ellison might have asked them to do it, wallet open. We don’t know.

But Nadal said this:

“I would love to play more tournaments (in) doubles, but for me (it) is impossible (because of) the calendar and everything. Is too much.

“But when I have the chance, I play. I played this year in Doha. I normally do in this tournament.’’

Nadal explained that the schedule works for him to play doubles in Indian Wells. The tournament lasts a week and a half, not just a week. And next up is another Masters level event, in Miami. So if a singles player loses early in Indian Wells, then, without doubles, he would be forced into a long wait before competing again.

“I think if the best players of the world play doubles, is very good fun for the crowd, and for us, too, because we play a little bit more relaxed,’’ Nadal said. “At the same time, we practice.’’

Notice that Nadal referred to the “best players’’ not “the best singles players.’’

He’s right about one thing. It is fun to see the most famous players in doubles, if they are trying. I watched the Williams sisters play dubs at the French Open last year, and it was one of the most thrilling, beautiful tennis things I’d seen. That had a lot to do with sisters, family and togetherness, though.

A few years ago, the Bryan Brothers actually did save pro doubles. There was thought to throw it out entirely, but their popularity changed minds. Doubles matches, though, were cut down in length. Now, if a match is one-set apiece, they don’t play a third set, but rather a tiebreaker.

So Nadal, Federer, Djokovic don’t have to fear the possibility of getting into a grinding, marathon doubles match while trying to win in singles. In Indian Wells, then, players get an hour long competitive workout, usually on off days of the singles event, serving only every four games.

Bryan Brothers

Well, I still think of the Bryan Brothers as the best doubles team, no matter what singles players are on the other side of the net. This week, though, suggests otherwise.

At the Australian Open last year, I talked to Sam Querrey following his loss in singles. He still had doubles that day, but was sitting there eating an ice cream cone.

“Doubles,’’ he said. No need to take it too seriously.

But I wonder for how long. The new doubles is still taking shape, and as more singles players give it a try, I wonder how long they will be willing to lose. How long till they start going hard to win?

And then, would the Bryans still be No. 1? Or would they disappear?

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

2 responses to “Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal in Marquee (Doubles) Match Today. Is Dubs Starting to Count?

  • Shank Tennis

    In a perverse way, not caring too much gives the singles pairings a huge advantage in the short match format.

    The Bryans et al are only too aware of arguments like the one you’ve hinted at. They are under huge pressure. The singles players are relaxed, which is huge help when you’re at 7-7 in a match tie-break.

    The qf between Malisse/Dolgopolov and the Murray bros was a good example. The former laughed and joked all the way through and recovered from a set and a double break down, while Jamie Murry, the lone doubles specialist on the court just completely imploded.

    In fact Malisse and Dolgopolov have laughed and joked their way through 3 narrow match-breaker wins against illustrious doubles teams.

    Hell will freeze over before Malisse pulls something similar off in singles.

    • gregcouch

      Thanks for writing. I just saw first-hand what you’re talking about. Yesterday in the first round of US Claycourts in Houston, I went to an Isner-Querrey doubles match. Kept thinking this match is like practice for them, but it a living for the other guys. I-Q won.

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