article indianwells

Tennis Single Stars Out for Doubles


John G. Mabanglo/European Pressphoto Agency
Nice article on Rafa & Marc on playing doubles

Tennis Singles Stars Come Out for Doubles Fun

Singles rivals for the ages, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal may refresh their rivalry in a much more unusual forum this week: a doubles match.

Nadal and his partner, Marc Lopez, the defending champions, already have advanced to the semifinals at Indian Wells, and Federer and his partner, Stanislas Wawrinka, will face them if they win their quarterfinal on Thursday. 

“We’d love to see that, wouldn’t we?” said Darren Cahill, the Australian commentator and coach.
It is difficult to argue, unless, of course, you are Federer’s and Wawrinka’s next opponents: Mark Knowles and Michal Mertinak. But then wouldn’t it be a treat to see the game’s biggest stars playing more doubles in general?
The grueling quest for singles success has made the subtle and routinely spectacular game of doubles a no-try zone for the leading men at Grand Slam tournaments, leaving only the Olympics, Davis Cup and the occasional tour event as proving grounds for their ability to play nicely with others.
Indian Wells, the prestigious Masters 1000 event in California, is one of those places: never more so than this year, when 9 of the world’s top 10 singles players entered the doubles.
The only other time that happened in the past decade was at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and the discouraging development for the specialists who practice their poaching techniques and reflex volleys year round is that the singles stars have so far taken command at Indian Wells at their expense.
Novak Djokovic, the world’s dominant singles player this season, and his Serbian compatriot Viktor Troicki have reached the quarterfinals.
So have Andy Murray and his brother, Jamie, which means that the Murrays advanced one round farther than the brothers who are the symbols of modern doubles: the identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan.
The Bryans, long No. 1 in the world, have somehow never won the title at Indian Wells, and they were upset again Tuesday night in the second round by the first-time team of Xavier Malisse and Alexandr Dolgopolov, the quick and flashy young Ukrainian who has had plenty of singles success himself of late.
It has been that kind of tournament.
“Look, the weather has been drop-dead gorgeous so far: beautiful days, great weather, no wind,” Cahill said. “The singles players are up for it. They are enjoying it. The crowds are out there, so they’re having great fun with the crowds, and it’s making it tougher for the doubles specialists as well because the conditions are so good. The ball-striking has been unbelievable, and these guys have been able to power through a lot of the doubles players. You throw tougher conditions, a little bit of wind and a little bit of tricky stuff, into the equation, and the doubles player usually handles that a bit better than the singles players.” 

But weather is only part of the equation. Federer and Wawrinka won the Olympic gold medal in 2008 in much tougher conditions (major heat). Some of it clearly comes down to talent that translates to any tennis court, no matter what the size or number of occupants.
Among tennis cognoscenti, Federer, with his range of options and attacking skills, is considered the singles star with the greatest potential in doubles. “I haven’t seen many of the singles guys playing doubles, but Roger would seem to be the one I would favor based on his shot vocabulary,” said Jim Courier, the U.S. Davis Cup captain. “There isn’t a shot he can’t improvise, and doubles requires improvising from all areas of the court.” 

But for all Federer’s gifts and his Olympic gold medal in doubles, it is Nadal — as usual — who has had the edge in head-to-head competition. Nadal and Tommy Robredo defeated Federer and Yves Allegro in 2004 in Indian Wells in the second round. Three years later, in the only other tour-level doubles match involving the Spaniard and the Swiss, Nadal and Carlos Moya beat Federer and Wawrinka in the opening round in Rome on clay.
That is little evidence compared with all the singles data available (Nadal leads in that department, 14-8). 

“I think both Nadal and Federer are both really good. They understand the game of doubles,” said Nenad Zimonjic, the Serbian doubles specialist who has beaten and been beaten by both Federer and Nadal in doubles. “Roger is the one who plays more the traditional way, he plays serve and volley first and second serve. Rafa mixes it up. Most of the time, he will stay back and rely on the heavy groundstrokes and big forehand and quickness. But at the net, he’s also quite comfortable when his partner is serving. He crosses a lot and helps his partner, so I think he can play it all. It makes it more difficult, because he’s a little bit unpredictable.”
Nadal clearly relishes doubles, particularly with Lopez, a fellow Spaniard and longtime friend whom he has gone out of his way to support. This year, despite suffering from a viral infection in his opening tournament of the year in Doha, Qatar, Nadal played on in the doubles with Lopez. They won the title, but Nadal arrived at the Australian Open still feeling vulnerable physically and was beaten in the quarterfinals.
“Marc, he has amazing talent, and when we play together, we have a lot of fun,” Nadal said in a news conference this week. “I would love to play more tournaments in doubles, but for me is impossible.”
Indian Wells works for the top singles players because it is an 11-day event with off-days between singles matches and because it is also followed directly by the Miami tournament. A European who loses early in singles at Indian Wells is probably not going to return to his continent. Better to stay in California and keep playing doubles, which also works as training. Miami is a 12-day event, too, but a European who loses early in singles is generally more interested in catching the next plane home to start working on his clay-court game.
The opening legs on circuits within the larger circuit are what often work best for attracting stars to doubles: Monte Carlo on clay in April or Canada on hard courts in August. But the Grand Slam events — with their best-of-five set format in singles — remain off limits. Nadal has not played doubles in one since 2005; Federer since 2004; the big-serving Andy Roddick since 2001. The only member of the current top 10 who played the Australian Open doubles this year was Jürgen Melzer, but Melzer is a veteran and late arrival among the singles elite.
This week Nadal ruled out playing doubles in a major again, because of the risk of getting worn down physically. “If your goal is trying to win the tournament, probably is better not play doubles,” he said.
That is quite a shift from earlier eras, when champions like Roy Emerson and John McEnroe routinely played singles and doubles at the Slams and elsewhere. Leading women like the Williams sisters, who play best-of-three sets in singles, have continued to succeed in majors at both disciplines. But the last man to win the doubles and singles at a Grand Slam event remains Yevgeni Kafelnikov at the 1996 French Open.
“For sure is nothing impossible, but for me, I think yes,” Nadal said. 

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