By Jane Voigt, owner of DownTheTee.com
November 7, 2012 — You’ve heard this before, “Why don’t they show more doubles?”
But ask any producer and you’ll hear the expected rap, “It doesn’t sell ad space.”
The response is enough to shove dreams of American realism – the rags to riches story – in a deep hole. Their reasoning diverts to money, not entertainment, not consumer desires, not the absolutely awesome nature of the game of doubles.
Have they ever really watched it? Followed it? Way more interesting than singles.
First, four players are on court. That mathematically equals twice the entertainment and ticket value, twice the tennis, and twice what you would expect as added coverage. That means more jobs! Think about that you international politicians. You want an uptick in popularity, promise to televise doubles. It’s a slick ticket made in re-election heaven.
The political benefits aside, doubles fanatics, which we all know are more numerous than singles fanatics, can get their fill this week by tuning in to The Barclay’s World Tour Finals from London. Not only are the top eight teams from the year on hand to delight the packed O2 Arena, they are first up each session. You could conclude they are the premier matches of the week.
Here are more reasons doubles are twice the fun.
Two people play to win a point, game, set and match. Two means a relationship; they are partners. This logically suggests the introduction of complicated human interactions, which is lost in singles competition. Unless, of course, you construe the rantings of a player toward a support box as interaction.
Teams converse between points. Do knuckle bumps, high fives, signal tactics to their partner before a toss, and if the Bryan brothers are battling … chest bumps. Can’t see that in any other sport. Soccer players may leap into each others arms, but so can the brothers. They won’t skid across a tennis court on their knees though, for obvious and injurious reasons. Well, maybe on grass.
Let’s face it, doubles is way more interesting to watch. Teams serve and volley, change sides, yell ‘out’ so their partners don’t do something stupid like give away a point, and find every lucky angle and spot on a court.
They hit deep ground strokes, short under-spins, half-volleys, and magnificent overhead smashes that crack like a whip.
With four players at the net, the rata-tat-tat of volley exchanges builds audience energy to a fevered pitch. It’s a wonder the men don’t hear it.
It’s wild. It’s exciting.
Doubles is a complicated game, too, because of its nature. In singles every ball is for you. Not so in doubles. There is order to returns and movement, although scrambling to cover an open spot may look like mayhem.
Bob and Mike Bryan are the best at movement. As twins, they intuitively know what the other will do. Their expectations are in sync, which puts them at a mighty high level of performance in sports. One person can enter the zone, yes, but two acting as a team … not so easy. They are the number one seeds this week.
Throughout their career they have clinched 82 ATP titles — the most of any doubles team. They will end 2013 at number one for the eighth time, and the fourth consecutive. At the U. S. Open they won their 12th slam, an Open-era record. To top off their season, they won a gold medal at the London Olympics.
Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi are the defending champions. So far they are 1-1 in round robin play. They seem to be in the ‘harder’ group, along with Wimbledon doubles champions, Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielson. They are 2-0 and the most unlikely team on hand.
Marray is the first native-born Briton to play in this tournament; and Nielsen teamed with Marray seconds before the deadline to enter Wimbledon this summer. Nielsen’s record has been about singles and after this week he will return to that discipline, leaving Marray to search for a partner. If they continue to mesmerize win, he won’t be left out in the cold for long. But, then again, partners are not just a matter of availability.
Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek were the last team to qualify. It’s Stepanek’s inaugural World Tour Championship.
With all the fun available for fans, the choice of no-ad scoring has been hard to understand. And, any promotion that dares to intimate this is a ‘fifth grand slam’ should have their funding cut. No major tournament would allow no-add scoring.
The lovely dynamics of doubles is negated in this format. At 40-all, the serving team picks the side from where they’d like to serve. This point ends the game. Ordinarily, these top-flight teams groove to a different rhythm. Teetering between ad-in and ad-out is familiar. They are trained for this. It gives them chances to come back, use their strengths – both mental and tactical. The better team can hold with more consistency, which is the pinnacle of skill in tennis.
The no-ad scoring in London, though, throws randomness at the competition. It doesn’t serve the tournament, players, or 15,000 fans that pack the house every session.
As a result the outcomes of the matches have an odd undercurrent. If you look at the match stats, the losing teams have won more points than the winning teams. Not by much, but it’s lopsided. This means they’ve won more service and return points.
In their loss to Mirnyi and Nestor on Monday, Robert Lindstedt and Horacio Tecau won 83% of their second service points, an incredibly high percentage. Their opponents won 43%. Lindstedt/Tecau converted all their break point changes, too. Mirnyi/Nestor went 0 for 2.
Five of the six matches have been decided by 10-point champions tiebreaks. First to ten by two. This is the only remnants of normalcy in London. They are used throughout the season. And every world tour player knows that tiebreaks should be avoided. Without regular scoring, though, the outcomes this week will not reflect the depth that these men can achieve in the sets that precede the tiebreaks. The scoring robbed them of a type of play that demonstrates their excellence. They literally cannot play their games, which is a shame for the deserved prestige assigned them.
Jane Voigt lives, breathes and writes tennis. She wrote about John Isner’s ground-breaking wildcard run at the formerly named Legg Mason Tennis Classic in 2007 for Tennis.com. She has written tennis commentary for the late, great Tennis Week print publication and online version. Hundreds of articles from Jane have been seen on TennisServer.com, too. She now maintains her own website at DownTheTee.com, and has traveled throughout the U. S. and Canada to cover tournaments. Ask her to play tennis, and she’ll prefer singles to doubles.