Doubles, A Team Game or 2 Partnered Singles Players?
The singles game of tennis is by far the most publicised, watched and financed version of the game, however, if you ask the majority of club players if they ever play singles, the answer will be no. Doubles is the game most club players will play, but why is it so poorly received on TV and at pro tournaments?
One of the main issues seems to be that it is actually quite confusing. Not actually how to play doubles, but the doubles pro format. For example, if you win a mens doubles tournament, you get ATP ranking points, if you win a womens doubles tournament, you get WTA ranking points, but if you win a Mixed doubles tournaments, you get no rankings points whatsoever. It therefore instantly makes it seem like an exhibition game, not a professional tournament.
The other component that makes the format questionable is who your partner is. Now most players do work together throughout the year, playing in all the same events together so will have the same ranking points. The question is then why instead of having each doubles player as an individual, have them ranked as a team. Jack Sock has reached a doubles career high of 2 in the world after winning the ATP finals, Wimbledon and US Open with partner Mike Bryan. So who is number 1 in the world? His partner Mike Bryan. How does this work? Well prior to Roland Garros, Mike played with his brother Bob to form the infamous Bryan Brothers, however when Bob became injured, Mike either had to sit on the sidelines waiting for his brother to heal, or find a new partner. So even though Jack Sock is in the number 1 doubles pair in the world, he is not the number 1 doubles player in the world.
This follows on to the next issue, singles players playing doubles. Now Jack Sock has always played doubles alongside his singles, however prior to 2018 he generally maintained a 15 to 30 ranking, so most tennis fans will have first known him as a singles player first. Players such as Nadal, Anderson, Isner, and many others have all played doubles tournaments from time to time. The issue arises at times like at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells earlier this year, when Jack Sock and John Isner faced David Ferrer and Roberto Bautista Agut. The combined ranking of these four, essentially singles players, was over 1000 for doubles, with only Jack Sock being in the top ATP doubles 100. The winner of this match was then into the quarterfinals of a masters 1000 event, however not just any masters event, but quite arguably in the 6th biggest mens tournament of the year.
Now sadly, out of most of the doubles matches at that tournament, that was probably one of the ones you would most likely want to watch. It is however one of the many issues that the doubles tour faces, and discouraged people to actually watch the sport. If someone can watch a pair of singles players, partnered with someone they have never played with before, get through rounds of major tournaments, defeating full time doubles pairs in the process, it makes the doubles game seem significantly less exigent than the singles game.