Saturday, September 19, 2015

What will become of pro-doubles after Martina Hingis & Bryan Brothers retire?

Look at the following tennis names and see how many of them you recognize.

Marcelo Melo, Ivan Dodig, Horia Tecau, Jean-Julien Rojer, Bob and Mike Bryan. Elena Vesnina, Ekaterina Makarova, Martina Hingis, Sania Mirza.

If you're like me and follow tennis to a decent degree, you'll probably come away only with knowing Martina Hingis and Bob and Mike Bryan - which is a bit scary for the promotion and ticket selling for professional doubles.

The Bryan brothers (37) have won every doubles title in the world (with over 100 total titles to their names) many of them twice or more. Martina Hingis, who has retired and been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, is now back playing doubles and winning women's and mixed major events at the age of 35.

The point in bringing up all the very good players you don't really know is that when the ones you would go to see retire, who will pick up the slack? Who will sell the game to the public and headline doubles in a manner that Bob and Mike Bryan have - or even Serena and Venus Williams, who haven't played much doubles together lately.

It hasn't been all that long ago that professional doubles in tournaments was about to be terminated. The directors of many different events were feeling the strain of coming up with the extra expense it took to pay, house, feed, and promote the exciting doubles events that just didn't pull the crowds in.

So the players (especially the Bryan brothers and their father Wayne) got together with the tournament event holders and put together a new doubles format using shortened sets, no-ad scoring and third-set, 10-point tie-breaks.

The idea was that with a shortened version some of the top singles players would give consideration to also playing doubles - due to the fact it wouldn't take all that much out of them, and that the shortened version was exciting because each and every point counted that much more.

Over the past 10 years the changes to doubles has helped; unfortunately, each tournament throughout the tennis world has not brought in the top-ranked and well-known singles players as often as was hoped, and the crowds still are much less in attendance than at singles matches.

There are still questions as to the differences of quality of tennis between the top singles and doubles players. When Roger Federer paired up with Stan Wawrinka and won the 2012 Olympic doubles gold medal, did that once again prove that if singles players paired up and played doubles they would monopolize doubles as well as singles? Prior to 1968, many of the top players would sign up for singles, doubles and mixed events, and John McEnroe was one of the last singles professionals who was also ranked No. 1 in doubles. Thus the quote, "Who is the best men's doubles team in the world, John McEnroe and whoever he plays with?"

A committee got together and made the following recommendations in hopes of revitalizing the professional game of doubles.

Start doubles on Wednesday to encourage first- and second-round singles losers to enter.

Televise all doubles finals after the singles.

Assign an ATP and WTA communications director to doubles only, and publicize leading teams with a major promotional campaign. "Now you can show up at a tournament and have no idea doubles is going on because there is nothing in the program, nothing up on the walls, no draws posted," Knowles said.

Immediately follow the 7 p.m. singles match with a doubles match - or start the doubles at 6:30 p.m., followed by a singles at approximately 8 or 8:30 p.m.

Require matching shirts and shorts for doubles teams.

Have doubles teams appear together in autograph sessions.

Have doubles teams conduct "Kids Days" so that doubles is explained and showcased.

Nearly double the measly 17 percent of Tennis Master Series total prize money (and 20 percent overall) that doubles receives to 30 percent.

The season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Houston - where doubles-only sessions are consistently sold out - should be studied as the "doubles model" by the tour's 63 other tournament directors and their staffs.

Scintillating doubles points, especially spectacular net duels that elicit "Wow! Did you see that?" reactions from spectators, should be regularly featured on ESPN's top highlights and other "Points of the Day" segments.

The amateur game of tennis is primarily made up of doubles, so we know there are a horde of spectators who would possibly buy tickets if it's promoted properly - so ATP and WTA, let's get with the program!

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at or 928-642-677

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