Tennis Doubles: Does This Sport Deserve More Coverage?
Tennis is a game played with two opposing players (singles) or pairs of players (doubles) using tautly strung rackets to hit a ball of specified size, weight, and bounce over a net on a rectangular court.
Encyclopaedia Britannica’s “tautly strung” definition aside, tennis is a sport that has a rich tradition that goes back hundreds of years; yet to this day, it resonates with hundreds of millions of fans all across the world. And this sport, which was once enjoyed by kings in their fancy palaces hundreds of years ago, has found a home in my heart.
I don’t quite know when it happened. Maybe it did when I as a little girl, sat at my parent’s feet as they watched Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, duke it out in Slam final after Slam final. Maybe it happened in third form at Phys ed, when I got to try it out for the first time. My father in particular, loved tennis, and perhaps that passion over time, grew in me. But if I’m being honest, as a little girl, I didn’t quite get his tennis fascination. I preferred basketball.
But if I had to pinpoint the one occasion that gripped me; the match that sparked it all, then I’d have to go with the 2018 US Open Finals between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. After watching that match (and what a match it was); the sport of tennis and Naomi Osaka, had won a new fan in me.
The on-court drama of that now infamous match, was sadly what drove the headlines. I was captivated by Osaka’s gentle approach in response to the chaotic situation. I loved her authentic personality; and I think that’s what initially drew me and millions around the world, to be fans of hers, and of tennis. But as I continued to watch this sport; the service games, the movement, the rallies and skillsets of various players; captured my imagination; which was a tell-tale sign of my growing love.
My Introduction to Doubles tennis
In the wake of the 2018 US Open finals, I continued to watch more and more tennis. That was when the game of doubles caught my eye and once more my level of intrigue was piqued. The lightning quick reactions of players at the net, the thrilling, seemingly never-ending rallies, incredible volleying, the teamwork, comradery and most importantly the chemistry; all of it added a fresh and scintillating dimension to the perception of a new but avid tennis fan.
For decades, tennis has had some major stars. The likes of Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Andre Agassi, Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal, have graced our television screens; and time and time again have impressed a worldwide audience with dazzling displays of speed, power, precision, balance and the will-to-win. Legends like Arthur Ashe, Margaret Court and Billie Jean King, even have tennis arenas named after them; and helped pave the way for the generations of players who came after.
While I do appreciate the awesome talent and dedication each of the named players have or had, I couldn’t help but notice the glaring elephant in the tennis room: all of them are singles players.
Martina Navratilova apart; (a historic singles player in her own right), doubles players and the doubles game have been criminally undervalued over the years.
I remember with fondness the first doubles match I ever saw. It was Peschke/Melichar vs McNally/Gauff at the 2019 US Open. Coco Gauff had made headlines that year at Wimbledon as the “15-year-old sensation”. And in the U.S. Open, she shared a heart-warming moment on court with then world No.1 Naomi Osaka, after a much-anticipated third round match.
Gauff would go on to lose that match in the singles tournament, one night before she took to the doubles court; in high spirits no less; with her partner Caty McNally. McNally, who was 17 at the time, had also just lost in singles to Serena Williams, in the second round in three sets.
As for the Peschke/Melichar doubles match, tennis fans filled up the stadium; 14,000 strong, by NY Times’ telling. The atmosphere made for surreal viewing at home. I can only imagine what it was like for those in attendance. The teenage tandem wowed the crowd with their electrifying energy, comradery, and brilliant play to seal the win. I was caught up in it all too.
The Case for Doubles
As I’ve already mentioned, doubles play gives tennis fans a different perspective of the game. It brings a team dynamic to a very individual sport. In my view, doubles is just as exciting, if not more exciting than singles.
One thing I think makes doubles so entertaining, is that it’s more interactive than singles; as there are two players competing together. Having a partner on court promotes a greater sense of personality, which can drive the fun factor way up. I think personalities in sports help fans like me, relate to our favourite players and therefore we’re more engaged. I just don’t think doubles has gotten the push it needs to gain the fanfare singles players get.
Nick Kyrgios; an accomplished singles star in his own right; made it a point recently to highlight doubles, doubles players, and players in general, who tend to be buried under tonnes of press, focused only on a few star names. “I just think that tennis has done a really poor job with accepting personalities in the past”, Kyrgios stated in a press conference with his partner Thanasi Kokkinakis, after a doubles win over the Behar/Escobar pair last Sunday. “I think they have kind of really only marketed three players for the last decade” he added. “Tennis has really struggled to embrace different personalities, like when people go about it differently. Like something about Thanasi, [Kokkinakis] when I watch him play singles it glues me to the TV; whether he’s losing or whether he’s winning, it’s just the way he goes about it.”
Kyrgios continued: “We are bringing the game to new levels, not just on the doubles court. I saw the TV ratings were up 45 per cent mate. Let’s get this clear. People come to watch him [Kokkinakis] because he’s exciting. We need this for the sport, I can’t stress that enough.”
The fiery Aussie makes more than a fair point; and it shows that doubles is capable of doing well if sufficiently televised. The doubles match he and partner Kokkinakis played before the presser, was a great event; and even better for tennis.
The atmosphere in that packed arena was nothing short of incredible. The raucous crowd came out in huge numbers to support their fellow Aussies, while chanting and sharing some banter—a true party Down Under! Their entertaining personalities and crowd involvement made it all so special.
A player like Kyrgios, with an entertaining and engaging personality, is one that has the potential to attract very large crowds, and increase viewer interest in the doubles game. Another is Bethanie Mattek-Sands. She is an exciting doubles player to watch with a fiery personality, high-energy, great comradery with teammates, and is a former world #1. She’s won 27 doubles titles with more than 10 different partners.
However, I think more should be done to build doubles.
It can be argued that it takes certain personalities to make doubles an interesting watch. And while I agree that personalities are key to building a following; I’m confident, that if only more sports fans would give doubles a chance, they’ll be hooked by the quick exchanges at the net, rallies that keep you at the edge of your seat, great hand skills and touch, and incredible defensive efforts, combined with effective communication. They’ll also be excited by the fact that doubles gives you a chance to see your favourite players team up and compete together; like in the case of S. Williams and V. Williams, Federer and Nadal, or my personal favourite, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Świątek!
No doubt, personalities and celebrity would be great tools for growing doubles, but I believe with increased promotion, doubles sells itself.