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Doubles Take: Previewing the Australian Open
The top seeds come into the tournament with question marks. Can they fight through a field with plenty of major champions in the mix?
Published Jan 18, 2022
Last year, Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic were an instant success on the ATP Tour, claiming nine titles in their first season playing together. Meanwhile, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, their number-one counterparts on the WTA Tour, continued their winning ways, capturing the French Open, Olympic Gold and the season-ending championship.
Both duos are the top seeds at the Australian Open this year in their respective draws. However, unlike previous campaigns, neither team is coming into the year’s first major with any kind of momentum. In fact, it’ll be the first tournament of 2022 for both duos.
Will any early-season rust leave them vulnerable against a wide range of challengers, many of whom have had their share of success in Melbourne in the past?
Between the two top seeds, Krejcikova and Siniakova are least likely to be caught off-guard. The Czechs have experienced Grand Slam glory since their days in the juniors and reached the Australian Open final for the first time in 2021. Even with Krejcikova’s success on the singles side in last year, they still managed to shine at the biggest events. Siniakova has won a doubles title already in ’22, and Krejcikova is coming off a singles final in Sydney. They’ll have to be sharp as they face a tough draw, with Melbourne Summer Set titlists Jessica Pegula and Asia Muhammad, the 13th seeds, a potential third-round foe and another American squad, Caty McNally and Coco Gauff, the eighth seeds, possibly looming in the quarters.
Veronika Kudermetova and Elise Mertens, the third seeds, are in the top half, too, as well as Gabriela Dabrowski and Giuliana Olmos, seeded sixth. Unseeded pairs Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic and Anna-Lena Friedsam/Raluca Olaru have the potential to break up a meeting between those two higher-ranked teams.
On the bottom half of the draw, Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara lead the way as the second seeds, and will be looking to make a Grand Slam breakthrough. While they’re the highest-ranked team in this section, there’s no shortage of experienced pairs—like 10th seeds Marie Bouzkova/Lucie Hradecka and Nadiia Kichenok/Sania Mirza, the 12th seeds—ready to shake things up. One of the biggest threats in the bottom half of the draw is another veteran duo: Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai, the fourth seeds, who won the tournament back in 2019. They did win the most recent major, last year’s US Open and will be primed for a strong showing.
While Stosur and Zhang’s title in New York was a surprise, perhaps as equally shocking was the poor performance of Mektic and Pavic, who lost in the first round. After their Summer Olympics triumph, the Croats didn’t win another title the rest of the year, with plenty of early-round losses amid their results. They were supposed to make their 2022 debut in Sydney, but withdrew due to Mektic’s illness. As they try to work their way into form, Mektic and Pavic could face a tough challenge in the third round against Ariel Bohar and Gonzalo Escobar, the 15th seeds, who’ve already reached a final this year. Among the other top challengers in the upper half of the draw are Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos, the third seeds looking for a first major title together; Belgians Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, the 11th seeds; and the veteran pair of Marcelo Arevalo and Jean-Julien Rojer, seeded 14th. John Peers and Filip Polasek, the fifth seeds and former Australian Open champions (with different partners), have been playing well since they teamed up late last year. They enter the tournament with momentum on their side, having just won in Sydney.
The hottest team on the planet, though, happens to be Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski. Each of them had been playing some of their best tennis coming into 2022, and it appears their decision to team up was the right one as they claimed two titles in Adelaide. They have a tricky opener against Benoit Paire and Romain Arneodo and should they keep advancing, could face Frenchmen Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, the seventh seeds, in the round of 16.
Mahut is one of several former champions in the bottom half of the draw, with Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, the eighth seeds, among them. One team, though, has been near unbeatable in Melbourne the past couple of years, and enter this year’s tournament as a favorite, despite some questions about their form.
Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, the second seeds, won the title in 2020, then reached the final last year. When Mektic and Pavic hit a slump last year, the American-English duo became the team to beat, with their run including a second major title together at the US Open.
This year, though, they only played one tournament leading up to the Australian Open, losing their opener against a couple of wild cards in Adelaide. Ram was slowed by illness to start off the year and could still be working to get his legs back under him. Given their recent successes in Melbourne, they still have the potential to come through a crowded field with dangers at every turn.