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As early upsets show, Olympic doubles is a different animal
Murray and Salisbury shocked France's best doubles team of the Open Era in the opening round and that was just the start of the upset trend.
Published Jul 27, 2021
Playing with each other on a fairly regular basis for several years—and completing a career Grand Slam, to boot, with their most recent major coming at Roland Garros last month—Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert appeared primed for Olympics success.
After all, the bulk of the men’s draw is made up of “scratch” pairings: duos featuring a singles player and doubles specialist, or two who compete exclusively in doubles but only pair up for international competitions—making them ripe for the picking against teams such as the second seeds.
France’s best doubles team of the Open Era seemingly should have found a place on the podium at the end of the tournament—if it hadn’t been for one of those “scratch” squads, Andy Murray and Joe Salisbury. The Brits pulled off the first-round upset and added to the notion that when it comes to doubles at the Olympics, anything goes.
With half of the quarterfinal fields being set for both the men’s and women’s draws, only three seeded teams among the eight have made it that far: Croatia’s Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia, and Aussies Ashleigh Barty and Storm Sanders.
Aside from Barty and Sanders, the only other seeded teams left in the women’s tournament are Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic and Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jessica Pegula. The draw took a major hit right near the start when the host Japan’s medal hopefuls Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara were stopped in their opener against Belinda Bencic and Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland. Aoyama and Shibahara lead the WTA in 2021 titles with four, while the Swiss have two doubles titles between them, with both belonging to Bencic, who won those back in 2015.
Coming into the Olympics, Mektic and Pavic were the overwhelming favorites. The duo, playing together for the first time in 2021, has put together a season for the ages and just won the most recent major, Wimbledon. Despite their dominating run so far this year, a place on the medal stand isn’t a guarantee, which is something one of the greatest doubles teams of all time can attest to.
Bob and Mike Bryan, the 2012 gold medalists, finally claimed the top prize on their third attempt. In 2008, the top-seeded Americans won the Bronze-medal match after losing to the eventual champions Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland in the semifinals. In 2004 and seeded first, the Bryans lost to Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu in the quarterfinals.
Neither one of those winning teams were exactly known for their doubles prowess together. Even at the 2016 Games in Brazil, only half of the Gold Medal-winning team primarily focused on that discipline: Spaniard Marc Lopez, who partnered up with Rafael Nadal to take the title.
For the most part, in Olympic doubles, one can expect the unexpected: From Wimbledon singles champions Boris Becker and Michael Stich winning on the slow red clay in Barcelona back in 1992 to the inspired Gold-Medal-winning run of China’s Li Ting and Sun Tiantian at the Beijing Games in ‘04.
Serena and Venus Williams were as close to a sure thing as it got, capturing the top prize on three different occasions. They were the second team—male or female—to win two or more times, following their countrywomen Gigi Fernandez and Mary Joe Fernandez.
The Williamses aren’t playing this year and would be in their early- to mid-40s by the time the 2024 Games rolled around. If one were to put in an early marker, though, for them as Gold-Medal favorites, it wouldn’t be too unusual, given how things have played out in doubles at the Olympics over the years.