DOHA—Doubles has been getting a bigger piece of the pro-tennis spotlight lately, and it feels long overdue. From team events to tournaments all over the world, singles players are sharing the court, and liking it.
At the Qatar Open this week, top seed Stan Wawrinka teamed up with Frances Tiafoe, Fernando Versdaco snagged a wild card with Marton Fucsovics, and Milos Raonic unexpectedly joined the fun with Ricardas Berankis.
“I didn’t play any matches since the end of the season,” Wawrinka said on Monday. “So to play the first tournament here, it's quite good to play some doubles to play some more matches, play more points and spend some time on the court.”
He and Tiafoe would defeat Andrey Rublev and Alexander Bublik, 6-3, 7-6 (6) on Monday night (Raonic and Berankis lost earlier in the day). The Wawrinka-Tiafoe match featured some unpredictable wild shots, as is expected when singles players team up. Wawrinka played the steadier game, setting Tiafoe up time and again. The American embraced the role of the power finisher, showing off unbelievably deft hands at net.
Rublev has played a lot of doubles in his young career—he played 13 events in 2019 and reached the Paris final with Karen Khachanov—and his expertise showed. His partner Bublik was a more of a wild card, going for a flashy tweener at the worst possible moment deep in the second-set tiebreak.
Also going for Wawrinka and Tiafoe was their friendship. There was no doubt that the two were having a good time, and feeling loose enough to go for it.
“I enjoy to play doubles, and I like to play with Frances,” Wawrinka said. “He's a good friend and we practice a lot together. It’s going to be fun to play together.”
Let's not forget that 2020 is an Olympic year, and Wawrinka won the 2008 gold medal in Beijing with Roger Federer. Some players that might miss a chance at making it into the singles draw in Tokyo won't be shy about chasing a doubles spot.
Verdasco, a Doha resident since 2016, entered the Qatar Open doubles at the last second, just one day before the draw was made.
"I was kind of like with the doubt if I should just stay focused on singles and give all my energy to that," Verdasco told TENNIS.com. "Or if I should play doubles and work on some of the things that maybe can help my game in singles. Also to get more rhythm for the tournaments ahead—obviously there is a Grand Slam in two weeks."
He would then withdraw at the last-minute from his first doubles match with Marton Fucsovics.
Over in Auckland, Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki topped Mao Habino and Makoto Ninomiya on Monday. Wozniacki became the first player to team up with both Venus and Serena in her career.
“This is probably the most fun I’ve had," Wozniacki told wtatennis.com. "I wish we had done it sooner!”
The emphasis on fun, practice and somewhat haphazard entrance into the doubles world may rub devotees of the discipline the wrong way, but doubles has proven to be more serious this week in Australia. A few ATP Cup ties have come down to the very end of the deciding match, including on Day 1 in Sydney, when Grigor Dimitrov and his world No. 517-ranked partner Alexandar Lazarov stunned Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury 11-9 in the deciding tiebreaker to give Team Bulgaria a critical win.
"I'm just proud, honestly. I'm just proud," Dimitrov said. "We never actually played doubles together, so that's the first. I mean, I don't think last."
On Monday in Brisbane, Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki clinched Serbia’s win over France with a 10-3 deciding super-tiebreaker over Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
So far, a third of the ATP Cup ties have been decided by doubles, and half of those came down to super-tiebreaks, including an epic 17-15 decider that went Germany’s way over Greece.
No matter what is getting singles players on the doubles court, or how well it turns out for them, fans and pundits are loving what they are seeing, from Doha to Auckland to Perth.