Once upon a time, almost all leading singles players supplemented their incomes and expanded their horizons by competing in doubles. They celebrated being part of another forum, relishing the chance to join forces with partners that were often simultaneously friends. They viewed doubles as an obligation, and enjoyed the opportunity to offer the fans an exhilarating brand of tennis that was singularly appealing to those who saw them competing on the premier stages.
While John McEnroe collected no fewer than 77 career titles in singles, it is too often overlooked that he won an identical number of doubles crowns. It brought out the best in the New Yorker and there were times he seemed to be happier in that capacity than he was as a solo act. Yet over the last several decades the top competitors in singles have usually stayed clear of doubles, believing they must preserve all of their strength for the battles they are fighting on their own.
But one of the most appealing aspects of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells is the willingness of so many of the best singles players to make their presence known in the doubles. In 2010 and 2012, Rafael Nadal joined countryman Marc Lopez to capture the event’s doubles titles at Indian Wells. That remarkable Spanish duo will be back in the field again this year, hoping to make it a “hat trick” in California.
An excellent doubles player, the 19-time Grand Slam champion has long been one of the most technically sound volleyers in tennis, an underrated feature of his game that is not seen with enough regularity. On a doubles court, he can be an even more electrifying performer. His alacrity around the net is a joy to behold. His instincts are uncanny. His court sense is extraordinary.
Nadal is not the only high-profile singles player that will be showcasing his doubles skills on the hard courts at Indian Wells in front of appreciative audiences. World No. 3 Dominic Thiem will have Grigor Dimitrov as his partner, and what a pleasure it will be to witness those two stylists with their outstanding one-handed backhands playing on the same side of the net. The mercurial Italian Fabio Fognini—ranked No. 11 in the world—will form a dynamic partnership with the charismatic Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who currently stands at No. 20 in singles. Fognini’s returns and abundant court craft should blend beautifully with Auger-Aliassime’s all-court virtues.
The sparkling partnerships don’t end there. World No. 10 David Goffin will play with 13th-ranked Diego Schwartzman. Goffin is a clean ball striker with elegant court coverage and Schwartzman is the sport’s Little Big Man at 5’7”. Their success will depend largely on speed, precision and counter-attacking acumen. They should be an unconventional but formidable pair.
Also on the advance-entry list are Stan Wawrinka alongside Alexander Zverev, the French tandem of Adrian Mannarino and Gael Monfils, the Russian pairing of Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev, the Spanish-Australian duo of world No. 12 Roberto Bautista Agut and Alex De Minaur, and the renewal of Jack Sock partnership’s with Vasek Pospisil—they will get a wild card. The North American duo won Wimbledon in 2014 and Indian Wells in 2015. They have not competed together since a round-of-16 defeat in the 2016 edition of the ATP Masters 1000 event.
Wawrinka’s one-handed backhand and the two-hander of Zverev are two of the finest shots in the game. They are big servers with potent arsenals who should gel well as a team. Mannarino’s left-handed guile and commendable feel will mix beautifully with Monfils’ supreme athleticism. Khachanov and Rublev may essentially be two singles players on a doubles court, but they are talented and adaptable. Bautista Agut and De Minaur are fierce competitors with terrific returns. Sock—who finished 2017 among the Top 10 in singles—and a revitalized Pospisil should swiftly rediscover their old winning ways. The American’s power on serve and off the forehand are considerable. The Canadian has quicksilver reflexes at the net.
Last but not least, immensely popular Mike and Bob Bryan will be in search of a third BNP Paribas Open title as they make their last appearance.
It just might be the most dazzling doubles lineup of the entire 2020 campaign. With the Olympic Games slated for the end of July in Tokyo, some of these players will be seeking a gold, silver or bronze medal in Japan. It would behoove those aspirants of medals to compete in doubles here and there throughout the 2020 season on the ATP Tour.
Unfortinately, there will be no sea change following the Olympics. The physicality of the game makes it inadvisable and even impossible for players who are constantly advancing deep into singles draws to invest any more emotional energy on competing in doubles. It simply isn’t going to happen. But at Indian Wells, doubles will be front and center. The chief beneficiaries will be the fans.