Welcome to the Doubles Down-Low. This is where @tennispig will keep you centered throughout the season on all-things doubles. Where else you getting that?
2016: New Teams Ignite Great Race
2016 brought forth a crop of new teams that turned into power couplings on the ATP World Tour’s doubles scene. The intentions of the brightest new duo were stated early at the Australian Open as new partners Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares won the doubles title. That would serve as a catalyst to eventually becoming the world’s #1 doubles duo. Murray-Soares would win just three titles in 2016, but two of them came at Grand Slams in Melbourne in and then at the U.S. Open. They would also make two Masters 1000 finals. Murray and Soares will take a tenuous hold at #1 into the new season with French pair Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues-Herbert just a couple dozen points behind them. More on the French in a few.
Another new pairing for 2016 was Finland’s Henri Kontinen along with Aussie John Peers. Peers had ended a very successful partnership with Murray after 2015, but found great success with Kontinen. The pair would win five titles together in 2016, including the first one in Brisbane and impressively at the last tournament, the ATP Tour Finals. The only thing that kept Kontinen-Peers from more notoriety in 2016 were their poor showings at Grand Slams. They would lose in the second round at three of the four Slams. A quarterfinal run at Wimbledon was their best. They take a #4 ranking into the new season.
The other new pairing that made waves in 2016 was Spaniards Feliciano and Marc Lopez. Team Lopez would surprise to open the season in Doha with the doubles crown where they beat Murray-Soares along the way. That success kept the Spaniards together for most of the year in doubles and it proved to be a good fit. Despite some struggles in the Spring, they would reach their crest at the French Open. There, Team Lopez stunned Mahut and PHH in the third round en route to a Grand Slam championship at Roland Garros over Mark and Bob Bryan. That would fuel an intense rivalry between those two teams that saw the Spanish duo beat the Americans again in a feisty quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. Team Lopez would would make the semifinals there after not playing at Wimbledon together. They would earn a spot at the Tour Finals as one of the top eight doubles teams in 2016.
Mahut-Herbert Dominate First Half
As for the previously mentioned French pairing of Mahut and Hugues-Herbert, this veteran partnership was a dominant force on the doubles scene through Wimbledon. Mahut-PHH won the first three Masters events of the season and culminated their superb first half with the Wimbledon doubles title. That marked their second Grand Slam win together after winning the 2015 U.S. Open doubles crown. Post-Wimbledon though, this team struggled to the finish line going 11-8. They would make a pair of finals in that final stretch in Antwerp and Paris, but dropped both finals. The French pair were also swept out of the ATP World Tour Finals with an 0-3 mark in group play. Still, the year was a tremendous success for this duo with Mahut becoming the 48th player in ATP history to capture the top spot in the solo doubles rankings in June at the age of 34.
Bryan Brothers Continue Slam Drought
Bob and Mike Bryan suffered through another inconsistent season in 2016. The American twins missed out on a Grand Slam title in 2015, the first year without one since 2004 that they did not take a Slam title. That drought continued in 2016 as the Bryans would win just three titles, their lowest output since turning pro in 2001. All their titles in 2016 came on clay. After another bungling trip down under in Australia, where they lost in round three at the Aussie Open, the Bryans were more consistent at Slams with a French Open final, a quarterfinal at Wimbledon and a quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. They also qualified for the Tour Finals for the 13th time, including consecutive appearances since 2008. If the 38-year-olds are to recapture some of their previous Grand Slam glory, they’ll need to fix their issues in Melbourne. The Bryans have gone out in round three for each of the last three years since winning the title in 2013.
The top four teams that ended the year will be back partnering up again in 2017. Murray-Soares, Mahut-Herbert, The Bryans and Kontinen-Peers are all set as partners again. Other solid teams choosing to remain the same for the new season include Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, Fabrice Martin and Oliver Marach,Treat Huey and Max Mirnyi as well as Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram who made the Tour Finals championship match.
As usual, there is also plenty of change on the doubles scene for the new season. Long-time partners Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo have split with Dodig pairing up with Marcel Granollers for the new year and Melo choosing Lukasz Kubot as his new partner. The popular tandem of Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil is also no more as Sock chooses to concentrate more on singles. Pospisil will continue to play plenty of doubles and will team with Radek Stepanek regularly. Can I get a #PopStep ?
Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea also went their separate ways with Bopanna set to team with Granollers’ former partner, Pablo Cuevas. Mergea will suit up next to hard hitting Dominic Inglot in 2017. ATP stalwart Daniel Nestor enters the new season with Edouard Roger-Vasselin set as his full-time partner. Nestor-ERV formed a formidable duo in 2016 when they teamed up. Nestor made the Australian Open final with Stepanek as his partner, but they quit after a sputtering run on clay. Nestor-ERV would begin teaming up as the North American hard court swing hit in the summer with immediate dividends, a title at the Citi Open. The duo would win again when they next teamed in Antwerp. That marked their third title together over the past two seasons.
Another split of note is Mate Pavic and Michael Venus heading in different directions for 2017. Pavic and Venus won four titles in 2016 along with making four other finals. Pavic will spend the new season with Alexander Peya, while Venus teams up with Robert Lindstedt. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the legend, Leander Paes in the first Doubles Down-Low for the new season. Paes ran through eleven more partners in 2016. Paes will make Andre Sa his 111th career partner to start 2017, but who knows where he goes from that point. Paes did not take home an ATP doubles title last season, ending an 18 year streak of winning at least one doubles title. The ATP World Tour kicks off this week with three tournaments in Brisbane, Doha and Chennai.
The WTA Tour opens in Brisbane and Shenzhen. I’ll have some tidbits from time-to-time on the WTA doubles scene, but will concentrate mainly on the ATP here. The big guns, Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis, will enter 2017 as they ended 2016 – apart. Mirza will open the new season paired with Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the Australian swing. Mirza is expected to re-team with her end of the year partner Barbora Strycova again after that for the most part. That duo won a pair of titles after teaming up late in the year. Mirza also ended the year as the top ranked doubles player fot the second straight season. Hingis finished 2016 partnering with Coco Vandeweghe with limited success. Not much has been said about whom Hingis will pair up with regularly in 2017. More on that as the season kicks off.