Kubot-Melo Stake Claim as ATP’s Best
Winning the Wimbledon men’s doubles titles has cemented Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo as the best doubles team on the ATP World Tour. If we’re honest, they’ve looked the partsince March – it’s just that few were paying attention. Their early loss at the French Open to Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison detracted some from their #1 ranking, but they’ve come back with a vengeance in the last month. Kubot-Melo went 14-0 during the grass court swing and capped it off with a thrilling five set win over Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic 5-7, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 13-11 at Wimbledon in the doubles final. It was the best match of the tournament not involving Rafael Nadal and Gilles Muller and if you’re being honest with yourself, it was better and you know it if you watched it. The names Kubot, Melo, Marach and Pavic may not be household names like Nadal or Federer – but they put on a fantastic display of tennis that highlighted why the doubles game is enjoyable to watch.
But I digress. Back to Kubot and Melo. In spite of making the Indian Wells final and then winning the titles in Miami, they still trailed Henri Kontinen and John Peers for the top spot in the doubles rankings as the calendar flipped to May. They finally edged past the 2017 Australian Open champions in mid-May and have not looked back. As of this week, they now have a a lead of over 2,000 points at the top with Kontinen-Peers now well back in second and Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares some 3,000 points back in the third spot. That is what a 14 match grass court win streak will do for you with titles at the Ricoh Open, Gerry Weber Open and Wimbledon now in their treasure chest that includes five titles together in 2017 for Kubot-Melo.
Can Marach-Pavic Keep Rising Up The Rankings?
One of the other big stories out of Wimbledon was the rise of Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. The 2017 runners-up moved up to #11 in the latest rankings within just 15 points of being on the top ten where Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau cling to that final spot. Marach-Pavic also standing just over 300 points out of 8th, which is currently occupied by Jean-Sebastien Cabal and Robert Farah for the final spot that goes to the ATP World Tour Finals.
This is also a relatively new combo after both started the year with different partners. Marach started out with Frenchman Fabrice Martin. Their best showing was a semifinal run in Acapulco before they pulled the plug. Pavic started the year teamed with Alexander Peya. They had a pair of early semifinal showings, but Peya bolted to team with former partner Philipp Petzschner in March. That left Pavic open to a new partner and he found Marach for the first time in Miami.
Their debut was a loss to Brian Baker and Daniel Nestor in the opening round at the Miami Open. Marach-Pavic would stumble through the clay court season right around .500, including a second round exit at the French Open. Once the calendar flipped to grass however, this duo took off. They made the final at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart and Antalya Open. They would take advantage of a slew of upsets in their draw at Wimbledon that allowed them to not meet a seeded team until the final against Kubot-Melo.
There, they reminded everyone that they were not a team that was simply the best of what was left of a weakened draw. They were legitimate title contenders. They saved big match points and at 8-8 in the final set, had multiple chances to secure a break that might have made them first-time Grand Slam champions. It was not to be, but both showed guts, grit and really solid doubles play overall. If they continue to team up regularly for the remainder of the season, this is a team that looks like it can win on hard courts.
Pavic formed a very good team with Michael Venus from 2015-2016 that won multiple titles on hard courts. Marach had success with hard hitting Fabrice Martin last year, taking titles in Chennai and Delray Beach. Clay has been his best surface, but paired with the heavy hitting of Pavic – it looks like this team has chemistry and the ability to win on the surfaces remaining on the 2017 schedule.
Contenders List is Short
Behind the #1 team of Kubot-Melo right now, there only seem to be a few teams capable of injecting themselves into the conversation. Kontinen-Peers rode the #1 spot for four months but have not won a title since their Australian Open conquest. Heck, they haven’t been to another final since that match. Their semifinal loss to Kubot-Melo was probably their best showing since January. They lost 9-7 in the fifth set. The good news for Kontinen-Peers is they don’t have much to defend this summer, so they could pick up some steam heading towards the U.S. Open where they fell in round two last season.
Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares looked prime for a big jump heading to Wimbledon after winning the titles in Stuttgart and Queen’s Club. The duo crashed out early at the All-England Club however with Sam Groth and Robert Lindstedt ousting them in round two in five sets. They seem the team most likely to nip at Kubot and Melo’s heels this summer. Murray-Soares won the Rogers Cup titles last year and then won their second Slam of the season in 2016 when they took home the U.S. Open titles.
The Bryan Brothers still hold down the #4 spot in the rankings, but it’s been a mixed bag for the American twins this season. After a great run in Melbourne to the final, the brothers were consistent, but not with any great results. They flopped in the second round at the French Open to that pesky team of Groth-Lindstedt. The Bryans would finally win their first title of the season at Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon, lending some hope that they could do some damage.
That never materialized as they were beaten rather routinely in straight sets in round two by Max Mirnyi and Marcin Matkowski. If they fail to win at the U.S. Open, it will be the third straight year that the Bryans have gone without winning a Grand Slam title. That may not seem bad all things considered, but remember this was a dominant team that won at least one Grand Slam each year from 2005-2014.
Venus-Harrison Form Dangerous Duo
The team to watch over the final months of the season as long as they continue to pair up might be Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison. I’ve dubbed them #TeamVenison which apparently has not caught on just yet, but there’s time! Venus-Harrison were not a regular tandem to start the season. Venus was pairing with Lindstedt to start the season, but a nightmarish 2-7 record through the first two months prompted a breakup. Naturally, Venus turned to Harrison as his next attempt at a regular partnership. The two had become good friends long ago and Ryan’s father still coaches Venus.
Their first time together came in Budapest on clay and resulted in a straight sets loss to Treat Huey and Max Mirnyi. The very next week though, they started to click as Venus-Harrison won the Estoril Open doubles titles. They would be first-up fodder again in Geneva later in May after a few weeks of not playing together. Then came their magical run at the French Open where they beat higher profile teams like Kubot-Melo in round two and Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers in the quarterfinals. They would finish off a miracle run to the titlee by beating another unseeded duo in Donald Young and Santiago Gonzalez 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-3 for the titles at Roland Garros.
As the season switched to grass, the duo went just 1-2 in the build-up to Wimbledon. It appeared that maybe the magic was just a one-off thing at the French Open, but Venus-Harrison backed that up with a quarterfinal finish at Wimbledon. They again beat Dodig-Granollers and then lost a tough five set match to top seeds Kontinen-Peers in the quarterfinals. This team that was not even a gleam in anyone’s minds to start the season now sit at the #5 spot in the rankings with nothing but points to gain from here on out. The interesting thing will be to see how they balance Harrison’s singles play with doubles this summer. They’ll obviously be teamed up at the U.S. Open health-permitting where they could further enhance their new reputations as Grand Slam specialists.
The two-time Grand Slam champions have fallen on hard times a bit since winning Wimbledon last year. They have won just one title in the past 12 months and that was on clay in Rome this Spring. They have plummeted from the number one spot to #9 during that span. Since making the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, they have found it a rough-go at Slams with a first round loss to Nick Kyrgios and Jordan Thompson at the French Open and then a second round loss at Wimbledon to Jay Clarke and Marcus Willis.
Last season’s run to #1 set expectations higher this season and quite frankly, they have failed to live up the hype. Last year, Herbert-Mahut won five titles with three at the Masters level + Wimbledon. This year? They have one title and just two other finals appearances. At this stage last season, they had already collected their fifth title (Wimbledon) and then made two more finals in Antwerp and Paris to close out the season. Perhaps the bar has just been set too high and they’re a team that had a great 2016 for the most part, but is settling in as just another good, but not great team in 2017.
The plus for Herbert-Mahut could be what’s next. The U.S. Open has arguably been their best Grand Slam with their first Slam title coming there in 2015 and a semifinal follow-up last season. They sit just barely out of 8th place in the latest rankings, but will need a big run in New York to match those points from last year. Anything they can do before the U.S. Open would be a big boost as that spot in the calendar has not yielded much for them and can only help.
There’s nothing to suggest a change would be in the air for this team even if they finish the year on a flat trajectory. They’ve always talked openly about how they enjoy their time off and on the court together with a good friendship guiding them. Mahut has said in the past that he sees them as a team that will stay together through the losses because of that, whereas some teams would look for a change after a tough stretch of results.
Mattek-Sands Injury Clouds WTA Race
Before I jet, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the horrible injury to Bethanie Mattek-Sands and its impace on women’s doubles. Mattek-Sands dislocated a knee cap and ruptured her patella tendon in the same knee. She’s undergone surgery and is obviously going to be face many months of rehab to get back on the court. At the time of the injury, she was the #1 ranked doubles player with her partner Lucie Safarova sitting at #2. As a team, they ranked third. Martina Hingis and Yung-Jan Chan are sitting at the top spot with Wimbledon champs Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina now at #2.
Hingis and Chan have emerged as the steadiest duo, hence their top spot in the rankings. Yet, they have been unable to win a Grand Slam together with a semifinals loss at the French Open and quarterfinals loss at Wimbledon. They do own five titles on the season, but it was Mattek-Sands and Safarova who had been the stars at Slams. Team “Bucie” had won both the Australian Open and French Open doubles titles earlier in the year. They had hoped to complete the Calenday Year Grand Slam at Wimbledon after starting their roll with the titles at last year’s U.S. Open. They had won just one other title in Charleston out of the seven tournaments they had played in 2017.
Barty-Dellacqua Develop Into Top Tier Team
A team that is poised just on the outside looking in is the all-Aussie duo of Ashleigh Barty and Cesaey Dellacqua. They’ve been as consistent as any team with a 27-7 mark on the season. Their streak of finals appearances as stopped at Wimbledon at four with the Aussies having made the finals at Strasbourg, Roland Garros, Birmingham and Eastbourne prior to Wimbledon. They won two of the four finals in that stretch. Their biggest problem has been beating the glamour teams above them.
They lost to Makarova-Vesnina in the quarters at Wimbledon, Hingis-Chan in the Eastbourne final and in Miami, Team Bucie in the French Open final and lost to Caroline Garcia and Krinstina Mladenovic in the Australian Open quarterfinals. They seem one breakthrough win away from being a legitimate threat to the top spot. For now, they sit in fourth but are nearly 1,500 points behind Mattek-Sands and Safarova and nearly 2,000 behind Hingis-Chan. They figure to have a shot to move up with Team Bucie out of commission.
Finally, let’s talk truth about former world #1 Sania Mirza. She’s down to #7 in the rankings and seems to be endlessly looking for new partners now with her partnership with Barbora Strycova the first to bite the dust earlier this year. The Mirza-Strycova union last year after the Mirza-Hingis split looked to be a solid one. They went 15-3 and won three titles in their first five tournaments together, although just like Hingis, she could not bring home the Grand Slam crowns she had grown accustomed to winning. Still, 2017 looked like it would be a good for one this team. It was not with the pair calling it quits in April after going 15-7 this season and having not won a single title. It was a mutual agreement with Strycova tiring of having to play both singles and doubles, wanting to concentrate more on her budding singles career.
Mirza meanwhile is a doubles specialist through and through and wants to win more Slams. She’s won three with all of those coming during the magical 2015 season with Hingis. Following the split with Strycova, she paired with Yaroslava Shvedova for the clay court season and again saw mediocre results with a 3-4 recording, including a first round loss at the French Open. Due to injury, she was forced to find a partner late for Wimbledon and chose Kirsten Flipkens. They would advance to round three, where they were knocked out by Chan and Hingis.
The injury to Shvedova will have her sidelined possibly for the remainder of the season and likely at least for the U.S. Open. There is no word on whether Mirza will continue to pair with Flipkens in the future or if she could be in line for yet another new partner. The only certainty right now for Mirza would seem to be that she’s highly likely to miss making the WTA Finals for the first time since 2013.
Sorry it had been a while since you got the down-low on doubles. You need it, right? I need to provide it. Expect a bigger focus on doubles as the North American hard court swing hits. Keep following @tennispig for more!