Doubles Race Takes Shape in Indian Wells
The next month is set to shape the doubles race on the ATP World Tour with stops in Indian Wells and Miami. Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic are still atop the rankings with almost a 1500 point cushion. Masters 1000 points could quickly change that or see Marach-Pavic run further away. They head to Indian Wells as the third seeds and making their debut together at the BNP Paribas Open. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo slot in at #1 in this week’s draw. They lost last year’s Indian Wells final to Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram, who are no longer partnered up. The second seeds are Henri Kontinen and John Peers. Kontinen-Peers has yet to find much luck in 2018 as they come in ranked 21st. Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares round out the top four seeds. They come in fresh of winning the Acapulco titles and will be looking to improve on their semifinal run in 2017.
Rounding out the seeds in this year’s Indian Wells doubles draw are Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut at #5. The French duo won the titles in 2016, but were outsted in round two last year. The sixth seeds are Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau. They are just 2-4 as a tandem at Indian Wells, but did make the quarters last season. They’ve rocketed to fifth in the rankings and come in with the Dubai titles in their pockets. The Bryans come in at #7 as two-time winners here, but haven’t made it past the quarterfinals since winning their last Indian Wells title in 2014. The 8th seeds are Ivan Dodig and Rajeev Ram, a first time pairing at this event. This will be their fourth tournament together in 2018. They have made the semifinals of their last two.
Recent History Shows Top Seeds Struggle
The Bryan Brothers’ last title run at the BNP Paribas Open marks the last time that the top seed has been as far as the semifinals at this event. The top four seeds have had a habit of finding themselves as early upset victims the last few years. Last year, the Bryans were seeded second and lost their opener. In both 2015 and 2016, two of the top four seeds followed suit with round one defeats. Amazingly, if you track all the way back to 2006, there has only been one year where a top four seed has not fallen in their opener.
Let’s take a quick glance at the top four seeds this year and which ones might be in danger of joining that trend. (1) Kubot-Melo will battle Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer in round one. Don’t dismiss the Spaniards as a random pair up, they’ve played together nine times the last two seasons, going 6-3. One of those losses as a straight sets whipping by Kubot-Melo at last year’s event in Halle on grass. Kubot-Melo have cooled off after a hot start, going 2-2 in their last two tournaments. I would not be surprised if they had to work a super tie break to escape round one and RBA-Ferrer certainly are capable of causing an upset.
The second seeds, Kontinen-Peers, will obviously be the ones many are watching and expecting to flop. Since making the Brisbane final, they are 1-2 with stunning losses at the Australian Open to Radu Albot and Hyeon Chung and then last week in their opener in Dubai to Damir Dzumhir and Filip Krajinovic. They draw Adrian Mannarino and Fabrice Martin in round one. The Frenchmen haven’t played together since 2015, but both have experience. Martin is a regular doubles player at the ATP level. Still, even with Kontinen-Peers struggling a bit, this would be a real shocker. I think the seeds fend off the challenge in this spot.
Marach-Pavic arrive as the third seeds with a little of their luster worn off. They have lost two of three since their 17 match winning streak to start the season ended. Neither was a poor loss, but they will want to find that winning feeling again early. They start against Steve Johnson and Daniel Nestor. Johnson-Nestor played once last year and were overwhelmed by Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus in Cincinnati. Nestor has been switching partners about every week with little success at 3-8 this season. It’s difficult to see Johnson-Nestor winning this match against a team with better chemistry.
That leaves us with the fourth seeds, Murray and Soares. They open against the pairing of Philipp Petzschner and Dominic Thiem. Murray-Soares have been pretty consistent at 10-3 in 2018 with two finals appearances out of the four tournaments played. Petzschner and team have never played together, but once upon a time, Petzschner was one of the top doubles players along with Jurgen Melzer before injuries stonewalled Petzschner. The German is a two-time Grand Slam champ, having won the U.S. Open titles with Melzer in 2011 and Wimbledon in 2010. He won his 7th doubles title in Bastad last season alongside Julian Knowle. Thiem hasn’t had a ton of doubles success the last couple of years, but his matches are often very close. This is the one that sticks in my brain as a possibility, even if it seems a bit far fetched.
If I had to rate them in order of best shot at losing round one: I’d go 2-4-1-3.
Doubles Draw Preview
Quarter #1 Seeds
There are some dangerous floaters in this section that could definitely help continue the top seed curse. If Kubot-Melo survive Bautista Agut and Ferrer in round one, round two could be just as tough. They play the winners of Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Fernando Verdasco vs John Isner and Jack Sock. Isner-Sock are 11-3 in the last two seasons with a title in Shanghai in 2016 and a finals appearance in Beijing last year. I’d rate them the tougher out of the two. In the bottom of this quarter with Dodig-Ram as the seeds, the winner of an opening round barn burner between Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus vs Juan-Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah loom as big threats.
Klaasen-Venus seem to have finally gelled together after winning the titles in Marseille. They did lose in the quarters in Dubai last week, but are 5-1 in their last six matches after a 2-3 start to their partnership. Cabal-Farah are 9-4 and showed they are hard court threats with their run to the Aussie Open final. They don’t have a ton of experience surprisingly at Indian wells despite their lengthy partnership, so Klaasen-Venus might be the team two watch. Dodig-Ram start against Ben McLachlan and Julio Peralta. Two good doubles players, but they’ve never played together before this week. So edge to Dodig-Ram.
I think it’s safe bet that one or both of the two seeds here won’t see the quarterfinals. I think Dodig-Ram might actually be the safer shot to squeeze through this quarter. I won’t be surprised at all to see an unseeded team make a run out of this bracket and into the semifinals. An unseeded duo has made the semifinals each of the last four years. Look to the survivor of that Klaasen-Venus v Cabal-Farah match as a good shot to join that club.
Quarter #2 Seeds
Marach-Pavic should get out of round one against Johnson-Nestor, but round two could have a huge speed bump in their way. Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya look to be the probable team in that spot. Mektic-Peya open with Fabio Fognini and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi. I won’t totally discount an upset there, but chemistry is better with the regular pairing of Mektic-Peya. Mektic-Peya have made two finals this year and beat Marach-Pavic in Acapulco last week. Revenge may be on the minds of the third seeds, but that won’t be an easy match at all.
The bottom half with Rojer-Tecau is interesting. The seeds here come in hot after winning in Dubai, but they haven’t had a ton of success here outside of their 2017 quarterfinal run. They open with a mish mosh pairing of Ryan Harrison and Max Mirnyi. Having lost in the first round two of their last three trips to the desert, watch out for the big serves of Harrison and Mirnyi to potentially add to their wores. The survivor gets either Juan Martin Del Potro and Grigor Dimitrov of the Lopezes, Marc and Feliciano. Team Lopez made the semis in 2016, but lost in round one last year. They lost their opener in two of four tournaments this year and despite the lack of playing together, DelPo and Dimitrov could be tricky.
Marach-Pavic have the motivation and could get back on a roll if they exact some revenge on Mektic-Peya along the way. Rojer-Tecau could be the sneaky pick here if they avoid the upset in round one. That’s the big question mark for them. Mektic-Peya is the unseeded threat for sure in this quarter.
Quarter #3 Seeds
Murray-Soares have the tougher path to the quarterfinals. If they get out of round one against Petzschner-Thiem, they could face Rohan Bopanna and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin. Bopanna-ERV have yet to break out at 6-6 this season, but they’ve made two semifinals this year and rarely been an easy out. Bopanna-ERV will need to skirt past Gilles Muller and Sam Querrey in round one and that may be a tight match. In the Herbert-Mahut half, the French have Dzumhur-Krajinovic to contend with in round one. Look no further than their win over Kontinen-Peers to show that the French need to be on point from ball one.
The winner of that first rounder gets either Pablo Cuevas and Horacio Zeballos or Nicolas Monroe and Santiago Gonazalez. Cuevas-Zeballos are solid veteran duo with experience and while Monroe and Gonzalez are teaming up for the first time, both are solid doubles guys with track records of winning with multiple partners. Either one could provide a tough test in round two for either Herbert-Mahut or Dzumhur-Krajinovic. This part of the draw could blow wide open if a seed falls early.
I think this one could fall to a seed vs seed scenario in the quarterfinals. Both teams do have some pitfalls early though. I think Murray-Soares would be the likelier to not get to the quarters because of Bopanna-ERV. That’s my unseeded team to watch in this quarter with Cuevas-Zeballos also a dark horse team.
Quarter #4 Seeds
Kontinen-Peers have a lot to prove during this Indian Wells-Miami swing. They’re off to a sluggish start and this swing has not been good to them during their previous two seasons together. As such, I don’t think they’ll be involved in the mix for a semifinal slot. They may escape round one against Mannarino-Martin. Round two would see either Diego Schwartzman and Marcus Daniell or Philipp Kohlschreiber and Lucas Pouille. Those are mix and match first time teams, but all with players who are pretty decent at doubles. I mean I have a hard time picking a team here to beat Kontinen-Peers based on talent and teamwork, but they just have not found their groove. I’d say IF they get past the French in round one, then perhaps they can work to the quarters.
It’s an all-brothers showdown in round one with the Bryans taking on the Zverevs, Mischa and Alexander. The Bryans got in a nice groove in Acapulco with a finals run and I think that carries over to start this week. A win would then likely get them a date against Pablo Carreno Busta and David Marrero. The Spaniards open against Kyle Edmund and Franko Skugor. PCB-Marrero do have some history together, but their best results have come on clay. Edmund is 1-10 all-time in ATP doubles matches, so even with a good partner like Skugor, tough to see them winning.
I think this quarter sets up nicely for the Bryans. The intrigue could come if Kontinen-Peers find some rhythm and we get an all-seeded quarterfinal. Kontinen-Peers have owned the Bryans with a 3-0 head-to-head record, including not dropping any sets against the American twins. That would be the big road block for the 7th seeds.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
Your last three men’s doubles champions have been seeded 6th, 7th and 8th. 2012 was the last time an unseeded pair took home the titles with Marc Lopez and Nicolas Mahut doing the honors in an all-unseeded final against John Isner and Sam Querrey. If there is some unseeded magic this week, I think the mix of potential dark horses include Klaasen-Venus, Cabal-Farah and Mektic-Peya. My brain though is stuck on the Bryans this week, who haven’t won a title since last summer in Atlanta. If a top four seed breaks the curse, Marach-Pavic seem to have the best road in my estimation.