The Doubles DL: Loaded Field in Cincinnati

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Herbert-Mahut Make Big Move

It’s been a rather mediocre season for the French duo of Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. Still, two big wins now have them in the thick of the race for a spot in the ATP World Tour Finals. Herbert-Mahut topped Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 to take the Rogers Cup doubles titles. It was just their second title this year, but the other also came in a Masters-level event in Rome this Spring. The win in Montreal catapulted the Frenchies five spots in the rankings and put them into fourth place. They now stand just a few hundred points behind the Bryans for third, but also just 15 points ahead of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares who dropped down to the 5th spot.

PHHMahut

Slotting in behind Murray-Soares in 6th are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram who moved up a spot from last week. Klaasen-Ram had a semifinal run in Montreal to give them the slim five point lead over Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison who stand in 7th. The French Open champs continue to struggle for wins in non-Slams, although they did end a four match losing skid on Monday in Cincinnati. Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers dropped down to the final spot in the race for London at #8. They will drop out of the race with Dodig partnering regularly with Rohan Bopanna at least through the U.S. Open. Bopanna-Dodig are ranked 22nd with just three tournaments played, but one big title could push them into the London conversation.

The top three spots were unchanged with Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot remaning as the #1 team despite losing their opener in Montreal. They hold a 1,710 point lead over Henri Kontinen and John Peers. The Bryans remained in third, still well behind the #2 spot by 1,295 points. Unlike singles where many of the top players are missing in Cincinnati this week, the top seven men’s doubles teams are all in action at the Western & Southern Open this week with more positional jockeying likely ahead of the U.S. Open.

Cincinnati Features Battle For Overall #1 Ranking

Outside of the team races, there is also an interesting race for the #1 overall doubles player shaping up on the ATP tour. Marcelo Melo assumed the top spot in early July after winning the Wimbledon titles with Kubot. He took that spot from Henri Kontinen who had moved up to #1 overall with little fanfare in April despite Kontinen-Peers struggling at the time for positive results. Now in Cincinnati, it’s possible that Kontinen could recapture the #1 spot from Melo. Kontinen-Peers will again be the top seeds this week. After winning the Citi Open the week before, they were disappointing quarterfinal losers to Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. Marach-Pavic look poised to get into the mix for London if they can secure a few wins this week.

Kubot-Melo will be seeded second and are in a rare spot where they have lost two straight matches after a 17 match win streak that started with the grass court swing. They were upset in their opener last week in Montreal by Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin with the top ranked team looking flat. Murray-Soares are seeded third in Cincy with the Bryans rounding out the top four seeds.

Western & Southern Preview

Play has already begun in Cincinnati with several doubles matches going down on Monday. So here is a look at the draw in progress with some quick thoughts on what could shake down in Cincinnati where there will be a different champion for the third straight year with the now defunct team of Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo winning here last year.

Kontinen-Peers Quarter (1)
It’s a tricky quarter for the top seeds with Marach-Pavic seeded 8th and placed in the other half of the quarter. Kontinen-Peers will open against Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer, who beat Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a super tiebreak on Monday. Marach-Pavic have a tougher get with Harrison and Venus as their first foes. Harrison and Venus beat Steve Johnson and Daniel Nestor in round one action 6-2, 6-3. Marach-Pavic were back together in Montreal for the first time since losing the Wimbledon final. Their chemistry was still there with an upset win over Kontinen-Peers before losing to the eventual champions, Herbert-Mahut.

Kontinen-Peers might be keen to get a shot at redemption against Marach-Pavic this week, but the quick conditions in Cincinnati will give the big game of Pavic a chance to shine again. Venus-Harrison could factor in as well after finally shaking off that losing streak, which makes this quarter really wide open.

Bryans Quarter (4)
Bob and Mike won’t be too happy to see Herbert-Mahut stuck in this quarter. The French duo beat them last week in Montreal and have now won all four career meetings between the two teams. The Bryans will face either Alexander Zverev and Leander Paes of the Spaniards, Marc and Feliciano Lopez. Team Lopez has been down this year, but contended two of the testiest Grand Slam matches of 2016 against the Bryans. They won both at Roland Garros and the French Open in three sets. They are just 8-14 together this season and have lost five straight. It will be an all-French opener on the other side with Herbert-Mahut battling Martin-ERV. Martin and Roger-Vasselin took down John Isner and Donald Young 10-6 in a super breaker to open on Monday.

This is another difficult quarter to predict with tough teams around every turn. You’d like to thnk Herbert-Mahut might be about to reel off a big win streak after last week, but their opener is tough. If they make it through that, then you like their chances although the Bryans have rarely been stopped short of the semifinals in Cincinatti.

Murray-Soares Quarter (3)
This might be the toughest quarter overall in a loaded field. Murray-Soares have been a bit up and down in the last month or so after winning two titles on grass early in June. Last week in Montreal, they dropped their opener to Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire. This week, they face Spaniards Fernando Verdasco and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both are excellent doubles players, so this will not be easy. Verdasco-PCB won their opener in Cincy against Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov. On the other side, 6th seeds Klaasen-Ram have a tough task as well with Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau as their first opponents. Rojer-Tecau defeated Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov in straight sets on Monday. These two teams played once before back in 2015 when Klaasen-Ram prevailed 11-9 in a super tiebreak. Rojer-Tecau are a tough out, but have had problems beating top tier teams this season.

If this comes down to the two seeded teams, it could be one of the better matches of the tournament. Murray-Soares and Klaasen-Ram met four times last year with both teams winning twice. Three of the four matches went the distance. Give Klaasen-Ram a slight edge.

Kubot-Melo Quarter (2)
It’s been rare for Kubot-Melo to struggle for wins and a two match losing skid isn’t quite cause for alarm just yet. They do get a good early draw this week. They will face either Diego Schwartzman and Mischa Zverev or Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. Mektic-Qureshi would certainly be the more problematic team if they win, but certainly a very winnable match still for the top ranked duo. On the other side of the quarter, 7th seeds Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig should be afforded a chance to meet Kubot-Melo in the quarters. The 7th seeds take on either Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow or Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Fabio Fognini. The chemistry of Bopanna-Dodig should be enough to see them past either team.

This is one semifinal spot that definitely should fall to a seeded team. Bopanna-Dodig are dangerous and in rhythm after making the Rogers Cup final. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the title mix again this week in Cincy.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

Last week, I said it felt like we wouldn’t get another #1 vs #2 situation like we saw in the Citi Open final and this week again has that sort of feel to it. It’s a loaded field with a small draw, so that means tough matches almost every round for the seeds. For me, that also means more chances for upsets. If one of the top two teams is going to get to the final, I’d give a slight advantage to Kubot-Melo who have a slighty better draw over Kontinen-Peers. For me, Bopanna-Dodig and Marach-Pavic are the teams to watch this week as possible “outside” title contenders.

WTA: Makarova-Vesnina Take Over Top Spot

Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have firmly established themselves as contenders to the throne as the WTA’s best team. The Russians won the Rogers Cup titles in Toronto last week and in doing so, moved past Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan for the top spot in the rankings. They now hold a 450 point lead of Hingis-Chan who lost in their second match last week in Canada. The newly minted number ones are the top seeds in Cincinnati this week. The Russians have won ten straight matches.

MAKVES

Hingis-Chan will be seeded second this week for the Western & Southern Open. Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycove serve as the third seeds. They made the semifinals in Toronto last week. Sania Mirze and Shuai Peng are slated in as the fourth seeds. Mirza’s disasterous recent run continued in Canada last week, where Peng was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. The pair had won their opener at the Rogers Cup. Of late, Mirza’s partners have had trouble staying health with Yaroslava Shvedova, Coco Vandeweghe and Kirsten Flipkens all coming up injured while partnership with the former world #1.

Still waiting for that Hingis and Mirza reunion. Am I the only one who sees the sense it makes?

The Doubles DL: Rogers Cup Previews

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Top Teams Edging Further Ahead

As the summer hard court swings to back-to-back Masters events, the doubles draw will again feature all the teams in the running for the ATP World Tour Finals. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo remain well ahead in the top spot in the rankings as the only team qualified for London. Last week however, they saw a 17 match win streak ended in the Citi Open final at the hands of the second ranked team, Henri Kontinen and John Peers. Kontinen-Peers had been fairly mediocre since winning the Australian Open, but they have now turned it back up a notch with the season in its final few months. Kontinen-Peers now also have two wins over Kubot-Melo this year with the third meeting between the two at Wimbledon seeing Kubot-Melo taking it in a tense five set thriller. For Kubot-Melo, they have been the most consistent team still with five titles and two other finals appearances in 2017.

The top two duos on the ATP Tour look to have separated themselves quite a bit in the rankings race. Kubot-Melo come to Montreal with a large lead still at around 1,900 points over Kontinen-Peers. Kontinen-Peers put some space between themselves and the third ranked Bryans. Kontinen-Peers lead the Bryans by about 1,300 points. Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares round out the top four in the rankings. They come to the Rogers Cup just 75 points behind the Bryans for third. Last week showcased these top four teams who were all in the semifinals. Clearly at this point, these four teams have established themselves with good consistency in the last four to six weeks.

Other Seeds Provide Depth to Draw

This week marks the return of French duo Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Herbert-Mahut have not played together in doubles since a second round exit at Wimbledon. This week’s fifth seeds have not been able to capture the magic of 2015 and 2016 this season. They are just 16-8 after winning 73 combined matches the previous two seasons. They have just one title this season, winning in Rome – which was also their only finals appearance in 2017. Behind them in the sixth slot are Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram. Klaasen-Ram scored both their titles early in the year on hard courts in Delray Beach and Indian Wells. As a team, they are just 1-2 all-time at this event.

Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig reunited as the 7th seeds. They have teamed up just one other time this year at Queen’s Club, where they made the semifinals. Both played with different partners last week in DC with both losing in the quarterfinals. The 8th seeds are Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic who are back together for the first time since losing that epic five set battle in the Wimbledon final to Kubot-Melo. They went 11-3 on grass as they seemed to find a groove after going just 7-7 since they first teamed up for the Miami Open. It will be interesting to see if they can rekindle the chemistry that propelled them from non-factors to the #11 spot in the rankings. They are just over 300 points back of the 8th spot, so they could move up rapidly again if they catch fire.

ATP Rogers Cup Draw Preview

The top half features top seeds Kontinen-Peers, Herbert-Mahut, the Bryans and Marach-Pavic. Kontinen-Peers didn’t get the best of draw as they could see Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in their opener. Rojer-Tecau battle Santiago Gonzalez and Donald Young in round one. Gonzalez-Young will be tough in their own right. The surprise French Open finalists have been a tough out everywhere they have played. Rojer-Tecau do own a win over Kontinen-Peers from early in the season in Dubai. Either team has upset potential even with Kontinen-Peers in good form. Marach-Pavic are the other seeds in their top quarter who could block them from the semifinals. Do watch out for the team of Nikola Mektic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. They are a first time pairing, but both are skilled doubles players. They open against Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Pablo Carreno Busta. Cabal’s regular partner Robert Farah is still recovering from an injury suffered from Wimbledon, forcing his fellow Colombian to seek new partners.

In the other quarter in this half, Herbert-Mahut and the Bryans are the seeds. Herbert-Mahut will see either Marc and Feliciano Lopez in round two or Lucas Pouille and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Herbert-Mahut are 1-3 against Team Lopez over the last season and a half. The Bryans had a six match winning streak halted by Kubot-Melo in the Citi Open semifinals. They have had trouble beating the elite teams on tour this season. They will face either Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison or Grigor Dimitrov and Juan Martin Del Potro. Venus-Harrison have had trouble outside of Slams where they are a combined 9-1 with the French Open title and Wimbledon quarterfinals appearance. Outside of those two tourneys, they are just 5-6. They have lost both matches they have played on this hard court swing. Perhaps they can change that luck this week against Dimitrov and Del Potro.

This is a difficult half to call. Kontinen-Peers have a tough road to get to the final. The pluses are that the Bryans have lost to them twice and Herbert-Mahut have not found much consistency this season. Marach-Pavic are the X-factor for me. If their chemistry is still there, they could make a push this week. Of the unseeded duos to monitor, I think the winner of the Rojer-Tecau/Gonzalez-Young match could stun Kontinen-Peers and use that as a catalyst to a big run.

Bottom Half Sets up for Kubot-Melo to Get Back On Track

Kubot-Melo are seeded second in the bottom half with Murray-Soares, Bopanna-Dodig and Klaasen-Ram as the other seeds in this half. Kubot-Melo will get either all-Canadian pair Frank Dancevic and Amil Shamasdin or all-French duo Fabrice Martin and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin to start. The all-French pair would be a tougher match-up, I think. Klaasen-Ram will likely face Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in round two. The Canadians face Roberto Bautista Agut and David Ferrer in the opening round. The Spaniards will be pesky, but Nestor-Pop really should win in the end. Klaasen-Ram might be the team to cause the most issues for Kubot-Melo. They beat Kubot-Melo in the Indian Wells final, but Kubot-Melo beat them at the Ricoh Open on grass in June.

In the other half, Murray-Soares may have to deal with Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson in their opener. Johnson-Querrey battle Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a very winnable match for the Americans. Focus might be the thing that keeps the Americans from pulling off the upset. Johnson is already out of the singles draw and Querrey is likely to be a little big heavy legged from travel after last week’s Los Cabos victory. Bopanna-Dodig will open against the one-off team of Karen Khachanov and Dominic Thiem who upset Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock in a super breaker on Monday in round one. Those one-off teams do pull their fair share of round one stunners, but often flame out after that. Bopanna-Dodig should have an edge there as both Khachanov and Thiem focus more on singles.

This one smells like a highly competitive half that likely comes down to one of the seeds getting through: Kubot-Melo, Murray-Soares or Klaasen-Ram. Murray-Soares made the final last year in Toronto, but lost to Kubot-Melo twice early in the year on hard courts in Miami and Indian Wells. Both came in super breakers, so the difference between the two is small.

2007 was the last time a team outside the top four seeds took home the Rogers Cup doubles titles. This week doesn’t look like that streak might end, although perhaps one of the lower seeds could slip into the mix like Klaasen-Ram or Marach-Pavic. I don’t think we’re going to get 1 versus 2 again this week with Kontinen-Peers for me the more likely not to get to the final.

Toronto Could Tilt WTA Doubles Race

It will be an interesting week in Toronto for the Rogers Cup doubles draw on the WTA side. The Citi Open didn’t have many glamour names taking part last week as second seeds Shuko Aoyoma and Renata Voracova beat unseeded duo Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens in the championship match. The top seeds, Sania Mirza and Monica Niculescu, were ousted in the semis by Bouchard and Stephens. It continued a long slump for Mirza without a finals appearance. This week, she’ll partner up with Shuai Peng who has been announced as Mirza’s partner during the hard court swing to the U.S. Open. They are seeded fourth this week.

Wimbledon champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina return for the first time since their triumph in London. They serve as the top seeds this week and sit just 260 points behind Martina Hingis and Yung Jan Chan to the top spot in the rankings. Makarova-Vesnina are the defending champions. Hingis-Chang will be seeded second in Toronto. They have combined to secure five titles this season, but have fallen short in both Grand Slams they have participated in together in 2017.

RCDUBS

The third seeds are an interesting combo with Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova teaming up. Remember they won the bronze medal in Rio last year, so they do have some chemistry. Strycova was Mirza’s regular partner when the year started, but they split as Strycova wanted to focus more on her singles career. Safarova of course is without her regular partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands who continues her long rehab from that knee injury suffered at Wimbledon.

The other team to watch out for in the bottom half with Hingis-Chan and Safarova-Strycova is the all-Aussie combo of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. They rank fourth in the year-end race right now and have been a consistent threat. They made the French Open final and the quarters in Wimbledon. They have three titles together this season. Much like the Bryans on the men’s side though, they have struggled to beat the top teams when presented with the chance.

This would be a great week to get the #1 vs #2 seeds and the #1 vs #2 teams in the final. Hingis-Chan beat the Russians on clay earlier this season, so let’s see who is better on hard courts heading towards the U.S. Open.

The Doubles-DL: Post Wimbledon Landscape

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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.

KUBOT-MELO

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.

Tennis: French Open

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.

Wither Herbert-Mahut

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.

TENNIS-FRA-OPEN-WOMEN-DOUBLES

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.

Mirza Mediocrity

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!

The Doubles DL: BMS New #1 + Sydney Previews

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Your dose of nothing but doubles.

ATP Game, Set, Match: Brisbane, Doha & Chennai

Tournament Winners
Brisbane: Jordan Thompson-Thanasi Kokkinakis
Doha: Jeremy Chardy-Fabrice Martin
Chennai: Rohan Bopanna-Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan

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The opening week of the 2017 season brought forth some unexpected champions. In Brisbane, top seeds Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert were knocked out in the semifinals by eventual champions Jordan Thompson and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The hard hitting Aussie duo would beat Gilles Muller and Sam Querrey in the final 7-6 (7), 6-4. Muller-Querrey took advantage of the bottom half of the draw when second seeds Henri Kontinen and John Peers were booted in round one by Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem. It was a rough week for seeds in Brisbane with only fourth seeds Daniel Nestor and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin making it past the quarterfinals. They were thumped in the semis by Thompson and Kokkinakis. The win gave both of the Aussies their first ATP-level title. It doesn’t appear that their teaming up together will be a regular thing with Thompson playing doubles in Sydney this week with Matt Reid, while Kokkinakis skips doubles to focus on singles. In the usual ATP twist, Thompson and Kokkinakis drew each other in the first round in Sydney in singles.

In Doha, world #1 pairing Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares did not factor into the title mix at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. Murray-Soares were beaten by eventual champions Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin in the semifinals 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6). Chardy and Martin beat three of the top four seed en route to the title as they knocked off 4th seeds Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea in the quarterfinals, Murray-Soares in the semis and then third seeds Vasek Pospisil and Radek Stepanek 6-4, 7-6 (3) in the final. The title was Martin’s third and Chardy’s fourth in doubles. Chardy and Martin are another non-regular pairing with Martin to resume his regular partnership with Olivier Marach this week in Sydney. Second seeds Alexander Peya and Mate Pavic were erased in the opening round in Doha by Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco as their new partnership got off to a rough start.

Finally in Chennai, it was another one-off pairing that captured the doubles titles. Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan took the crown in Chennai’s first-ever all-Indian doubles final. They beat Purav Raja and Divij Sharan 6-3, 6-4. Raja-Sharan had upset third seeds Leander Paes and Andre Sa earlier in the tournament and whipped second seeds Guillermo Duran and Andres Molteni in the semifinals. Bopanna-Nedunchezhiyan took advantage in the top half of the draw after top seeds Jonathan Erlich and Scott Lipsky flopped in the first round. They would beat fourth seeds Nicholas Monroe and Artem Sitak via retirement in the semifinals. That was the only seeded team they had to face. The title was Bopanna’s first since 2015 after failing to win a title in 2016. That broke a string of six straight years where he had won at least one doubles title. The title was Nedunchezhiyan’s first at the ATP level.

WTA: Bethanie Mattek-Sands (BMS) New #1

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The big news on the WTA Tour in the opening week was that Sania Mirza was usurped as the top doubles player in the world by her partner in Brisbane. The perils of success as Mirza and Bethanie Mattek-Sands rushed to the title by crushing second seeds Elena Vesnina and Ekaternia Makarova 6-2, 6-3 in the championship match. That win pushed Mattek-Sands into the number one spot that Mirza had occupied for 91 straight weeks. BMS said that she didn’t really know she had passed Mirza until they announced it after the win, saying, “It took me by surprise. I mean, I’m the kind of person to lose track of score during matches! And so I think it just kind of hit me when I actually kind of got announced as being No.1.”

Mirza may not have to wait long to recapture the top spot with BMS only ahead by 130 points. Mirza will be back with her regular partner Barbora Strycova this week in Sydney, although she is defending champions’ points after winning the title alongside Martina Hingis last year. Hingis is partnered with Coco Vandeweghe this week in Sydney. They won their opener on Monday.

WTA Tournament Winners

Brisbane: Sania Mirza/Bethanie Mattek-Sands
*Mirza wins his 41st career doubles title. BMS takes her 23rd.

Auckland: Johanna Larsson-Kiki Bertens
*Team has won the title at the last three events they have played dating back to last season. Overall, it’s Larsson’s 9th doubles title and Bertens’ 6th.

Shenzhen: Andrea Hlavackova-Shuai Peng
*This was Hlavackova’s 20th career doubles title and Peng’s 21st.

Sydney Double Barreled Preview

Both the ATP and WTA stop in Sydney this week and it’s definitely the premiere doubles stop for both tours for the week. Plenty of the top teams on both tours are involved this week as we take a quick look at each draw.

ATP Apia International Sydney

Top Seeds
1. Murray-Soares
2. M.Lopez-Granollers
3. Melo-Kubot
4. Rojer-Tecau

Breakdown
Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers are already out of the tournament. In the lone doubles opener on Monday, they lost in straight sets to an intriguing pairing. Pablo Carreno Busta and Fabio Fognini took them down 6-3, 7-6. They are in the bottom half of the draw where the only seeds are Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau who lost their first match of 2017 last week. Olivier Marach and Fabrice Martin look the potential favorites in this half. The duo won two titles in 2016 and generally were pretty solid week-to-week. Alexander Peya and Mate Pavic are also in this half and could face PCB-Fognini in the quarterfinals. Don’t discount PCB and Fogs from being in the mix this week as the draw is pretty wide open in this half.

Up top, it’s the defending champions Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares. They’ve got the tougher half with seeds Melo-Kubot along with a new team for 2017, Rohan Bopanna and Pablo Cuevas. Bopanna got off on the good foot with that Chennai title and they could face Murray-Soares in the quarters. Melo-Kubot are seeking their first win as a team in 2017 and they have a veteran duo to contest with in the first round, with regular partners Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Robert Farah awaiting them. Fortunately, the Colombians are more of a threat on clay, so Kubot-Melo should have the edge. Viktor Troicki and fellow-Serb Nenad Zimonjic are in the quarterfinals awaiting that winner after they beat Martin Klizan and Mariusz Fyrstenberg on Monday.

This tournament has been a good catapult for the champions heading into the Australian Open. Last year, Murray-Soares parlayed their win in Sydney into a Grand Slam title in Melbourne. 2014 Sydney champions Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic used the title to make a deep run to the semifinals in Melbourne. The Bryan Brothers won the Sydney titles in 2012 and 2013, making it to the final at the Australian Open both years with a title win coming in 2013. So this week could be very important to the champions.

Murray-Soares will be rightful favorites, but the top seeds have not won the doubles title in Sydney since 2013. That was also the last time there were back-to-back champions with the Bryans doing the deed. I do feel like Murray-Soares played well last week in Brisbane, they just ran into a red hot team. Although they have some bumps in the road in this draw, I think they will get it done and get back on track with a title. Do watch out for Marach-Martin and PCB-Fognini though.

WTA Apia International Sydney

Top Seeds
1. Mirza-Strycova
2. Hingis-Vandeweghe
3. The Chans
4. King-Shvedova

Breakdown
Just like the men, a seeded duo is already down in the draw. The Chan sisters were miserable again this week as they lost their opener in straight sets to Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. That opens up the bottom of the draw a bit for Martina Hingis and Coco Vandweghe. They won their first match with ease and look the class of this half. There are some quality teams with the Double Darias, Kasatkina and Gavrilova and Klepac and Martinez Sanchez shouldn’t be overlooked. Still, this is one where #CocoTina should find a way to the final where they might see the top seeds.

Might, because Sania Mirza and Barbora Strycova have been handed an awfully difficult opener. They go against last week’s Shenzhen champs, Hlavackova-Peng. If they are able to get through, they should find an easier road after that with Madison Brengle and Arina Rodionova awaiting the winners in the quarterfinals. They slipped through their opener with a 10-8 super break win over Oksana Kalishnikova and Barbora Krejcikova. The semis would then put them in potential hot water again with either the 4th seeds Vania King and Yaroslav Shvedova or Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke. It will be a well-earned trip to the finals if the top seeds make it through.

This mirrors the men’s tournament in Doha last week, where you could see it in the draw and feel it with everyone wanting to see #1 and #2, Andy Murray vs Novak Djokovic. This week on the doubles scene, who doesn’t want to see Mirza-Strycova vs Hingis-Vandeweghe? It’s not a given with the tough early match for Mirza-Strycova who will be playing in their first match together since last season. Any rustiness could hand Hlavackova-Peng a route to competiting for another title this week. Hingis-Vandeweghe have it a bit easier, but need to prove they can win consistently.

The last two seasons have proven fruitful for the Sydney winners in Melbourne as well. Mirza-Hingis pulled the double last year and 2015 saw Mirza and Mattek-Sands win in Sydney and then BMS’ amazing upset run with Lucie Safarova to the Australian Open women’s doubles titles. So the winners here could fuel themselves for a run in Melbourne. If Mirza-Strycova get past their first test, I’d side with them to win here. Mirza has shown the ability to team with just about anyone and win.

The Doubles DL: I Spy #PopStep

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Who gives you more doubles than @tennispig? Probably somebody somewhere, but I’m right’chere with the Daily Doubles Down-Low.

Doha: Take Early Notice of #PopStep

Of the new doubles teams in 2017, one has already caught the eye after a few days in Doha. Vasek Pospisil and Radek Stepanek have roared through two rounds of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. #PopStep (patent pending @tennispig) eased past Paolo Lorenzi and Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-4 in their opener and took down Robin Haase and Philipp Petzschner 6-3, 6-3 on Wednesday. The wins put this week’s third seeds into the semifinals with second seeds Mate Pavic and Alexander Peya already done in their half of the draw. They could be on a collision course with top seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares who survived a tense second rounder against David Marrero and Nenad Zimonjic 10-4 in the super breaker.

It’s certainly a good start for #PopStep as Pospisil moves on from his partnership with Jack Sock and Stepanek looks for the right fit after floating between Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in 2016. Neither of those partnerships clicked with enough success for them to continue. It’s possible that a good run to start 2017 could see them mirror their potential finals opponents who bust onto the doubles scene in 2016 when Murray and Soares were surprise winners of the Australian Open. That came on the heels of Murray-Soares making the semis in Doha and then winning their first title together a week later in Sydney.

Brisbane: Kontinen-Peers Open With Loss

Last year’s ATP Tour Finals champions opened their 2017 campaign on the wrong foot in Brisbane. Henri Kontinen and John Peers were taken out in their opener against the mish mosh pairing of Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem, 12-10 in the super breaker. They didn’t particularly play poorly as they were broken just once, but they had few answers after the opening set for the Nishikori and Thiem serves. Matters were made worse with Nishikori and Thiem losing their next match to Gilles Muller and Sam Querrey. Brisbane also saw the team they beat in the Tour Finals bounced early. Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram were beaten routinely 6-2, 6-3 in round two by Aussies Sam Groth and Chris Guccione.

Top seeds Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert play later today for a spot in the semifinals as they take on Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jordan Thompson. The winner will battle Daniel Nestor and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin in the semis. Nestor-ERV survived Steve Johnson and Diego Schwartzman in a roller coaster second rounder, after beating Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in round one.

Chennai: Duran-Molenti Strong Front Runners

With top seeds Jonathan Erlich and Scott Lipsky upset in round one, second seeds Guillermo Duran and Andres Molteni are looking to take advantage at the Aircel Chennai Open. Duran-Molteni have not dropped a set in taking out two solid duos in Wesley Koolhoff-Matwe Middelkoop and Johan Brunstrom and Andreas Siljestrom. Home standing Indian pair Purav Raja and Divij Sharan took down third seeds Andre Sa and Leander Paes in straight sets on Wednesday. Raja-Sharan still have to meet Jurgen Melzer and Renzo Olivo in round two for a spot opposite of Duran-Molenti, but look a good bet to do that in their home country.

In the top half where Erlich-Lipsky were erased, another Indian duo is looking to make some noise. Rohan Bopanna is teaming with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. They won their opener on Wednesday. Fourth seeds Nicholas Monroe and Artem Sitak look the obvious road blocks for them in that half of the draw. The fourth seeds face Steve Darcis and Benoit Paire in the next round.

Sydney: Doubles Heaven Next Week

It might be a tidbit that only interests The Pig, but peeking ahead to next week’s tournaments, the Apia Sydney International looks like hog heaven for doubles lovers. On the ladies side, the former SanTina will be in action with their new partners. Sania Mirza will pair up again with Barbora Strycova, while Martina Hingis reprises her late season partnership with Coco Vandeweghe. SanTina won three Grand Slams together before splitting last year amid a dip in results.

Since the split, the two have met once with their new partners in tow. That came last year in Cincinatti where Mirza-Strycova won 7-5, 6-4 en route to their first title together. As for the rest of the doubles field in Sydney, there are a few more solid teams behind the first two like the Chan sisters, Hao-Ching and Yung-Jan, as well as the pairing of Yaroslava Shvedova and Vania King. Mirza has won the doubles title in Sydney the past two years with Hingis in 2016 and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in 2015. She’s currently teaming with Mattek-Sands in Brisbane, where they are into the semifinals.

As a dual event, Sydney will also house the ATP World Tour next week and the dubs draw looks delish. Murray-Soares will come in as the top seeds. There is plenty of depth in the men’s draw with Spaniards Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers teaming up for the week plus Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot, Rojer-Tecau and Bopanna with his 2017 regular partner, Pablo Cuevas. You also have long-time partners Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Robert Farah hitting the courts here and Olivier Marach and Fabrice Martin reviving their 2016 partnership for the week.

I’ll be keeping an eye on another Spanish tandem with Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez teaming up. PCB impressed in both singles and doubles in 2016, winning his maiden doubles title in Quito with Guillermo Duran and then adding a second with Rafael Nadal in Shenzhen in the fall. In all, Carreno Busta made six ATP doubles finals. That included the U.S. Open with his Sydney partner.