Postcard from Palm Springs: double delight

Published by Matt Trollope

Rafael Nadal (R) and Bernard Tomic combined for the first time ever at Indian Wells - and they came just a point away from the quarterfinals; Getty Images
Doubles is afforded a generous amount of prime, show-court time at the BNP Paribas Open – and singles players embrace it every year.

Walking to Stadium 2 today to watch Rafael Nadal and Bernard Tomic today, I overheard a woman remark to her friend as they looked at scores on the giant screen:

“Oh, look at all the singles guys beating the doubles guys.”

That was when Nadal and Tomic were up by a set and a break on regular doubles unit Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram (the Spaniard and the Aussie would go on to lose after holding three match points).

But her comment confirmed a few points – yes, there are plenty of singles players playing doubles here at Indian Wells, and yes, they’re pretty good at it.

This tournament is about the only one in the world where the top male players wholeheartedly embrace the doubles game. Seven of the top 10 singles players were entered in doubles here – a quite extraordinary number.

And they were beating seasoned doubles combinations in the first round. Andy Murray and Dan Evans combined to beat fifth seeds Marc and Feliciano Lopez. Novak Djokovic and Victor Troicki beat Rohan Bopanna and Pablo Cuevas. In perhaps the biggest boilover, No.2 seeds Bob and Mike Bryan were stunned by the first-time pairing of Nick Kyrgios and Nenad Zimonjic.

As I was writing this, Djokovic and Troicki just stunned top seeds Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Why do the world’s best traditionally take part in doubles here yet very rarely anywhere else?

I spoke to J. Fred Sidhu, who’s worked in media relations at Indian Wells for the past 12 years and who covered this topic in his article for the BNP Paribas Open 2017 Official Tournament Program.

He said that with Indian Wells being early in the year, players were still relatively fresh. Due to byes, most of the top seeds don’t play until the middle weekend of the tournament, meaning they’re looking for a hit in the first week. As well as practice sessions, doubles matches give them more chances to acclimatise to the conditions – which here in the desert are unique (the ball flies through the hot dry air but slows when it bounces on the ultra-gritty courts). And with singles matches being best-of-three set affairs, singles players can handle the workload – especially given doubles features no-ad scoring and a match tiebreak at one set all.

Another reason is that doubles is given top billing here – it features on premier courts in prime time-slots. It gives it a big-match atmosphere which the singles players love, and the crowds return the love by cramming in to see them play.

It’s a win-win. Stadium 3 was heaving when Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov arrived to play Treat Huey and Max Mirnyi. I snuck into Stadium 2 to see Murray/Evans v Lopez/Lopez under lights on Friday and there was barely a seat in the house – 8,000 fans made the atmosphere crackle. And the tennis was thrilling. Ditto Saturday night, when Kyrgios/Zimonjic took on the Bryans. Tomic and Nadal’s first-round match featured in one of the Stadium 1 evening sessions.

Seeing superstar singles players teaming up in doubles really is an entertainment spectacle.

Perhaps the only negative in this is what it says about the state of the everyday doubles game. How can it be that seasoned doubles specialists – who play week-in, week-out with regular partners – are getting eliminated by singles players enjoying a casual doubles dabble with little-to-no experience playing with their partner?

Perhaps its hardly a problem when the result is big names going deep in the doubles draw and giving the tandem game some much needed exposure.

For someone who watches precious little doubles compared with singles, the doubles really has been a huge highlight for me at Indian Wells.

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