One of the things that Mark Woodforde and I spoke openly about when we were playing was that we never considered ourselves doubles ‘specialists’. We were tennis players who played singles, doubles and mixed – that was what the sport was always about.
We excelled in doubles because we were a good combination with all the right skills to gel together. Each year, though, we set a singles schedule and doubles fitted in around that. I didn’t play a specific doubles schedule until I finished my singles career.
These days, players tend to be singles or doubles players. One of the reasons for that is financial. If I use myself as an example, in the year 2000 aged 30 I had fallen out of the top 100 – I was ranked around 140 in the world. To get back to direct entry in the Slams I had to go to challenger level to improve my ranking.
At this point of my career I was making an average $600k a year through doubles. To get my singles back on track I had to give that up and make no money – actually spend more money than I was making. I was still good enough to play singles, but I would have had to have given up that financial incentive. With a family, and nearing the end of my career, that would have been nonsensical.
Today, the way that the sport is financially – and because of the rankings – it makes it very hard to play both if your singles ranking starts to drop.
Why don’t more of the top guys regularly play doubles? The very top guys make enough money that they don’t need or want to. But the guys who are ranked in the forties? Well, they are stupid. And I mean to use the word stupid. The reality is that there is no better way than to practice than to play a doubles match, like Tomic has done at Indian Wells with Nadal. For Tomic to get out there amongst that competition and feel the intensity, feel the shots under pressure – you can’t practice that.
Some coaches out there today are so protective of their players that they won’t allow them to play doubles. They think it’s more important to practice or go to the gym. They couldn’t be further from the truth. They lose so much opportunity by not playing more. I’ve seen the attitude of some of these guys, they say ‘why would I do that?’ It is a poor attitude and shows a lack of forward thinking about enhancing their ability. At the end of the day these players are not going to be top 10, they’re not going to make $100 million. You need to make your future viable and doubles can help you do that.
We do sometimes see top doubles teams upset as has happened at Indian Wells this week, and there are a couple of reasons for that. When you put someone like Novak Djokovic on a court, he’s the No.2 player in the world and has better ball striking skills than most people. If he’s having a good day he’s going to put pressure on any great team.
I vividly remember being put under huge amount of pressure as the No.1 team in the world in Davis Cup. Mark and I played Pete Sampras and Todd Martin – the No.1 and No.4 singles players in the world. There was a lot of talk beforehand: ‘will we be good enough to beat them?’ As a combination, because we were true singles and doubles players, we could handle that level of ball striking and ability and did indeed get the win.
The other reason for upsets is that at ATP tour level they are playing limited short scoring, and in that format anything is possible.
Mark and I had more success at Wimbledon as opposed to the other Majors because it was five sets from the outset. We knew we could find ways to win; we were too skilled in that sense to lose early. If we were playing best of three sets quite possibly we wouldn’t have won as many championships.
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