A breathtaking US Open memorable for the retirement of icon Serena Williams and the ascension of new idol Carlitos Alcaraz underscored the importance of doubles to tennis.
Both Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios and US Open semi-finalist Caroline Garcia demonstrated skills crucial to doubles success can prove vital to excelling in singles as well.
At a US Open that created history by scheduling the Williams sisters to open a night session, Kyrgios also partnered Thanasi Kokkinakis in another prime time doubles outing.
Inadvertently, officials might have stumbled on a solution to the night session dramas that plagued this year’s Open, where several matches including the classic between Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner did not finish until well after midnight at the grand slam that does not sleep.
If big names can be convinced to partner more frequently in doubles _ and there are reasons for and against title contenders competing in both disciplines _ tournament directors might well be able to deliver star-studded schedules more time-friendly for everyone involved.
But first to the positive impact that playing doubles can have on the singles form for players, which includes enhancements from a technical and mental viewpoint.
As a teenager, Ash Barty partnered Casey Dellacqua to three grand slam doubles finals in 2013 prior to taking a sabbatical from the sport.
On returning to the tour midway through 2016, doubles remained a crucial tool for the former world No.1, who retired in March.
Barty progressed up the rankings rapidly when resuming a full schedule in 2017, but it took a little longer for her strong singles form to translate into a deep run at grand slam level.
But after reaching another final with Dellacqua in 2017, she claimed a maiden grand slam title in doubles at Flushing Meadows in 2018 when partnering CoCo Vandeweghe to the title.
The experience of being around a grand slam again for the full fortnight proved eye-opening.
Barty watched her peers preparing for big singles matches and was well aware of what she could expect when she made her run to the title at Roland Garros three years ago.
Kyrgios, who moved closer to grand slam singles success this year, tells a similar story.
Not yet fully fit when competing at the Australian Open in January, the doubles provided an outlet for the Canberran to get extra matches under his belt while playing with a close friend.
Their expectations were initially low but after upsetting a strong pair in the second round, the Special Ks produced brilliant tennis while surfing a wave of adulation and hype to the title.
Kyrgios clearly had the talent to challenge for grand slams.
But the discipline and understanding of what was needed to succeed was absent until then.
“I think the doubles in Australia has really helped me at a grand slam level. You don’t need, obviously, the physical capacity to win a doubles Grand Slam that you do the singles one,” Kyrgios said.
“But I felt like just the mundane (experience where you) win a match, you have a day off, you practise, you go again during a two-week period, I realised in Melbourne it’s a long time.
“I didn’t realise that those days off and the practice were so crucial. If I made a third, fourth (round) or quarterfinals, I’d be on my phone a lot, I would be engaging online a lot, (I’d) be keen to go to dinner and explore or just do things.
“I feel like it’s literally just been as simple as, ‘Get some rest’. Like, ‘Nick. Stay in the house,’.
“That’s not always been the easiest thing for me during my career.”
This mindset helped him at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where only Novak Djokovic could stop him, and in his run to the quarterfinals at the US Open, which included a victory over Daniil Medvedev that ended the Russian’s reign at number one.
An argument could be made that Kyrgios paid the price for his doubles commitments at the US Open when, a day after the Special Ks were edged in a third set tiebreaker at Flushing Meadows, he started in a subdued fashion against Karen Khachanov when edged in a thrilling quarterfinal.
But the 27-year-old has no doubt the sharpness of his hands at the net and the improvements in his returning this year were due to playing doubles more frequently.
In contrast to his lofty serving metrics, Kyrgios has always lagged badly on the ATP Tour database when it comes to returning statistics.
But at the US Open, he sat in the top 20 when it came to converting break points and he has also made some inroads in other areas of returning in 2022.
“Basically playing a lot more doubles with Thanasi helps as well (with my) returning. I've been working on my forehand return a lot. It's translated into my singles game,” Kyrgios said.
“I think I just want it more, intent. That's what returns are about. Energy. Intent. Aggression. Instead of massaging (the ball), trying to get it into play, I was actually trying to break serve.
“Obviously I figured out quite early in my career you don't have to break serve to win tennis matches. I got a bit lax on return games.
“Now I want to be able to put that pressure on players. I'm proud of it. I drove that. I didn't have a coach. I analysed my game. I put in the work. I'm seeing the results.
“Obviously the stats don't lie. Numbers never lie. So I'm really happy with that.”
It was clear when watching Carolina Garcia in action alongside Kristina Mladenovic in the French Open doubles final in June that the Frenchwoman possessed the talent to be a world-beater.
A former world No.4, it had been years since Garcia was able to consistently produce a level anywhere near that lofty status.
But a change of coach to Bertrand Perret has reaped rich rewards.
Pitted against CoCo Gauff and Jessica Pegula in the final, Garcia took charge early in the second set of the French pair’s comeback victory on Stade Philippe-Chatrier.
In particular, her aggression when returning was something to behold, with the 28-year-old attacking the American combination’s service games with gusto.
Importantly, Garcia parlayed the confidence she gleaned from that triumph into success on the singles court and was the player who ended Iga Swiatek’s winning streak on clay. She subsequently claimed three WTA singles titles, including her first Masters tier title in five years in Cincinnati prior to a run to the last four in the US Open.
Her desire to take the return well inside the baseline whenever possible, a feature from that final in Paris, has stood her in good stead since.
“That's my best way to return. That's how I manage it the best way. It's a challenge obviously to try to always go more inside the court,” she said.
“My coach is challenging me always to practise inside (the baseline). Now I like it to do it more. It's more under control.
“But obviously at the beginning was a challenge. It was my best way for me to return.”
It is not only high-profile players who believe doubles can assist their form in singles.
US Open doubles finalist Taylor Townsend is adamant the experience of reaching the decider in New York will help both her and partner Caty McNally in their singles pursuits.
“Doubles really helps our singles game, so I'm really excited to get back on the court and play some singles and see how this confidence, and getting this far and playing really great tennis against some great players, you know, what it does for the rest of the year and going into the next year,” she said.
Australian Ellen Perez made her US Open debut in singles when receiving a wildcard six years ago.
The left-hander has shown promise in singles but is now excelling in doubles.
Perez reached the semi-finals of the US Open and believes the experience of being around the best-of-the-best late in the tournament will prove beneficial to her as she looks to rebuild her singles ranking.
“I think doubles helps singles for sure. I think there are a lot of players who have seen success first in doubles and then been able to translate into their singles,”
she told The First Serve.
“For me, personally, playing doubles keeps me here longer at the tournament. I think that is important, being among the players and being able to go deeper, I think it gives me more belief.
“When you are around these events, you are hanging with some of the best girls in the world and you sometimes end up getting to practice with them, hitting with them. I think anytime you can be around that kind of environment, it can only be helpful.
“More time on court also helps as well. There are things that come from doubles that help, like coming forward, or on your return, things like that that are always useful.
“And I think the big thing is confidence. When you win matches, it does not matter what it is, the singles or the doubles, for me it is nice to play your way into your form.”
As an aside, success in doubles can cause some issues for a player like Perez, whose singles ranking has dipped from a career-high of 162 to 352.
A run to the doubles final in Cincinnati precluded her from playing singles qualifying for a tournament in Cleveland the week prior to the US Open.
She is now striving to balance a schedule that sees her eligible to play top-tier WTA events in doubles but only ITF tournaments in singles.
“Right now, I am playing well. But it is just unfortunate I am not able to play as much singles as I would like,” she said.
“That is tough to balance, to give up some big doubles tournaments to go and play singles. I will have to think about my schedule going forward next year and weigh up some options.
“Even coming up, I have some issues where I have to go to Tokyo and then after that, I am looking at playing some 60Ks in California, but if I do well in Tokyo, I will miss the 60s because I didn’t play qualifying.
“It is tough. But I am rolling with it. I am happy with how the doubles are going. If that ends up being super successful and I miss some singles, it is what it is. I am sure I will get an opportunity to get the singles back up.”
Back to scheduling and esteemed tennis analyst Craig O’Shannessy is among those who believe that doubles can become a useful force for tennis if deployed correctly.
There were no complaints from either ticket holders or broadcasters given the box office appeal of the Williams sisters and the Special Ks in New York and Melbourne.
At Indian Wells, it has become commonplace for singles stars to step out in doubles and matches featuring those players always draw big attendances to the desert gardens.
There seems no reason why grand slam night sessions could not feature a high-profile doubles match to either precede or follow the main singles match for the session.
This would help reduce the number of sessions finishing well after midnight. It would also allow Tennis Australia, for example, to strengthen the schedules on the other major courts.
“I think doubles really has a spot, but it just has not been in the spotlight enough. I think it is very viable and I think it is smart for singles players to play doubles,” O’Shannessy said.
“I think there should be more of a push from the ATP to make the leading players in singles play doubles. It’s exciting. And it’s fun. It should be a draw card.
“What we’ve seen (from the Williams and Special Ks) is a really good turnout from fans, a lot of energy and a lot of excitement in the tands, and a lot of drama.
“Doubles is awesome. We just need to market it better and promote it more so that it is not just seen as a schedule filler. The whole world plays doubles.
“We’ve just got to market it better and I think it will not only thrive at the amateur level but also at the professional level, because more people will become interested in it.”