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This coming week at the Mutua Madrid Masters 1000, the ATP is trialing “innovative” new rules in the men’s doubles event. 

The ATP says the aim of the trial is to increase the exposure and marketing appeal of doubles, improve the tournament experience for fans and enhance the product for broadcasters. 

The changes include:

  • more singles vs. doubles action: the 32-team draw will feature up to 16 slots reserved for teams entering via their singles ranking;

  • streamlined schedule over five days (Tuesday to Saturday) during week two of the tournament;

  • reduced shot clock to accelerate the pace of play and minimise downtime during matches. Time between points will be reduced to 15 seconds following rallies shorter than four shots;

  • quicker changeovers with fewer sit-downs to accelerate the pace of play; and

  • free fan movement in the arena during play.

When announcing the proposed changes, Ross Hutchins, ATP Chief Tour Officer told the ATP Website, “we believe there’s untapped potential in today’s doubles game. We know it can add huge entertainment value, but it requires fresh storytelling to connect with fans. 

“The trialing of new formats and rules allows us to stay agile and explore ways to enhance the product.”

Similarly, Australian world number 1, Matt Ebden, who also sits on the ATP Advisory Council, shared his delight at the changes designed to increase attention to his chosen format. 

“Doubles has so much to offer fans and the atmosphere it can create when presented in the right way is phenomenal, he told the ATP.

“That said, we as players recognise that more needs to be done to put our best foot forward. I’d like to commend my colleagues from across the ATP for taking this on and adding great new concepts into the mix.”

One person who will likely welcome the proposed changes is American giant Rielly Opelka who has previously taken to social media to suggest the paired format is a financial burden on professional tennis. 

“Get rid of doubles, only time people watch are when its singles players or the Bryan brothers” he once shared on his Instagram story.

Opelka has also stated that doubles players are “overpaid” and “don’t sell tickets”.  

Whether, or the extent to which, Opelka’s comments are true is probably a matter of personal opinion, however, the average tennis fan would likely agree with the ATP’s sentiment that doubles, at least as a marketing product, could be improved. So too could fan engagement. 

Speaking to The First Serve, Australian doubles specialist Alexandra Osborne (WTA #287) said she “totally understood” and supported the ATP’s changes from an “entertainment perspective” but did have some concerns over the practical implications of some of the changes. 

When considering the reduced shot clock and quicker changeovers, Osborne noted that doubles matches are already pretty quick but said the changes would be easy to adopt and serve a clear purpose.  

However, she raised concerns with the ATPs plan to pump the doubles draw full of “singles teams”.  

“It just takes more opportunities away from doubles players and makes it harder for doubles players to play these bigger events,” the three-time titlist said. 

“I get that they want to draw the big names but we’re going to see a lot of withdrawals.

“You see singles players withdrawing from doubles a lot at ITF level so it will happen even more at the higher level.”

It's a valid point, too.  It’s easy to imagine a scenario where, for example, American duo and good mates Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul enter a doubles draw due to start on the same day as what would be round three or four in the singles; only for one to pick up an injury or get knocked out of the singles draw early resulting in a withdrawal.  

In that scenario, an alternate doubles team would enter the draw as the pair’s replacement although the replacement team is unlikely to be a pair of doubles specialiasts who happen to have travelled to the event for the sole objective of waiting for a team to withdraw.  

The result will be that top-tier doubles players that otherwise would be able to play higher-level events such as the Madrid Masters will be forced into lower-tier events which will significantly reduce their earning capacity.  The economic impact will be particularly extreme during Masters events as there are no ATP Tour level events scheduled in the same weeks as a Masters event.  

It should be said however that current entry systems for ATP Tour events already allows singles players to enter the doubles draw based on their singles ranking.  Consequently, Masters events frequently include “singles teams” in the doubles draw - although not to the extent being trialled this week. 

To illustrate, the Monte Carlo Masters earlier this month saw six “singles teams” out of the 32-team draw (which included Frtitz/Rune and Dimitrov/Korda).  Indian Wells, which traditionally would see the highest rate of “singles teams” participating, had eight. 

That means for the eight to ten pairs who would otherwise be in the draw, they’ll have to decide between travelling to Madrid and praying for withdrawals, or travelling to a Challenger Tour event where even a title earns approximately $13,000 per player less than a second-round appearance in Madrid. 

Notwithstanding the downside risk for doubles specialists, the ATP is right to try to maximise fan and broadcasting interest in the paired format.  After all, the one thing that Hutchins, Ebden, Opelka, and Osborne can all agree on is that doubles has untapped potential and is underutilised from a marketing perspective.  

Whether pumping the draw full of singles players and a few other less major changes, will lead to the results the ATP is after remains to be seen.  But it has to be worth a shot.  

The 2022 and 2023 Australian Open success of Kyrgios/Kokkinakis and Kubler/Hijikata after them did show that the tennis public will come along for the ride in the doubles events when they can recognise and embrace the narratives of the teams competing.


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