Often playing second fiddle to the singles tour, doubles tennis almost feels like a totally separate sport. Singles players often cross over into doubles, but being a strong singles player doesn’t guarantee doubles success.
The format of doubles requires a unique set of skills while the tour itself has its own roster of superstar names. Over the years we’ve had the Woodies, Knowles and Nestor, Mektić and Pavić and of course, the Bryan Brothers.
Australia used to dominate the doubles tour, particularly in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Sedgman and McGregor, Stolle and Hewitt, Rosewall and Hoad, Newcombe and Roche. The list goes on.
Then, after the Woodies won their last Grand Slam in 2000, there was a big dry spell. With the exception of Todd Woodbridge and John Peers, there hasn’t been much to celebrate in the last 20 years.
The resurgence kicked off very appropriately at the Australian Open. It was the unlikeliest of runs for Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, aptly named the 'Special Ks', making it all the way to the final against a more seasoned pairing of Matty Ebden and Max Purcell. The first all-Australian final in 42 years. With their win, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis also became the first Aussie winners to take out/lift the AO title since the Woodies in 1997, excluding Pat Rafter and Todd Woodbridge who won with Sweden's Jonas Björkman in 1999 and 2001 respectively.
Since then, Ebden and Purcell and the KK’s have each added an ATP 250 title to their names, in Houston and Atlanta respectively. The Atlanta final also featured an all-Aussie final, as a reinvigorated Jason Kubler teamed up with doubles stalwart, John Peers, having a great run only to fall just short in the final. Wimbledon 2022 saw perhaps the highlight of the tennis calendar, from an Australian point of view. Nick Kyrgios made an astonishing run to the singles final, while Ebden and Purcell pulled off a remarkable 5-sets, come from behind, victory against defending champions and seasoned doubles veterans, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.
From 2 sets to 1 down, Ebden and Purcell clawed their way back in the 4th set and held their nerve in the 5th set tiebreak to become the first Aussies in 22 years to clinch the Wimbledon doubles title. A truly remarkable feat.
This is not to mention the list of Aussies who have also paired with non-Aussies including John Peers and Kyrgios, sharing ATP title success with Filip Polasek and Jack Sock respectively. And then there are the Aussies like Luke Saville and John-Patrick Smith who have made multiple doubles finals this year. John Peers most recently lost the Montreal Masters 1000 final with Brit, Daniel Evans to the red-hot doubles partnership of Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski.
Currently, we have 5 Aussies featuring in the Cincinnati Masters 1000, the last major tournament until the U.S. Open. Australia’s highest-ranked singles player, Alex de Minaur is teaming up with Brit, Cam Norrie, while the KK’s and Edben and Purcell are at it again. There’s every chance one of them can have a deep run and even do some damage at the U.S.
So where has this sudden surge in doubles success come from? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly. It looks likely a combination of reward for effort with doubles specialists like Ebden and Purcell, while Kyrgios and Kokkinakis have that special bond and on-court chemistry that just works.
There have always been players that focus purely on doubles, especially given how difficult and gruelling the singles tour is. Similarly, a lot of singles players seem to be crossing over more into doubles and having some success. Players like de Minaur, Kokkinakis and Kyrgios have all shown themselves to be more than capable doubles players.
When you look at the doubles ATP rankings, it paints a pretty clear picture. The list of players is absent from the singles tour and the average age is over 30. John Peers is our highest-ranked doubles player, while six more Aussies feature in the top 100: Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Ebden, Purcell, Saville and Smith. Still, Australia has that history in doubles and plenty of great coaches (and ex-doubles champions). That will never go away. There is a deep pool of resources and doubles wisdom to dip into that is deeply entrenched in Australian tennis.
Which begs the question: is this the start of a dominant Aussie streak in doubles?
One can only hope.