With a lot of focus on the Australian Doubles resurgence in the last 18 months, it’s worth taking a look at the impact doubles’ tennis has had on the singles’ form of some of the world’s best players, particularly in the WTA.
It is very rare these days to have someone dominate both formats, like we often saw in the 70s and 80s with Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.
The Williams sisters followed that mould, winning 14 grand slam doubles titles between them as they also made their way on the singles court. By the time they won their last doubles crown in 2016, they had already won 27 grand slam singles titles between them.
Between 1990 and 2006, the following players won singles titles at slams having also been grand slam doubles champions during their career.
Serena and Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Jana Novotna, Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Lindsay Davenport, Martina Navratilova and Mary Pierce.
The combined number of career slam titles for that group across all disciplines is nearly 200.
It has thinned out since with only Stosur, Panetta, Azarenka and Kuznetsova doing the “double” and winning slams across both disciplines up until 2019. Those four players have combined for 18 career majors.
The wheel appears to be turning though, with a look at some of the stronger performers and those within the top 10 on the WTA currently.
Barbora Krejcikova is the obvious example, arguably the best doubles player in the world, the Czech superstar won two Grand slam doubles titles before she’d even won a match in the main draw of singles at a major.
She developed brilliantly though and won the French Open in 2021, reaching quarter-finals at both the US and Australian Opens and rising to No.2 in the world.
Fellow Czech Petra Kvitova said she believed that doubles success had made Krejcikova a better singles player.
“It’s the variety of her game and how she is seeing it from the doubles as well,” said Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner. “She has a kick serve too which not many players have. And she has drop shots, slice, topspin, serve and volley, whatever, it’s all there.”
The other grand slam doubles champion to win slams in the singles draw in recent years has been Ash Barty.
Barty is a six-time doubles finalist at slam level, with her only win coming at the US Open, coinciding with a peak at No.5 in the world.
Former World No.1 and two-time US Open singles champion Tracy Austin summed up the balance when asked about players juggling both disciplines.
“Doubles forces you to hit a wider variety of shots than you would hit in singles, such as half volleys, drop volleys, reflex volleys, overheads and lobs. Your improvisation skills will improve dramatically.” Austin said.
"Doubles stresses different and important aspects of the shots you use most often in singles. Serving and especially serve placement is at a premium in doubles"
"Doubles returns must also be precise and purposeful. There are no opportunities to float a return back into play to start a rally" she added.
A glance at the current top echelon of women’s tennis suggests doubles is again playing a big role in this transitional phase of tennis.
Caroline Garcia had the best slam of her career with a stunning run to the semi-finals at the US Open this year.
Garcia is a two-time French Open doubles champion and a US Open finalist, having reached No.2 in the world in doubles in 2016.
Emerging American teenager Coco Gauff reached the French Open final in both singles and doubles this year, having also played in last year’s US Open doubles final.
Gauff is now the number one ranked doubles player after winning titles in Toronto and Doha this year. The history of Serena Williams is not lost on her either.
“People overlook doubles sometimes, but they forget Serena has 23 in singles, but she also has 14 in doubles.” Gauff said.
“That’s why she’s the greatest, because of her ability to dominate both sides of the game, and one no doubt makes her strong at the other.”
Gauff’s partner for those titles was Jessica Pegula, who coincidently is enjoying the best season of her career and is one of only two players to reach at least the quarter-finals of three different slams this year in singles.
The world’s best player at the moment, Iga Swiatek is the other one, and the Polish champion has played two grand slam doubles events in the past three years, reaching the semi-final in one (French Open 2020) and the final in the other (French Open 2021).
Her coach Piotr Sierzputowski disputed claims that playing doubles can impact her ability to go deep in singles.
“With grand slams taking placed over 14,15 days, they can pretty long.” He said.
"So, coming to a match court, it keeps you alive and gives you space to let your emotions go.
"Playing doubles also helps you stay in rhythm, win or lose, you keep your routines."
Aryna Sabalenka is now a three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist in singles, and nearly defeated Swiatek at the US Open this year.
Sabalenka holds two grand slam doubles titles, one in Melbourne and the other in New York, and she reached No.1 in the world in doubles at the same time she peaked at No.2 in singles.
On the men’s side it’s worth mentioning that Nick Kyrgios’s career resurgence in 2022 started at around the same time he and Thanasi Kokkinakis won the Australian Open Doubles title together.
The Men’s doubles rankings only have four players in the top 50 who have also been top 20 in the singles draw.
The women have 14 by comparison so perhaps they’ve found the secret to leading the next generation.