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Doubles Vision - Stepping Out Of The Shadows

Metz, France

David Martin© Getty ImagesDavid Martin is loving Metz this week.

American David Martin is basking in the attention being heaped on doubles players this week in Metz.

The doubles player on the ATP World Tour hovers between two opposite poles from week to week: to some, he is an artist, praised for his dedication to a specified craft and lauded for his skill that brings a freshness and cleverness to the game; but at other times were feel under appreciated.
 
Luckily for us here at the Moselle Open in Metz, France this week, the doubles matches are getting strong support from the fans. For example, Yves Allegro and I lost a tough match-tiebreak in the first round, but were swarmed by throngs of schoolkids after the match, saying we were their favorite players. In truth, I think they just wanted a few wristbands or shirts, but it still felt nice to know that we entertained some people, and they had enjoyed watching doubles.
 
Also in Metz, despite Yves' guess that 80% of the spectators did not know there was a second court in the arena (the court we played on) apart from center court, the seats available were largely full. Two doubles matches have already been played on center court this week, which is almost unheard of for a European tournament to do that before the final, especially an indoor event. Big props to the tournament director!
 
There are many places where doubles thrives, albeit mostly in the U.S. Indianapolis, San Jose, Delray Beach, and Memphis, among others, are great supporters of doubles, often featuring doubles at night. Doubles also thrives in the Grand Slams, where virtually every match court is packed. Doubles players are often greeted after matches by people saying, "We love doubles, we play doubles, we want to see more on TV!"  or " How do you make those fast reactions? It's amazing to watch, and a nice change of pace from singles."
 
But it’s not always that way.  For example, one year at a European tournament I was checking in to get my player credential, and a staff member was having a hard time bringing it up on the computer. "Oh,"  she finally gasped, "Doble schpieler," (which is an incorrect spelling of the German word for 'doubles player'), and she made it sound like a four-letter word.
 
Everyone on the ATP World Tour is a tennis player. Some play only singles, some play only doubles, and some play both, but they all add value to the game and the tour. Those who focus only on doubles specialise in a certain brand of tennis, just as singles players do. Perhaps it can be argued that the singles player is more "sexy" in terms of ball-striking and stamina required, but the doubles player often makes up for that in reflexes, net play, and cleverness (although there are doubles guys like Marcin Matkowski who crush the ball too).
 
With the rules continuing to change to encourage more singles players to play doubles (i.e. shortened-scoring, allowing singles rankings to be used for doubles, etc.), any player making a living in doubles is a flat-out baller. Studies show that singles stars draw sponsors and fans to tournaments, and prize money distribution correctly reflects that; however, some doubles teams have drawing power as well. The Bryans routinely pack out stadiums, Melo and Sa are heroes in Brazil, Paes, Bhupathi,  Fyrstenberg and Matkowski, Zimonjic, and others are huge stars in their countries. Heck, even Scott Lipsky and I were a nightcap match in LA, which is our home area.
 
I'm not arguing that doubles is better than singles or the other way around. They work together for the good of tennis. Doubles is simultaneously a great contrast and a great complement to singles; almost different games, but the two together add to the richness of the sport. One is a war of attrition and gaining ground, the other a fast, high energy game of reflex and cunning. As Mike Bryan said, (or maybe it was Bob...sorry guys) "When I go to the zoo, I want to see the lions, but I also want to see some tigers and bears too." Singles and doubles together provide variety.
 
Luckily, the doubles component of the ATP Tour is as good of a product as it's ever been, filled with compelling teams and individuals: we have perhaps the most dynamic and infectiously energetic team to ever step foot on the doubles court in the Bryan twins; maybe the quickest footed and handed player ever in Leander Paes; gritty Aussies like Ashley Fisher, Jordan Kerr, Stephen Huss, and Paul Hanley; crafty artists like Knowles and Buphati; teams of giants in Nestor-Zimonjic and Norman-Moodie; guys with big hair like Julien Rojer; and Americans who think they are Italian like James Cerretani. What's more, you've got a hungry bunch of guys coming up looking to unseat them all!
 
Rather than simply being called "doubles players," which implies something 'other' and regardless of whether it leads to praise or scorn, these guys, along with "singles players," are tennis players, who add to the richness of tennis and to the ATP tour.
 
So people ask me,  "Are you a doubles player?" Well, yes and no. I am a tennis player who happens to be making a living in doubles...and damn proud of it."

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