Tribute: Pavic Completes Rise To No. 1

ATWorldTour.com pays tribute to the new doubles No. 1

Mate Pavic was going through final match preparations with his Austrian partner Oliver Marach on Friday, stretching his muscles, with one eye on a nearby television screen, when he learned — below ground level at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, prior to competing on the picturesque Pietrangeli court — that he had achieved one of his long-time goals.

In officially becoming the 52nd player since March 1976 to rise to No. 1 in the ATP Doubles Rankings today, replacing Poland’s Lukasz Kubot in the top spot of tennis’ team discipline, the 24-year-old Croatian has become the youngest player for 22 years to fulfill a dream that every child, who picks up a racquet, nurtures.

“It means a lot for sure,” Pavic told ATPWorldTour.com at the historic clay-court tournament in Rome. “I believed that I could do it one day, but honestly I didn’t think that it could happen that fast, considering that last year — at this time — I was ranked around No. 30."

Twelve months ago, the sport’s youngest doubles No. 1 since Australia’s Todd Woodbridge, aged 24 years and 10 months, was in his seventh stint at the summit in February 1996, could be found at No. 31 in the ATP Doubles Rankings, with a 6-10 record in finals. Having first broken into the Top 100 four years earlier, at No. 99 on 24 June 2013, Pavic was searching for a route further up the food chain.

It is a remarkable journey to No. 1 for Pavic, who, as a four-year-old, first looked out of his mother’s kindergarten window onto a tennis court, as his father, Jakov, coached his older sister, Nadja, a future pro before injury curtailed her career. “I was always on the courts,” Pavic told ATPWorldTour.com. “I also played basketball for a few years and did other sports, but tennis is something I enjoyed and I was always good at it.”

Growing up, Pavic mainly trained in his hometown of Split, but also went to Bob Brett’s San Remo Academy for a few years, Vienna — where he hit with Dominic Thiem and Jiri Vesely — and also Barcelona, under the guidance of Felix Mantilla. Early on in his fledgling career, he travelled with his older sister, Nadja and then his father. Having played singles and doubles initially, following his junior doubles success at 2011 Wimbledon (w/George Morgan), Pavic naturally drifted towards the team game by learning and watching the best.

“I had good singles victories and tournaments, particularly on grass, but 18 months to two years ago, when doubles qualifying events were introduced, that new rule helped me to get into ATP tournaments and I was forced to decide,” admitted Pavic. “I had a pretty good ranking back then in doubles, so I kept playing more doubles to compete at the best tournaments in the world. I kind of feel sad, because I didn’t play singles enough, in order to really see where I could get to in the ATP Rankings.

“When Michael Venus and I started playing together, we both were trying to play singles too. We won a couple of Challenger titles in 2015, plus one ATP [Nice] and some finals [Bogota and Stockholm], but we never played well. In 2016, we had a great year, with four titles and five finals, but we couldn’t break through and rise up the rankings in the big tournaments.”

In regular practice sessions, particularly with Ivan Dodig, with whom he reached his first ATP World Tour finals at 2012-13 Zagreb, then the recently retired Andre Sa and Nenad Zimonjic, Pavic learned a great deal about constructing points and court positioning.

His union with the experienced Marach, a pro for 20 years ago, came about by accident in Miami, 14 months ago.

“We arranged to play in Miami, only for that week, but afterwards we found that we didn’t have any partner moving forwards,” remembers Pavic. “We decided to play the clay and grass swings. It didn’t go the way we wanted or expected it to. Towards the end of the clay swing, we said we’d split up after the grass swing...”

Marach and Pavic gelled. Each player has an ability to play on both sides of the court, and they possess excellent return of serves, but it was subsequent improvements in their net games that helped them to reach three straight grass-court finals — at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, the Antalya Open and at Wimbledon, where they lost 13-11 in the final set to Kubot and Marcelo Melo.

“We saw that we could play well and we’d improved in the ATP Race To London,” said Pavic. “We then won our first title at Stockholm [in October 2017] and from there everything changed. [As alternates] we beat the Bryans in London [at the Nitto ATP Finals in November 2017] and that helped us believe we could be a good team… We’ve become very consistent.”

During the off-season, Marach and Pavic worked hard to develop their weakness and the results showed straight away in 2018 as they went on a 17-match winning streak, including three titles – the Qatar ExxonMobil Open (d. J. Murray/Soares), the ASB Classic (d. Mirnyi/Oswald) and the Australian Open (d. Cabal/Farah), their first Grand Slam championship crown. “I also won the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open (w/Gabriela Dabrowski) and whatever I played, I was winning matches non-stop,” said Pavic. “We did have some tough matches in Australia, but we won and that helped us grow in confidence.”

Marach and Pavic’s winning run came to an end at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament, in their fourth straight final, when they lost to French pair Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 2-6, 6-2, 10-7. Since February, the pair has also reached the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters final, and now trail the team they lost to – Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan – by just 55 points in the ATP Doubles Race To London. “Doubles these days is very close, because of the system of scoring – the Match tie-break, No-Ad scoring – so it’s down to how you play the big points,” said Pavic. “Fighting with the Bryans for No. 1, means a lot.”

Having risen four positions this week to attain No. 1 in the ATP Doubles Rankings, Pavic isn’t resting on his laurels, as he is playing with Marach at this week’s Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open. Although he did admit, “I will celebrate a little bit, because I guess this kind of thing doesn’t happen every day!”