The beginning of the year marks a compelling time filled with partnership developments in the doubles game.
- What teams split from last year?
- Which new teams are partnering up?
- What players are de-prioritizing doubles to focus on singles?
All common questions that doubles fans ask themselves in January during the first few weeks of the new season.
After an unprecedented year of doubles retirements in 2022 on the WTA and ATP Tour, what will the 2023 doubles season bring? There’s no better place to find out than the Aussie summer circuit down under.
At this year’s Australian Open, expect a doubles field filled with defending champions, hometown favorites, breakups, reunions, and potentially more eyes on doubles than ever before following the release of Netflix’s Break Point.
New Year, New Partnerships
Often, top teams will wait until the end of the season to part ways in case they have a chance of qualifying (or have already qualified) for the year-end finals. At this point, we might as well stick it out to the end of the year, right?
The women’s doubles field has experienced fluctuation at the top of the rankings in recent years, and 2023 looks to be no exception. Several intriguing teams linger in the Australian Open draw, most notably No. 4 seeds Elise Mertens and Storm Hunter (formerly Sanders). Mertens, a three-time women’s doubles major champion, won the 2022 WTA Finals title with Veronika Kudermetova last November in Fort Worth.
When I asked Mertens and Kudermetova about 2023 partnership plans at the WTA Finals press conference, they said they were planning to play together. Instead, Kudermetova has teamed up with big-hitter Ludmila Samsonova. The Russian pair will be an explosive duo capable of overpowering anyone in the draw.
The best part? They drew Hunter and Mertens in the first round. The draw gods strike again.
Other new women’s teams to keep an eye out for include No. 7 Beatriz Haddad-Mia/Shuai Zhang, No. 8 Sania Mirza/Anna Danilina, No. 15 Catie McNally and Luisa Stefani and a dangerous unseeded team of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Leylah Fernandez.
On the men’s side, a slew of doubles veterans formed new partnerships in 2023. Keep an eye out for No. 10 Matt Ebden/Rohan Bopanna, No. 11 Jamie Murray/Michael Venus, No. 14 Andreas Mies/John Peers and Nicholas Mahut/Tim Puetz.
All Eyes on the Aussies
Last year’s doubles tournament was a dream for Australian tennis fans with an all-Aussie men’s doubles final between Nick Kyrgios/Thanasi Kokkinakis (“Special K”) and Matt Ebden/Max Purcell. Unfortunately, this year will be a different story following Nick Kyrgios’ withdrawal announcement on the first day of the tournament.
Another Aussie doubles shakeup this year involves last year’s AO finalists, and Wimbledon champions, Ebden and Purcell, who are signed up with different partners. Ebden is teaming up with Rohan Bopanna as the 10 seeds, and Purcell is partnering with fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson. While we haven’t heard details on the split, we suspect it is related to Purcell wanting to prioritize his singles career and Ebden opting for a doubles-first partner in Bopanna.
Nine-time major champion Sam Stosur headlines the Aussie women’s doubles field as she enters the last major of her professional career. Stosur made the official announcement earlier this week. Outside of Ash Barty, 38-year-old Stosur has been the best Australian women’s player for the last two decades and one of the best in history. Her most prolific career victory was defeating Serena Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open Finals to claim her first and only singles major.
Stosur’s partner for her final curtain call at the Australian Open? The always entertaining Alize Cornet. She will also team up with good friend and fellow Aussie Matt Ebden in the mixed doubles tournament.
Two other Aussie WTA players who could make a deep run in the women’s doubles draw include No. 4 seed Storm Hunter, who we mentioned above, and No. 9 Ellen Perez, who is partnering with Nicole Melichar-Martinez.
We got the opportunity to interview Ellen during the WTA Finals. Click the link below to hear our conversation.
Reunited and It Feels So Good
In addition to breakups, the 2023 women’s field also features a few compelling reunions. Doubles partnerships in tennis are a bit like dating and relationships… and we’re here for it.
No. 12 seeds Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad, fellow Americans and close friends off the court, reunited at the beginning of the year in convincing fashion to win Adelaide 1 over top seeds Katerina Siniakova and Storm Hunter in straight sets.
Following their title at Adelaide 1, Townsend repeated as champion the following week with Luisa Stefani to win Adelaide 2 and improve to an 8-0 doubles record on the year.
With a workable draw to the quarterfinals, expect the in-form American team to make a deep run here.
Another notable team reuniting in 2023 is No. 10 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara. In 2021, The Japanese duo notched a career-best year with five titles, a top 5 ranking and a semi-final performance at the WTA Finals in Guadalajara. Last year, they parted ways primarily so Shibahara could focus on prioritizing her singles career. Could 2023 be their year to win a first major title together?
Lastly, keep an eye out for Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos. While neither player is currently in great form, they are both former world no. 1s in doubles and have won four majors together. If they catch fire and gain confidence, Babos and Mladenovic could cause a string of upsets in the draw.
The Doubles Kings and Queens Remain
Despite the partnership shakeups and reunions, the doubles kings and queens at the top of the game still remain.
On the women’s side, the No. 1 Czech duo of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova have largely distanced themselves from the field. In 2022, they finished 18-0 in grand slam doubles play and won three majors to capture the career grand slam.
With six majors and an Olympic gold medal at age 26, the sky is the limit for this Czech powerhouse team.
Other established WTA doubles teams returning for another year together in 2023 include No. 2 Coco Gauff/Jessica Pegula, No. 3 Gaby Dabrowski/Gugu Olmos, No. 5 Jelena Ostapenko/Ludmila Kichenok, No. 6 Desirae Krawczyk/Demi Schuurs and No. 9 Nicole Melichar-Martinez/Ellen Perez.
In the men’s doubles field, the core alpha teams don’t seem to be fading away anytime soon. All eight teams who qualified for the 2022 ATP Finals are teaming up again this year in Melbourne.
Leading the pack are No. 1 Wesley Koolhoff/Neal Skupski and No. 2 Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury. In 2022, Koolhoff and Skupski notched a career-best performance in their first year partnering together with seven ATP titles and a 57-19 record. Their only missing accomplishment? A grand slam title together.
Ram and Salisbury have been the most consistent pillar atop the men’s doubles game this decade. In 2022, they won their third major together at the U.S. Open and became the first team to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles in 25 years. Ram and Salisbury capped off their impressive season by winning the 2022 ATP Tour Finals in their fourth consecutive appearance.
Rounding out the top seeds include No. 3 Arevalo/Rojer, No. 4 Mektic/Pavic, No. 5 Dodig/Krajicek, No. 6 Glasspool/Heliovaara, No. 8 Granollers/Zeballos, and No. 9 Bolelli/Fognini.
Sania Mirza Says Farewell
As if we already had enough doubles retirements in 2022, WTA veteran Sania Mirza is following suit in 2023. The Indian tennis superstar recently announced that the 2023 Australian Open will be her last major.
A former top 30 singles player in her own right, Mirza is most well known for her accomplishments on the doubles court. Her career doubles highlights include a world no. 1 ranking, three women’s doubles majors and three mixed doubles majors, and 43 career doubles titles.
Mirza’s most high-profile and successful partnership came with fellow doubles legend Martina Hingis. In 2015-2016, the Indian-Swiss duo dominated the WTA doubles circuit with three majors together, 17 titles, and a 41-match win streak that is currently the 3rd longest doubles streak in WTA history.
Mirza also became the first Indian woman to become world no. 1 and to win a grand slam title, one of many “firsts” she made as a female athlete from India who broke many barriers throughout her career.
Will Boucek and I got the opportunity to interview Mirza last summer in Toronto as she discussed her career, her legendary doubles partnership with Hingis, doubles strategy, and more. Listen below.
Doubles Takes Center Stage
If Netflix does its job, 2023 is poised to be a breakout year for tennis (and doubles) to reach more mainstream audiences. Netflix’s Break Point Episode 1 follows Nick Kyrgios along his wild journey to the 2022 Australian Open doubles title with Thanasi Kokkinakis.
When I watched this episode with non-tennis friends, they were most intrigued by the friendship and doubles partnership dynamic between Kyrios and Kokkinakis. Let’s just hope that tennis (and doubles) is prepared to capitalize on potentially more global eyes and ears following the sport than ever before.