Many adult tennis fans are doubles players themselves… so why isn’t professional doubles more popular?
At The Tennis Tribe, our main goal is to promote and grow the doubles game. Two years ago, we started the Doubles Only Podcast interviewing a variety of doubles players, experts, teaching professionals, and coaches on doubles strategy and the current state of doubles. Before each grand slam, we also publish a doubles roundtable preview featuring a mix of participants weighing in on major doubles storylines ahead of each tournament.
In every interview, we ask the same question – “How do we make doubles become more popular?”
Answers range across the spectrum, from more TV coverage to better doubles storytelling to scheduling improvements and everything in between. In this piece, we’ve gathered responses from 24 players, coaches, commentators, and journalists to get their thoughts on the best way to grow doubles. Our list includes:
- Alexa Guarachi – WTA No. 25 doubles specialist with 5 career titles
- Rajeev Ram – ATP No. 4 doubles player, two-time men’s grand slam doubles champion
- Nicole Melichar-Martinez – WTA No. 23 doubles specialist, 2018 Wimbledon mixed-doubles champion
- Asia Muhammad – WTA No. 35 doubles player with 7 career titles
- Gaby Dabrowski – WTA top 10 doubles specialist, two-time mixed doubles grand slam champion
- Nick Monroe – ATP top 100 doubles specialist with 4 career titles
- Caroline Dolehide – WTA No. 24 doubles player
- Joel Drucker – tennis writer for Tennis.com & historian for International Tennis Hall of Fame
- Blair Henley – tennis host, writer, & reporter
- Randy Walker – managing partner of New Chapter Media
- Marc Lucero – ATP coach of Steve Johnson & Tennis Channel commentator
- Jennifer Paddock – journalist, teaching professional, & novelist
- Van Sias – freelance tennis writer for Tennis.com
- Craig O’Shannessy – ATP strategy analyst, coach, writer, founder of Brain Game Tennis
- Katrina Adams – global speaker, author, tennis analyst, & former top 10 WTA doubles player
- Eric Butorac – former ATP doubles specialist with 18 career titles
- Will Boucek – founder of The Tennis Tribe, ATP & WTA doubles stratategy analyst
- Nicolas Peirera – Tennis Channel analyst & former ATP top 50 doubles player
- Gigi Fernandez – two-time Olympic gold medalist & WTA 17-time doubles grand slam champion
- Peter Lebedevs – Dallas Open tournament director & coach
- Rick Leach – World Team Tennis Coach & nine-time grand slam doubles champion
- Luke Jensen – ATP grand slam doubles champion & World Team Tennis coach
- Jorge Capestany – USPTA & PTR Master Professional Coach
As we kick off Indian Wells, a tournament that has built up an established doubles reputation over the years, there’s no better time to fuel the doubles fire before the best pro doubles tournament on the calendar.
So, how do we make doubles more popular? Let’s hear what the experts have to say.
How Current Pro Players Think We Can Grow Doubles
Gaby Dabrowski: You can always write to the WTA, ATP, ITF, and the Grand Slams and hopefully they start to listen if enough people are talking about it. I would also write to broadcasters in your country to let them know you want to see doubles on TV. The more messages they get, the better it can help them negotiate deals. Right now, decision-makers don’t see the value in doubles, so they have no reason to show it more. We need to show them there is a reason to give doubles more exposure. The more you start showing something, the more it can gain popularity.
Listen to the entire Gaby Dabrowski Interview: Her Story, Life on Tour, Doubles Strategy, & Growing Pro Doubles
Asia Muhammad: I think the WTA needs to showcase doubles more. People want to watch doubles and know about the people playing doubles. It’s a great platform to showcase all of these girls who are doing really well in doubles. It’s definitely gotten better, but I think they can still do a lot more. Most people who play recreationally only play doubles. There’s such a big opportunity here.
Listen to the entire Asia Muhammad Interview: Where to Aim On Returns, When To Call Off a Poach, & Overhead Technique
Alexa Guarachi: We’re trying to work on this all of the time. Getting more TV coverage is a good start. We need the Tennis Channel to show doubles more often beyond the finals. I feel like not that many people watch women’s doubles regularly, but once they get into it and see it in person, they have a good time and can respect what we’re doing.
Listen to the entire Alexa Guarachi Interview: Discussing World Team Tennis, the WTA Finals, & Strategy
Everyone you talk to – people love watching doubles. They go to the outer courts and watch doubles because it’s so fast. We need to get it on TV more because people want to watch it and engage with the doubles players. That’s what people play as they get older. That’s what people want to see when they’re at a tournament, so why not show it on TV more?“NIck Monroe
Listen to the entire Nick Monroe Interview: Pre-Match Routines, Serve Formations, Net-Play Aggression in Doubles, & More
Nicole Melichar: Doubles will become more popular if the fans attend the matches, not just primetime singles matches. Fans need to speak up and request doubles matches to be shown on TV and bigger courts! If the fans want it, they will get it. That’s how we will make doubles more popular.
Listen to the entire Nicole Melichar Interview: Her Tennis Story, Serve Strategy, & Doubles Drills
Rajeev Ram: More time on big courts and stronger marketing efforts from our tours could go a long way. People are drawn to stories. If you can make the doubles a bit more personal and learn about the people involved, as opposed to an opening act to singles, that can really help too. This is the direction I would take if I was in charge of doubles.
Listen to the entire Rajeev Ram Interview: 2020 Quarantine, In-Match Adjustments, & Signaling vs Talking in Doubles
Caroline Dolehide: That’s a good question…there’s so much more attention on singles. But it’s weird because everyone plays doubles. Highlighting the physicality and athleticism of doubles could draw more attention. Or, what about hosting a doubles-only tournament at a popular destination to attract people and show them how cool doubles is?
Listen to the entire Caroline Dolehide Interview: WTT, 2022 Plans, & Secret Return Signs with Coco Vandeweghe
How Coaches & Former Players Think We Can Grow Doubles
Eric Butorac: I wish more of the stars would play, especially the younger players. It helps us get to know their personalities quicker and see who they’re friends with. I also wish we could find a way to adjust the format and schedule to make it easier for all of the top players to play at the slams. Whenever you see them play at Davis Cup, Laver Cup, or Olympics, it’s always really exciting. How do we get them on the doubles court vying for grand slams? That would take the sport to the next level.
Listen to the entire Eric Butorac Interview: From D3 to the Pros, the Process of Improving, & Meeting with Rafa, Roger, & Novak
Craig O’Shannessy: I think it all has to do with scheduling. I would like to see doubles positioned as a “curtain-raiser” for singles matches. We know how long a doubles match will typically take so position it right before a singles match to give the crowd a high-energy appetizer for the main draw card.
Listen to the entire Craig O’Shannessy Interview: The Center Window in Doubles, Playing 2-Back, & How to Beat the Lob
“Promote, promote, promote! Doubles is played the most recreationally around the world. Therefore, if doubles was part of the primetime show, more people would watch because they can actually learn something. I recognize that top players draw attraction to an audience but great doubles played is much more appreciated.”Katrina Adams
Gigi Fernandez: I think it’ll take the fans speaking out and really demanding more doubles coverage. It’s interesting – if you ask most people who are watching tennis at a tournament – they play doubles (not singles). Networks won’t show it, yet a few years ago the WTA did an experiment in October 2018 and played all doubles matches on TV from random tournaments in Europe and the ratings were through the roof. Just keep complaining to Tennis Channel and they’ll show it more.
Listen to the entire Gigi Fernandez Interview: 17x Grand Slam Champion Shares the “Gigi Method” for Club-Level Doubles
Peter Lebedevs: Everyone loves to play doubles, but they don’t watch it. The physicality of today’s game makes it harder to play both singles and doubles than it used to. We need to feature more mixed doubles tournaments like Hopman Cup. Fans enjoy seeing the big stars play together in mixed doubles. Nick Kyrgios and Venus playing together at Wimbledon a few years ago was a prime example. There’s also quite a bit of strategy involved with mixed doubles that makes it exciting to watch.
Listen to the entire Peter Lebedevs Interview: On Being an ATP Tournament Director, High Percentage Tennis, & The Toughest Volley
“This is one of the main problems I want to help solve with the Tennis Tribe. It makes no sense to me that most people play doubles yet watch singles. I think pro doubles is a big opportunity and will be more popular one day, but it will take time. How do we get there? It’s a combination of things. It can start with either the players or the media/television. Ideally, both. The players need to do a better job of growing their personal brands, putting themselves out there, and engaging with the fans. The media and TV need to do a better job of covering doubles. In both cases, doubles will grow.Will Boucek, Founder of The Tennis Tribe
A good short-term solution is to have more singles stars play doubles (see Coco Gauff). But I’d like to see doubles specialists in the spotlight more often. Some of these players are top 10 in the world at their profession and many tennis fans don’t even know them. Over the next decade or so, I think we will see it grow and I want to help make that happen.”
Luke Jensen: You’ve got to believe in the doubles product. Look at Indian Wells and the doubles success we’ve seen at this tournament. Why is it so successful? Because Roger, Rafa, and other big names play. In the early 2000s, there was a conversation on tour considering making all players play both singles and doubles. Play two out of three sets at the majors and you have to play two out of three events. Eliminate the singles ranking and instead have a “tennis ranking.” People want to see their favorite stars on court and it doesn’t matter what event they’re playing. That’s my two cents.
Listen to the entire Luke Jensen Interview: World Team Tennis, The GOAT Debate, & Shark Hunting with Andre Agassi
Marc Lucero: We need to do a better job of marketing our doubles players and sharing their stories. Making the average sports fan aware of stories behind each doubles player or team is important. This is a good way to draw people in who aren’t even big tennis fans. Everyone loves learning more about people and hearing stories. You could also consider having fewer players and teams in a draw and have a round robin format in singles and doubles. What do fans do if they come to a tournament and their favorite player is out of the tournament? There’s no guarantee to see your favorite player or team like in other sports.
Listen to the entire Marc Lucero Interview: Practice Strategy & Making Doubles Cool Again
Rick Leach: It’s sad that the Bryan Brothers are gone because they were great ambassadors for the game. It’s great the ATP condensed it down to two sets and a tie-breaker. If we can get big names playing more often, that will help a lot. I don’t think doubles will ever go away because it’s a different skill set. We’ve got to keep it going because it’s such a huge part of the game.
Listen to the entire Rick Leach Interview: How Doubles Has Changed Over the Last 3 Decades, His Favorite Doubles Strategies & Tactics
Jorge Capestany: Step one would be to give it more airtime. You get to watch some of the best points in doubles. It would help if top players played more often, but I don’t think you’ll ever see a lot of them play doubles regularly. I don’t think any more rule changes are necessary. If there was a dominant household team like the Bryan Brothers, that would definitely elevate the game. Hosting a doubles-only tournament is another idea to get big stars to play and could eliminate the singles decision-making factor.
Listen to the entire Jorge Capestany Interview: Team Chemistry, Parter Mojo, and Drills from a USPTA & PTR Master Professional Coach
How the Media Thinks We Can Grow Doubles
Joel Drucker: Bob and Mike Bryan were really the marquee face of doubles for 15 years and they sold doubles. Doubles players today need to do a better job of promoting themselves. Like other sports, what if doubles players had their names on the back of their shirts? When they aren’t playing, they have a great opportunity to make themselves accessible to fans at events and serve as ambassadors at tour events. Could they teach us doubles skills on their social media or the ATP/WTA websites? We also need active doubles promoters – people like Wayne Bryan or Luke Jensen – who can really get people excited about doubles.
Read more about Joel’s doubles letter to ATP players here in a post-Bryan Brothers era.
Listen to the entire Joel Drucker Interview: 5 Out-of-the-Box Ideas to Help Grow Pro Doubles
Blair Henley: I would make men’s singles two-out-of-three sets until the semifinals at the majors, encouraging well-known singles players to dip their toes into the doubles pool more often. I’d also love to see a bonus awarded for players who win singles and doubles at the same tournament throughout the season, similar to the $1 million incentive offered at Indian Wells a few years ago.
Listen to the entire Blair Henley Interview: Traveling the Tour, Doubles Discussion, & Interviewing GOATs
Doubles needs to be taken more seriously by promoters and tournament directors. Put doubles as a night match! About 20-years ago, night sessions at the U.S. Open and other events featured at least one doubles match. I’d work to get a sponsor to pay a bonus to any player who wins both singles and doubles. This would help incentivize more top players to play both events. John McEnroe used to play doubles as “practice” because he hated to practice and would rather “compete” as practice for his singles. Promoters should challenge themselves to make doubles more attractive to audiences – it’s almost half of your content!”Randy Walker
Jennifer Paddock: Put star players in the draw after they’ve lost? But how could you do that? Make the schedule better for singles players, so maybe they will play doubles for practice? They’ve tried so many things. If you make the doubles money higher, top players will play. They play singles because there is way more money and more recognition. The team events are great. Because if it is 1-all, then having a good doubles team makes a big difference. Show more doubles on TV, so we can learn their stories, their personalities. Will Boucek and I watched doubles together at Indian Wells and talked about this. Hsieh Su-Wei, for example, is so fun to watch not only because of her creative game, but also because she’s very likable and funny in her interviews, engaging with the crowd. Other players can learn from her.
Hanlon Walsh: Obviously there are many structural changes needed to make doubles more popular – TV airtime, incentives for singles players, more doubles matches on stadium courts – you name it. Beyond that, we need more star teams to emerge who are recognizable to the average tennis or sports fan. McCoco has the potential to be the Bryan Brothers equivalent on the WTA if they keep playing together. Who else can step into the doubles spotlight?
Van Sias: I feel the powers that be really need to trust the product and do a better job of promoting the aspects of the game that differentiate it from singles. With the shorter match format at the tour events, there’s so much pressure riding on every point. And with more play at the net than what you see in singles, there’s the potential for more rapid-fire, exciting rallies. Relying on the occasional singles player to dip in isn’t a sustainable, or particularly reliable, format, especially when you have specialists that excel in the discipline—and are ready to carry the sport.
Nicolas Peirera: Get more money in doubles, and get the singles players involved in the doubles. It’s difficult because there’s a big movement on the tournament side to have less doubles because doubles players cost money to the tournament. So it’s a tricky one, but I think money is the key. The more money you put in, the more people you’ll see playing doubles, and right now that does not look very likely… To make it more enticing, you need big personalities. That’s what sells, and the big personalities are the better-known players who are on TV. You see very little doubles on TV. That could be a way to get it more mainstream.
Listen to the entire Nicolas Pereira Interview: An Underrated Doubles Serve, the Bunt Return, and More Doubles Strategy