For the last 18 months, Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski have been the most in-form and consistent doubles team on the ATP Tour. And despite eight titles together and an impressive 88-32 record (73%-win percentage), there was a lingering, noticeable gap in their expanding doubles resume – a men’s doubles grand slam title. But not anymore.
Koolhof and Skupski captured their first major and ninth title overall this past weekend at the 2023 Wimbledon Championships, checking off a long-awaited career milestone on their list of accomplishments. The No. 1 doubles pair defeated the veteran Spanish-Argentine duo, No. 15 Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos, 6-4, 6-4 in a fairly straightforward contest.
Koolhof/Skupski broke their opponents’ serve early in both sets and then never looked back. Leading 6-4, 5-4, Skupski served out the match without dropping a point in his final service game. Both players fell to the ground in disbelief as the pro-UK crowd erupted in roars for Skupski, the home country favorite.
I remember growing up as a young boy at Palmerston Tennis Club in Liverpool and watching the Championships on TV with my dad and brother. It doesn’t get better than this. Wesley and I came together 18 months ago, and one of our main goals was to win a grand slam. Now that we’ve done it, it feels pretty special.Neal Skupski
The Wimbledon title marked their first team victory over Granollers/Zeballos, who led Koolhof/Skupski 2-0 in their head-to-head with back-to-back quarterfinal wins at Roland Garros in 2022 and 2023. This victory also propelled Koolhof and Skupski back to the top of the ATP doubles rankings and the leader in the 2023 ATP Doubles Race.
For Granollers and Zeballos, the loss in the Wimbledon finals was, unfortunately, familiar territory. Together, the pair are 0-3 in major finals with two runner-up performances at Wimbledon (2021, 2023) and one runner-up finish at the U.S. Open (2019). Granollers is 0-5 in career slam finals with two additional finalist performances at the 2014 U.S. Open and the 2014 French Open.
Skupski Makes History for Great Britain
For Skupski, a UK native and Liverpool resident, winning his first men’s doubles title on home soil was the icing on the cake. Although 2023 marked Skupski’s first major title in men’s doubles, he is no stranger to grand slam success on Centre Court.
Skupski and American Desirae Krawczyk, both former NCAA tennis standouts, have built a formidable mixed doubles reputation with back-to-back Wimbledon titles in 2021 and 2022. This year’s men’s title marked a three-peat for Skupski at the All-England Club from 2021-2023.
Skupski also became the first British player to win both the men’s doubles title and mixed doubles title in 100 years, and just the second British player in the Open Era to accomplish this feat since Jonathan Marray in 1923.
In his on-court interview during the trophy ceremony, he credited his older brother Ken Skupski for much of his doubles success. “My brother Ken has played such an influential role throughout my career,” Skupski added.
Ken, who now serves as Neal’s full-time coach, reached a career-high doubles ranking of No. 44 before retiring from professional tennis in July 2022. He and Neal played together on tour consistently during the peak of his career and won three titles as a pair.
NCAA Doubles Pipeline Continues Trending Upward
Ten or 20 years ago, players who pursued a collegiate tennis career instead of going directly to the pro tour were frowned upon or perceived as failures who weren’t good enough to make it on the pro tour. Those days are now long gone.
Skupski, a three-time All-American at Louisiana State University, is one of many successful players on tour today who are proud products of the NCAA Tennis system. His win at Wimbledon signaled yet another resounding endorsement for college tennis as a viable pathway to the pro tour, particularly in doubles.
With Skupski’s victory, Wimbledon became the fourth consecutive major won by a former NCAA tennis standout:
- 2022 U.S. Open: Joe Salisbury (Memphis) and Rajeev Ram (Illinois)
- 2023 Australian Open: Rinky Hijikata (North Carolina)
- 2023 Roland Garros: Austin Krajicek (Texas A&M)
- 2023 Wimbledon: Neal Skupski (LSU)
What’s Next for the No. 1 Doubles Team?
On a week-in, week-out basis, Koolhof and Skupski have been the most successful doubles team on tour since teaming up at the start of the 2022 season. Last year, they notched a career-best year by winning seven titles, advancing to 10 finals, and achieving the No. 1 ranking together.
Until Wimbledon this year, their performances at the grand slam stage largely fell below expectations. Their first six major attempts were highlighted by a nervy runner-up performance at the 2022 U.S. Open and back-to-back quarterfinalist appearances in 2022 and 2023 at the Australian Open and Roland Garros.
Last year, their debut Wimbledon run together resulted in a disappointing loss in the Round of 16. On their 7th major performance at Wimbledon this year, they finally struck gold on the grass at Wimbledon.
With their grand slam kryptonite now firmly in the rearview mirror, how high can the No. 1 doubles team continue to climb?
“We’re eyeing the U.S. Open and Nitto ATP Finals later this year in Turin – obviously those are both big goals for us,” Koolhoff added. “I won the ATP Finals in 2020, so it’d be great to give Neal a shot at winning that title too. For now, we’ll enjoy the Champions’ Ball tomorrow night.”
In a current ATP doubles landscape with narrow margins and three different major winners thus far in 2023, there’s a high degree of parity ripe for any team to take advantage of on any given week. But If I’m betting on one doubles team, Koolhof and Skupski seem to have the perfect balance of comradery, consistency, and confidence to stay ahead of the pack.