by Hanlon Walsh

August 31, 2021   

Six years ago, I made my first long-awaited trip to the U.S. Open. I still remember it like it was yesterday, spending 12-14 hour days roaming the outside courts in the early rounds like a kid in a candy store. I was amazed at the incredible access a mere $50-60 grounds pass can get you. Maybe the best value in sports?

Some of my most vivid memories were sitting front row for exciting doubles matches that rarely get the attention of stadium courts or TV crews. To me, watching doubles in person can often be more exciting than singles. Double the players on the court = double the personalities and chemistry. Plus, even when doubles do make a rare TV appearance, watching on a screen simply doesn’t do it justice when you see the incredible hands and net play of top doubles players up close and personal.

With doubles at the U.S. Open kicking off today, we’ve pulled in a handful of doubles experts and our own team to weigh in on major storylines ahead of the doubles tournament. Our goal is simple – we want to keep doubles top of mind and eventually help it get the same platform as singles in terms of popularity and media coverage, or at least close to it 😉

With both draws filled with many usual suspects, some shake-ups at the top of the game, American wildcard duos, and a mix of dangerous unseeded players to keep a close eye on, our doubles experts offer you their take on what will be an exciting two weeks of doubles action in New York.

Meet the Panelists

Who are some of the hottest doubles teams of the summer coming into the U.S. Open?

Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani crowned doubles champions at the National Bank Open
Luisa Stefani (left) and Gaby Dabrowski (right) have claimed one title and two runner-up finishes during the U.S. Open series since partnering together earlier this summer. Photo credit: Tennis Canada.

Van Sias: I think the two teams playing the best right now are Andreja Klepac and Darija Jurak, and Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani. Both duos are among the top eight seeds on the women’s side, based on the runs they had over the hard courts, which included splitting final-round matches in San Jose and Canada.

Will Boucek: Gaby Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani made the Cincinnati final just after winning in Canada. Stefani is one of the few players who serves and volleys on the women’s tour which is a treat to watch.

On the men’s side, I’m not sure there’s been a “hot” team lately but Marcelo Arevalo is a player to keep an eye on. He’s steadily improved over the last year or so. He made the Cincinnati semis and then won in Winston-Salem with his US Open partner Matwe Middelkoop.

Hanlon Walsh: The WTA’s newest duo of Gaby Dabrowski/Luisa Stefani has been raising eyebrows quickly after playing together for just a few short weeks. They’ve gone 13-2 in their first three tournaments together, winning the trophy in Montreal and finishing runner up in San Jose and Cincinnati.

On the men’s side, top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic have been virtually unbeatable throughout the year with eight titles, including a gold medal in Tokyo and Wimbledon title. I’ll be interested to see if they can keep up the momentum in New York.

Isaiah Buse: I think the top-seeded Mektic and Pavic, the reigning Olympic Champions, are deserving of their draw. But, as a bit of an underdog, I would keep an eye out for the pairing of Ram and Salisbury at the four seed, as they have played very well all summer, even defeating Mektic and Pavic at the Canadian Open.

As for the women’s draw, I think that the fifth-seeded Dabrowski and Stefani have really come to life this summer, winning the Canadian Open and being finalists at the Western & Southern Open and the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic.

Catch our interview with Gaby Dabrowski last summer to learn more about doubles strategy, her doubles career, and how she’s trying to help grow the doubles game.

With full crowds in New York, are there any doubles teams (or players) you expect to do particularly well feeding off the energy?

Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Van Sias: I really like the prospects of a young American team like “McCoco,” aka Caty McNally and Coco Gauff. Neal Skupski and Nicholas Monroe will be the straight men to their respective partners, Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe, who also get pumped up pretty readily by a New York crowd.

Will Boucek: The American teams will love it. I’d expect the crowd to potentially help bring an American back in the match if they get down a set and a break. Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson, who have a very tough draw, should get a strong crowd behind them. It should help Jack Sock as well. He’s teaming up with former LSU Tiger, Neal Skupski, who has had a great year. On the women’s side, I’d expect Bethanie Mattek-Sands to feed off the crowd, and of course, McCoco.

Hanlon Walsh: Bethanie Mattek-Sands is the first name that comes to mind. She’s one of the biggest names in the women’s draw and can feed off the energy of any crowd, especially at a home slam in New York. On the men’s side, I like Nick Monroe and Frances Tiafoe’s chances to feed off the crowd and make a surprising run. Frances has proved many times in the past that he can play his best tennis when there’s a loud crowd behind him.

Which teams are the most compelling to you when looking at the U.S. Open doubles draws?

Sania Mirza and Coco Vandeweghe
Sania Mirza and Coco Vandeweghe are teaming up for the first time this U.S. Open and will be an unseeded team to watch closely. Photo credit: FirstSportz

Will Boucek: For the women, I expect Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Veronika Kudermetova to make a run. Kudermetova has quietly had a very good summer in doubles and should complement the net game of Mattek-Sands well. In the men’s draw, Jack Sock and Neil Skupski will be a fun team to watch. They have a decent draw as well and could go far.

Hanlon Walsh: If I was a top doubles team, I wouldn’t want to see Jack Sock and Neal Skupski in my section of the draw. Sock is a multi-slam champion and Skupski is coming off an impressive mixed doubles title at Wimbledon alongside Desirae Krawczyk. I expect them to make waves in the draw and cause a few upsets along the way.

On the women’s side, Sania Mirza and Coco Vandeweghe caught my eye immediately when the wild cards were announced. Both former partners of Martina Hingis, the combination of Mirza’s doubles IQ and past success plus Coco’s powerful game style could take them a long way. Plus, Mirza has to be feeling confident coming off a title in Cleveland with Christina McHale.

Isaiah Buse: I kind of alluded to them in a previous question, but I think on the men’s side it is Ram and Salisbury, and on the women’s side it is Dabrowski and Stefani. They aren’t necessarily the best teams in their respective draws, but they are both experienced and know how to win.

In this Doubles Only episode, Will explains why some teams should consider playing back on occasion and talks through different scenarios of when this is appropriate. Check it out and listen to more Doubles Only episodes here.

Who are your favorites and dark horse picks to win the tournament?

Mektic and Pavic win Tokyo 2020 Doubles Gold Medal
Top seeds Mate Pavic (left) and Nikola Mektic (right) won the doubles gold medal for Croatia earlier this summer at the Tokyo Olympics, capping off a banner year thus far in 2021. Photo credit: Tennis World USA

Van Sias: On the men’s side, my favorites are clearly Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic. My dark horse men’s team is Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, the 16th seeds who are due for a Slam breakthrough. For the women, I’m going with Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. Whichever team makes it through to the final from the top half of the draw will have been through a battle, with the Czechs waiting in the wings. My dark horse women’s pick is Caroline Dolehide and Storm Sanders.

Jennifer Paddock: On the men’s side, my favorite is Mektić/Pavić. They are countrymen, from Croatia. In 2021, they’ve won eight ATP titles, Wimbledon, the gold medal at the Olympics. They’re seeded No. 1. Pavić, at six foot three, is a lefty. He’s the shotmaker, the risktaker, going all the time. Mektić, at six feet, is right-handed. He’s solid, steady, making a lot of balls.

My close second favorite is Granollers/Zeballos. Again, you have a lefty, Zeballos, and a righty, Granollers. Always a good combination. Zeballos hits with a lot of topspin, while Granollers hits more flat, so you get two variations. You don’t get the same ball all the time.

My dark horse is Skupski/Sock. Neal Skupski, British, is a doubles specialist. Jack Sock, American, has won four Grand Slam titles: one mixed at the US Open with Melanie Oudin and three men’s (Wimbledon with Vasek Pospisil and Wimbledon and US Open with Mike Bryan).

I watched Sock play recently in Washington (both singles and doubles), and he’s in fine form.

On the women’s side, my favorite is the Czech team of Barbara Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková. They are a good pairing, physically and emotionally. They back each other up. They just won the gold medal at the Olympics. They are seeded second. And Krejčíková won her first Slam singles title this year at Roland-Garros.

My dark horse is fan favorite McCoco. I love the partnership of young Americans Coco Gauff and Caty McNally. They obviously like being around each other and often practice together. They make a dynamic team, so fun to watch.

Will Boucek: Mektic & Pavic have won nearly every major this year and are the obvious men’s favorites. For my men’s dark horses, I have two teams that come to mind: Cam Norrie/Jan-Lennard Struff and Jack Sock/Neil Skupski. Norrie has had a good year as of late and I think rising in singles helps in doubles too. Struff is one of those good singles players who might be better at doubles. On the other hand, Sock has multiple major titles and Neil Skupski has had a terrific year so far.

My women’s favorites are the Czech No. 2 seeds, Krejcikova and Siniakova. They play some of the smartest doubles on the WTA tour. Look for Siniakova to move to the net from the ad court and poach a lot with her forehand volley. Krejcikova controls the point from the baseline and sets up her partner as good as anyone. My women’s dark horse picks are Pavlyuchenkova and Rybakina. While they’ve both had a good summer in singles, their doubles runs together have quietly been swept under the radar, making the quarters at Roland Garros and semifinals in Canada with some excellent wins.

Hanlon Walsh: On the men’s side, you can’t bet against Mektic and Pavic as the favorites given the year they’ve had in 2021. For dark horses, I like Jack Sock and Neal Skupski. For the women, I’ll go with No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova as the favorites. With renewed enthusiasm in both of their singles games, a title at Roland Garros, and a gold medal in Tokyo, their confidence has to be sky high right now. For a dark horse, I like McCoco’s chances to feed off the crowd and make a deep run.

Isaiah Buse: It’s very cliche to say this, but the top-seeded teams in both draws were not placed there by mistake. Mektic and Pavic in the men’s draw and Hsieh and Mertens in the women’s draw can’t be overlooked as the favorites, especially with their more favorable paths to the championship. As for the dark horses, I’m going to go outside of any of the names I’ve mentioned so far and say that Klaasen and Mclachlan in the men’s draw and Kudermetova and Mattek-Sands in the women’s draw are my dark horse favorites.

What is your favorite memory watching or covering doubles at the U.S. Open?

Jennifer Paddock and Hanlon Walsh at the 2016 US Open
Jennifer Paddock (left) and Hanlon Walsh (right) enjoy a drink together in between matches at the 2016 U.S. Open.

Van Sias: The first time I went to the Open was back in 1998 on the second Thursday of the tournament, traditionally a heavy doubles day. I got to see Serena Williams and Max Mirnyi play from the front row as the youngsters were going for their second Slam win of the season. What has really stuck out in my mind, though, is watching Martina Hingis and Jana Novotna play doubles together. I’ll never forget seeing Novotna—the reigning Wimbledon singles champ then—miss an easy floater volley. I figured if she could do that, I should never feel bad about missing one!

Jennifer Paddock: In 2017, Jean-Julien Rojer won the US Open with Horia Tecău. I watched them practice (I remember it was on Court 11, and the stands were packed). And through lucky timing, after they’d won the title, I had my picture taken with Rojer. He told me to hold the trophy, too, so it’d look like we won mixed.

Will Boucek: In 2020, I did my first professional scouting report for a US Open doubles match. I remember watching the team execute some of the strategies I recommended and thinking “wow, these are the best doubles players in the world and they’re really listening to me”. It’s a ton of fun analyzing the highest level of our sport and I’ll never forget that first match.

Hanlon Walsh: My favorite doubles memory was a 2016 U.S. Open first round doubles match between Steve Johnson/Sam Querrey and Leander Paes/Fernando Verdasco. We had front row seats on Court 4 and it was incredible to see the power and hands of each doubles player. The Americans pulled off the upset and it was fun to pull them through until the end.

Isaiah Buse: Although I certainly can’t stake claim to having watched this live (since I still wouldn’t be alive for another 15 years), Martina Navratilova’s “triple crown” stands out in my mind. Seeing a player win the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles not only helps bring more awareness to doubles but also proves how great of an overall player she was.

What is one thing you would change about professional doubles to make it more popular?

Williams and Kyrgios at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships
Venus Williams and Australia’s Nick Kyrgios celebrate winning against Austin Krajicek and Sabrina Santamaria of the US, in their first round mixed doubles match at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships. (Photo by AELTC/IAN WALTON/POOL VIA COURT TV/AFP via Getty Images)

Will Boucek: Create more doubles events. It could mean tournaments for doubles players only, or having a doubles day during a normal tournament. If it gets the promotion it deserves, people will have interest since that is what most people play. The players need to do a better job of self-promotion and getting their names and stories out there as well.

Hanlon Walsh: I think tennis has a huge opportunity to make mixed doubles more of a thing. Whenever top players partner together – whether it be Serena/Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2019, Venus/Kyrgios at Wimbledon in 2021, or some of the fun pairings we saw at the Tokyo Olympics – people are always locked into mixed doubles when their favorite players enter the draw. Plus, no other sport can offer this unique type of product and experience. How can we feature mixed doubles at more tour events and incentivize top players to play?

Isaiah Buse: I think that professional doubles could use more stars. How we get more stars to play doubles is the question that really needs to be answered. It’s undeniable that doubles were at their peak when top singles players also participated in doubles draws. We need to figure out a way to incentivize players to not just specialize in singles.

Which doubles team (or player) would you…

Go out for dinner or drinks with?

  • Van Sias: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Veronika Kudermetova (Mattek-Sands would be a blast to hang out with—or at least it seems that way!)
  • Jennifer Paddock: Jean-Julien Rojer and Wesley Koolhof. I’d like to learn Dutch.
  • Will Boucek: Hsieh Su-Wei and anyone
  • Hanlon Walsh: Sania Mirza/Coco Vandeweghe or Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury
  • Isaiah Buse: Jack Sock and Neal Skupski

Listen to them give a TED Talk?

  • Jennifer Paddock: Jean-Julien Rojer. When I’ve watched him practice, he seems to like interacting with the crowd, so I think he’d be good at a TED talk.
  • Isaiah Buse: Veronika Kudermetova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands
  • Will Boucek: Raven Klaasen
  • Hanlon Walsh: Too bad Eric Butorac doesn’t count, since he actually gave a TED Talk in 2017.

Want to be your tour guide in their home country?

  • Van Sias: Simone Bolelli (Italy) and Maximo Gonzalez (Argentina)
  • Jennifer Paddock: Mektić/Pavić. I’ve heard Croatia, especially Umag, is beautiful. I’d like to go one day.
  • Will Boucek: Shuko Aoyama
  • Hanlon Walsh: Cabal and Farah. Colombia is next on my South American bucket list.
  • Isaiah Buse: Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares

Hanlon Walsh

About the author

Hanlon Walsh is a content writer and social media manager for The Tennis Tribe. Based in Birmingham, Ala., he also works full-time as public relations manager for a boutique communications firm. Hanlon has played tennis for over 20 years and was a former Division III collegiate standout at Birmingham-Southern College. A master of the moonball in his playing days, he recently attended his first (but not last) Australian Open in 2020 and can attest that it is the GOAT of all four grand slams. When not trolling Tennis Twitter or podcasts, he's usually doing some type of outdoor activity.

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