A Big Doubles Fault
An award-winning tennis writer says the ATP’s pro doubles “enhancements” are absurd, unethical, and unfair.
By Paul Fein
After three decades of policy blunders, the ATP stands on the brink of delivering the coup de grace to the great event of doubles and its talented stars. To try to entice leading singles players to enter doubles events, ATP tournaments plan to use no-ad scoring and sets played to five games (instead of six) with a tiebreaker when games reach 4-4. This scoring system is not even approved by the International Tennis Federation, which governs the rules of tennis.
These and other highly important rules changes were made without consulting the ITF and only a few present and past singles and doubles standouts whose expertise, experience, and ethics the ATP sorely needs. The reforms will go into effect after the US Open unless the ATP either accepts how misguided and damaging they are, or the ATP is pressured by the growing protest in the tennis world to rescind them. Let’s examine these radical changes from various angles.
What Does the ATP Really Want? — Horst Klosterkemper, ATP President Europe and Player Relations, says, “Singles players said they would consider playing doubles on a more consistent basis if changes were made.” But that purported rationale isn’t the real reason.
“The ATP’s doubles enhancements are not enhancements at all, just the tournament directors looking for cost savings,” rightly notes Bill Oakes, former director of the ATP’s tournament in Atlanta and now an analyst for the “MatchPoint America” show on The Tennis Channel. “They should just admit it. I have heard many tournament directors whine about having to pay for doubles players’ hotel and food and even prize money.” Put differently, the badly-intentioned goal is to drive doubles standouts out and replace them in doubles draws with singles specialists.
What Do Top Singles Players Really Want? — Only two players ranked in the top 20 — teenagers Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet — favor the reforms and say they intend to play doubles more often. Mark Knowles, former world No. 1 in doubles and current vice president of the ATP Players Council, says, “All of the 10 or so singles players ranked in the top 20 that I’ve talked to have stressed that they won’t play any more doubles events throughout the year, regardless of any of these proposed rules changes. The guys in the top 10 earn such huge amounts of prize money and endorsements that it’s not worth it for them to risk injury and exhaustion to sacrifice their singles preparation for a minimal amount of prize money and prestige in doubles. Also, some singles players aren’t very good in doubles and others simply don’t enjoy doubles.”
How Would Singles Players Fare in Doubles? — Based on past results, they’d fare mediocre to poorly. The top 10 singles players (none of whom serve and volley often) in the ATP Champions Race, as of June 12, 2005, compiled a dismal 180-196 doubles record with 10 titles and no Grand Slam titles during the previous 2½ years. In stunning contrast, during the same period, the top 10 doubles players, as of June 12, 2005, racked up a 1,224-488 record with 97 titles and 14 Grand Slam titles. Thus, singles standouts would not only fail to revitalize doubles, but watching them flounder often in doubles would prove more of a letdown than a treat for their diehard fans.
How About the New Scoring System? — No-ad simply does not offer a fair test of skill and will, a sine qua non of any athletic competition. Under the traditional scoring system, the odds are clearly greater that the more skillful player and team will eventually win a given game. Unquestionably, the no-ad method unfairly boosts the chances of the underdog who needs only one point to win a game from deuce, because at 3-all, the fluke shot, bad bounce, net cord or incorrect line call assumes an undue significance. No-ad also unfairly helps the Wild Slugger against the Skill Player. At 3-all, the inferior Wild Slugger knows that he needs only one point to win the game and thus one great shot. Paradoxically, that can tighten up and prolong — rather than shorten — matches.
How Flagrant Is the Discrimination Against Doubles Players? — In 2004 the ATP adopted an entry ranking system with acceptance in doubles draws based on a player’s ATP Entry Ranking either in singles or doubles, whichever is higher. Beginning in 2008, only a new combined doubles ranking will be used to determine entries in doubles, counting 50 percent of a player’s singles points and 50 percent of his doubles points. Also in 2008, only players in the main draw singles will be allowed to enter doubles — with two exceptions. Tournaments can still award wild cards, and in 2008 and 2009, spots will be reserved for players with the best combined ranking not playing in the singles draw: two entries in a 16-team draw, four in a 24-team draw, and six for 24- and 32-team ATP Masters Series draws.
That the ATP fills doubles draws and ranks and seeds doubles players and teams based in part or virtually completely on their singles results is stupid, absurd, unethical, and unfair. The clear-cut discrimination — replacing doubles teams with legitimate, hard-earned and superior results with singles players with inferior doubles results — may also violate the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The top doubles players, along with some singles stars and tourney directors, have mobilized to preserve and improve doubles. “Doubles is too great a game to destroy,” says Mike Bryan, who reached three Grand Slam finals this year with his twin brother Bob. “With the help of the players, fans, officials, media, sponsors, and the rest of the tennis world this summer, we’ll stop these rule changes. We’ll save doubles.”
Doubles lovers of the world unite!
See all articles by Paul Fein
About the Author
Paul Fein is a veteran tennis writer. His book, *Tennis Confidential: Today's Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies,* was listed No. 1 among tennis books by Amazon.com and BN.com. For information or to order, visit Tennis Confidential on the web. His second book, *You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers,* was published by Potomac Books Inc. in February 2005. Visit Tennis Quotes on the web.