Great news for top doubles star Nicolas Mahut.
Left a bit bereft when partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert – a decade younger – wanted to focus on his rapidly improving singles results through the busy summer, the 37-year-old needed a solid partner.
And it seems he has found one.
Lefty Jürgen Melzer of Austria, a two-time Grand Slam champion with German Philipp Petzschner, has signed on.
Melzer won Wimbledon in 2010 and the US Open in 2011 with Petzschner. And he already has won two titles in 2019: Sofia with Nikola Mektic, and Marrakech last week with Franko Skugor.
— Jurgen Melzer (@jojomelzer) April 27, 2019
Similar ages and career paths
Mahut, 37, was in the top 40 in singles as recently as four years ago. He’s outside the top 250 now. But he’s in that netherworld top-ranked doubles players get into where if they really want to concentrate on building up that singles ranking, they would have to drop down a level.
When you’re playing (and winning) the biggest doubles events in the world, and that’s how you’re making an excellent living, that’s a tough ask.
Herbert, just 28, is in a different situation. He’s in the top 50 in singles now, and has beaten Dominic Thiem, Denis Shapovalov, Tomas Berdych, Fernando Verdasco and Kei Nishikori (in Monte Carlo) this season.
He reached the semifinals in Budapest this week, on clay.
Herbert wants to make a run at the majors – especially his “home” Slam, the French Open. And at Wimbledon, where his serve-volley skills can be extremely useful, the doubles is best-of-five.
And so, after the duo completed the career doubles Grand Slam together at the Australian Open in January, he told Mahut he needed a doubles sabbatical.
The plan is still to aim for gold at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
On the market again
And so, a suddenly-single Mahut hit the doubles market. He even advertised his availability on the players’ website, to see if any good opportunities came up.
He wanted someone who could commit to the whole swing with him. And, obviously, it had to be a player whose ranking was high enough that they could get into the big Masters 1000 tournaments together.
Mahut did sign on in Rome with countryman Jérémy Chardy – also primarily a singles player.
What he found, Mahut said, was that players in the 60-100 ranking range were eager to pair up (his current ranking of No. 3 would help them get in to the biggest events).
But the picking were slim; men’s doubles is crazy-competitive at the moment. And most of the top players are well-established in their teams.
In the end, Melzer came into the picture.
We’re going to guess that Mahut will play the deuce side, and Melzer the ad side.
Mahut even announced it at the end of a nice video he published on Friday.
Strong in both disciplines
Also 37, Melzer comes in at the top end of that rankings range, at No. 61.
He was a top-10 singles player, reaching No. 8 back in 2011 and the owner of five career titles. He’s one of the rare players in recent years who has been top 10 in both singles and doubles.
But shoulder surgery, and realistic objectives at age 37, meant he had to turn the page on singles after one final injury comeback. He said goodbye at his home-country tournament in Vienna last fall, turning back the clock with a first-round upset win over Milos Raonic.
Unfortunately, he had to give his next opponent, Kevin Anderson, a walkover in the second round. There’s a message right there.
Melzer is still at No. 289 in singles, but that will slowly fade.
And after playing with seven different partners so far in 2019, he will have a steady one through the summer – unless it’s a complete disaster, which is unlikely.
A year ago, his doubles ranking outside the top 700, Melzer needed a wild card to get into Wimbledon. They paired him up with the retiring Daniel Nestor in a two-for-one package.
This year, he and Mahut will walk in the front door as in the space of a year, he has raised his ranking over 800 spots.