2019 Indian Wells doubles lineup … singular

Top singles stars often play doubles at the BNP Paribas Open, a popular choice in the first event of a series, with a climate or surface change to adjust to.

There’s a full 32-team doubles field at Indian Wells. And with 32 seeds with first-round byes, most of the singles players don’t start until later in the week – some as late as the first weekend. 

Andy Murray played the desert doubles 11 straight times between 2007 and 2017.

The 2019 lineup is no different. In fact, it might be one of the more interesting lineups already – if all the players who’ve committed follow through.

The entry deadline isn’t until Monday. And there are two wild cards to be distributed. So there will be more additions.

But already, you know the team of Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini will pack Stadium 2, where many of the high-profile doubles teams ply their trade.

Still not on board is Rafael Nadal, who has played it 11 times – four of those with Marc Lopez, with titles in 2010 and 2012. 

If he plays, it won’t be with Lopez, who already is entered with Feliciano Lopez.

Roger Federer? He also has played it 11 times, going back to 2000. Most recently, he did countryman Michel Lammer a solid and paired up with him for a first-round loss in 2015. That was actually the last time Federer played doubles in an ATP Tour event.

The Swiss (who reached the singles final in 2018) reached the final in 2002 with Max Mirnyi. He also reached final in 2011 and the semis in 2014 with Stan Wawrinka.

Let’s call that possibility … remote. The last time Federer played any (non Hopman Cup mixed) doubles was a loss in a Davis Cup relegation tie against the Netherlands in Sept. 2015,  with Marco Chiudinelli.

Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini

Fognini is an accomplished doubles player, in the top 10 just a few years ago.

Djokovic has played just once this year, reaching the Doha semifinals with brother Marko and losing a 15-13 match tiebreak to eventual champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and David Goffin.

He has played doubles at Indian Wells five times before – most recently in 2017, when he and countryman Viktor Troicki upset top seeds Herbert and Nicolas Mahut before losing in the quarterfinals

Juan Martin del Potro and Maximo Gonzalez

Del Potro, who plans to finally start his 2019 season next week in Delray Beach, is teaming up with a countryman who is a top-40 doubles player (and at a career-high ranking). 

He’s also defending his singles title – and 1,000 ranking points.

The two have played together occasionally – notably at the Rio Olympics, where they lost in three sets to gold-medalists Nadal and Lopez.

Like Djokovic, del Potro also has played the doubles at Indian Wells five previous times – with several partners: David Nalbandian, Marin Cilic, Leonardo Mayer, Leander Paes and in 2018, Grigor Dimitrov.

The match with Cilic in 2014 was a notable one, because del Potro was pretty much hitting all one-handed backhands. He was testing out his wrist to see if it could hold up in singles. But he ended up withdrawing from the singles and was out the rest of the season.

Milos Raonic – Jérémy Chardy

Raonic played doubles in a similar situation in Brisbane – to open the new season. He and Robert Lindstedt beat the Bryan brothers in their first match back together before losing in the quarterfinals.

The Canadian played the Indian Wells doubles six straight years from 2011 to 2016 (with Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson, Lopez again, Ernests Gulbis – they defeated Djokovic and Krajinovic before losing to Federer and Wawrinka), Aisam Qureshi and John Isner).

He and Chardy have never played together.

Mischa and Alexander Zverev

This one is up in the air, given both Zverevs seem not to be 100 per cent. Zverev has played just two Davis Cup matches against Hungary since the Australian Open. And Mischa has played just one match this year – a first-round loss to young Aussie Alexei Popyrin in Melbourne.

Both are entered in singles – and together in doubles – in 10 days at the Acapulco tournament.

This would be the third straight year the brother team up in the desert. They also have entered Miami.

Frances Tiafoe / Leander Paes

Tiafoe plays doubles somewhat regularly (10 tournaments in 2018), without any notable success although he and Denis Kudla reached the semifinals in D.C. last summer.

This will be the 20th appearance at this event for Paes, going all the way back to 1996.

Dominic Thiem / Steve Johnson

Thiem was held back a bit by illness and was late getting down to South America for his fave Golden Swing. 

But it seems he’s getting right back to his double-time schedule.

The Austrian is in the doubles semi in Buenos Aires this week with his friend Diego Schwartzman. It’s his first doubles event of the season; he played eight in 2018 and lost in the first round of Indian Wells with Philipp Petzschner.

The pair played twice last year, in Rome on Clay and in Halle on grass. They won a tight one to the Zverev brothers in Rome before going down to Pavic and Marach, 16-14 in the match tiebreak. They’re also signed on for Miami.

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Wesley Koolhof

Tsitsipas

Seems an odd pairing, but perhaps the two have some history together.

At a career-best No. 40 this week, Koolhof played the Australian swing with regular partner Marcus Daniell, and had a wild card into Rotterdam with Jürgen Melzer this week.

Tsitsipas played some mixed doubles with countrywoman Maria Sakkari at Hopman Cup, but nothing else so far this season.

He played just about every week though 2017, when he was on the Challenger circuit and in 12 events (11 at the ATP level) in 2018, winning just four matches.

2018 doubles teams

Roberto Bautista-Agut/David Ferrer
John Isner / Jack Sock
Juan Martin del Potro / Grigor Dimitrov
Gilles Muller / Sam Querrey
Dominic Thiem / Philipp Petzschner (WC)
Alexander Zverev / Mischa Zverev
Philipp Kohlschreiber / Lucas Pouille

Plus Diego Schwartzman … Pablo Carreño Busta … Ryan Harrison … Fabio Fognini … Steve Johnson … Fernando Verdasco and Albert Ramos-Viñolas ….

2017 doubles teams

John Isner / Jack Sock
Novak Djokovic / Viktor Troicki
Rafael Nadal / Bernard Tomic (that was an … epic meetup)
Kohlschreiber /Thiem
Zverev / Zverev
Muller / Querrey
Andy Murray / Dan Evans
del Potro / Paes (WC)
Dimitrov / Stan Wawrinka
Marin Cilic / Nikola Mektic
Steve Johnson / Vasek Pospisil
Roberto Bautista Agut / Fernando Verdasco
Tomas Berdych / Philipp Petzschner
Nick Kyrgios / Nenad Zimonjic (WC)

Frank the Tank making career switch

Did you think Frank (the Tank) Dancevic was done?

You’ve got another think coming.

The 34-year-old Canadian Davis Cup captain will lead his young squad at the finals in Madrid in November.

But he has hit the courts again after not playing a professional match since the first round of Rogers Cup qualifying last August.

While Dancevic hasn’t completely closed the door on singles, he’s pivoting and going in a completely different direction.

Meet Frank Dancevic: doubles specialist.

Teaming with a former world No. 7

In this new adventure, Dancevic has a partner in crime.

He is former world No. 7 Florin Mergea of Romania.

“Florin and I have been talking since last summer. He wanted to start back up; he missed playing the tour, missed playing tournaments. I thought it was a great opportunity to play with a guy who was top player, made Grand Slam semis – and believes in me,” Dancevic told tennis.life from Mergea’s home in Targu Jiu, about halfway between Bucharest and Timisoara. “He believes in my game, believes we can be a great team together.”

Frank & Florin – a long history

Frank

Dancevic has known Mergea since juniors; they played each other at the Eddie Herr all the way back in 2001.

The Romanian was the No. 2 junior in the world in July, 2003; Dancevic hit No. 20 in 2001 and was a better doubles player than singles player back then. He won junior Wimbledon that year and reached the Australian Open final, both with Giovanni Lapentti.

Mergea was beating Berdych and Murray and Tsonga and Zverev (Mischa) and Monfils in singles. He reached the Australian Open junior final in 2003 while also having great doubles success with countryman Horia Tecau.

But while Dancevic reached No. 65 in singles, and had memorable moments including beating David Nalbandian at Wimbledon  and reaching the Rogers Cup quarterfinals at home before taking Rafael Nadal to three sets, Mergea’s pro singles career didn’t live up to his junior results.

He reached a career high of No. 243 early on, in 2006. And he stopped playing singles regularly on the Futures circuit back in 2010.

But as a doubles player, he shone.

Frank
Mergea and Tecau won silver for Romania at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

Silver medal in Rio

Mergea has won seven doubles titles with six different partners – notably taking Madrid in 2015 with Rohan Bopanna. They reached the ATP Tour Finals doubles final that year and made the final in Madrid again the following year. And Mergea and Tecau – reunited in an Olympic year – took silver at the Rio Olympics, losing to Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez in the gold-medal match.

Also 34, Mergea has struggled with injuries the last few years and has been off the Tour since last September, when won his first round at a Challenger in Romania. That had been his first Tour doubles win since April, with a different partner nearly every week. 

As well – just like Dancevic – he had also become a father.

“Somebody is willing to start from scratch with me, who was a top-10 player. You don’t get that opportunity every day,” Dancevic said. “We’re in the same kind of position in our career: both family guys, both have a kid. He struggled with injuries the last few years, I was figuring my life out. So we’re both starting from the same spot.”

Back to the Future(s)

After captaining Canada to an exciting comeback win over Slovakia in Bratislava two weeks ago, Dancevic immediately headed to Targu Jiu to get to work.

He’ll be there another week. And the new duo plans to make its debut at the Drummondville Challenger in mid-March. The tournament is less than an hour’s drive from Dancevic’s home in the Montreal suburbs.

After that, it’s back to the Futures.

Frank
Dancevic acted as on-court coach for his Davis cup player, Peter Polansky, during the qualifying at the Australian Open in January. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Dancevic and Mergea plan to play four $25K events in Santa Margarita di Pula, Sardinia, followed by four more in Bosnia (one of them a $15K) in May.

(That plan is not nearly as simple as it was even two months ago – before all the changes and the launching of the controversial ITF Transition Tour. Even if they wanted to, Dancevic and Mergea couldn’t get into the $15,000 tournaments. An even if they did, there are no longer any ATP Tour points on offer).

New Transition Tour doubles rules eliminate budding specialists

“This is going to be an investment, the first six months, to break through. We’re going to be losing money – guaranteed. I don’t even know what we’d earn if we won every single event,” Dancevic said. “It’s not about the money, for sure. Our focus is going to be to make the top 10 (in the ITF rankings).”

If Dancevic and Mergea can do that, they can enter Challengers for the rest of the season, because of the reserved spots at the Challenger level for the top-performing teams on the ITF circuit. “It’s kind of the only way we can break through right now,” he added. “It’s tough. But you have to start somewhere.”

Juggling family, Davis Cup and tennis

Frank
Frank, Nikolina and Alexander Dancevic, whose first birthday was in November.

Giving up the singles dream isn’t an easy decision for most tennis players. But for Dancevic, with the Davis Cup captaincy, a new father and his age, it was the best option.  He tried to captain and keep playing singles in 2018 – he played 17 events from January through the Rogers Cup. But it was too much.

The new Davis Cup format means fewer weeks of commitment, leaving more for training and competing. But Dancevic is realistic enough to know that, at 34, if he put in a full effort to rise in the rankings from his current No. 336 – and then suffered an injury – that would basically be it.

“I’m still young, and still have many years ahead of me. If I knew I’d be healthy for the next four years, it might be a different story. But I have to look at what’s best for my family, the captaincy – managing everything – and what would be the best thing for me as well. I’d be scattered everywhere,” he said. “I’m a husband, a father. Those are big priorities in my life. And we want to win the Davis Cup one day.”

Transitioning to doubles

Frank
Dancevic has the volleying skills in singles – he’ll have to adapt them to the tactics and positioning in doubles. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Dancevic hasn’t played doubles all that much in his career, focusing on singles. But he was good at it – and not only in juniors.

He reached the ATP Tokyo final, won two titles on the Challenger circuit and made seven other Challenger finals. He also went 3-1 in Davis Cup.

“As a singles player, I had belief. Growing up as a kid , I thought I was going to be No. 1 in the world. But once I was on tour for six, seven years, I really didn’t believe. I believed I could make top-50 or top-40 one day. And I got close; I got to 65.” he said. “But in doubles I have a different feeling. I really feel like I’m better than a lot of players that are in the top 50. And that I can eventually get there if I wok hard at my game.

“It won’t be easy. It’s going to take a lot of work and commitment. But I feel like I have the ability to get to the top 30,” he added. “And once you get there, you never know what can happen. I could easily play until I’m 40.”

Training in Romania

Dancevic and Mergea are in Romania working on their game, getting to know each other on court, and doing doubles drills – putting a game plan together for how they’ll hit the Tour.

Having such an accomplished partner is a huge asset, because Dancevic admits doubles is a completely different game.

“It’s played at a different frequency – less margin, lots of ups and downs, things just happen fast, there are a lot more swings in matches,” he said. “In doubles, one point changes the whole set. In singles, for the most part, the better player wins whereas there’s a lot more chance involved in doubles.”

He said there were a lot more tactics, more exhaustive study of the opponents’ patterns. “A lot of challenges, a lot of things I’m going to have to learn and am willing to learn,” he said. “But it’s all exciting stuff, because it’s all different to me.”

Dancevic doesn’t have the cannon serve that is a trademark of some doubles specialists. But he thinks his hard, flat delivery, which stays low, means opponents have trouble finding a lot of angles on the return. 

His aggressive returning, he believes, robs opponents of time. He can generate a lot of power from the opponent’s serve with his short return swings, moving well into the court.

“I served and volleyed a lot in the early days of my career, so I’m comfortable moving forward. It’s about sharpening up the hands, learning the angle and court positioning,” he said. “The fundamentals are there.”

Frank
Dancevic’s viral moment came in the extreme heat at the Australian Open in 2014, when he said he was hallucinating so badly he thought he saw Snoopy). (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Doing it for the next generation

Dancevic was debating the next step in his career for months. And then wife Nikolina said to him. “Wouldn’t you love it if Alex (son Alexander, 15 months old) were able to watch you play one day – when he’s old enough to know what’s going on?”

And that was the clincher.

Frank the Tank is back. In a career that already has a memoir’s worth of anecdotes, he’s writing the next chapter.

“It would be a great finish to my career, to have my kid watch me play, instead of telling him stories one day about how I used to be a player,” he said. “In a couple of years, he’s going to understand. And that’s the ultimate feeling – to have your family there and have your little boy watching you and cheering from the sidelines a a bigger event.

“I think I would regret it later on, if he was never able to watch me play.” 

Lucie Safarova scraps Aussie career finale

Lucie Safarova had planned to officially end her career at the Australian Open later this month.

Unfortunately, she won’t get the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to both tennis and her many friends in the game.

Tendonitis in her wrist has forced the veteran Czech to scrap those plans.

The 31-year-old (she turns 32 Feb. 4) won the Australian Open women’s doubles title in both 2015 and 2017 with good friend Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

With Mattek-Sands playing with new partner Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands, Safarova had entered with countrywoman Barbora Strycova.

Safarova and Strycova reached the quarterfinals a year ago

A proper goodbye – somewhere

Safarova wrote on Instagram that she plans to say farewell on court, somewhere, sometime soon. To be determined.

She hadn’t played a Tour event since last September in Quebec City. So this was a one-shot deal to close out her impressive career.

The Czech lefty also had entered the singles, and was the third alternate for the main draw with her current singles ranking of No. 105.

There hasn’t been a single official withdrawal yet, with the qualifying set to begin on Tuesday. But you’d have to think she’d have had a good shot at getting in.

Safarova had played some club matches in the Czech Republic during the offseason.

No word yet on whom Strycova might enlist as a replacement for the doubles. The official entries closed Friday at noon, Melbourne time.

Safarova announces she’ll retire in Oz

Shot-clock, doubles changes for ATP in 2019

With the new tennis season just a few weeks away, the ATP (no longer World) Tour will have more changes than just the snappy new logo.

Tennis.life has learned that the most notable one is that the 25-second shot clock will now be mandatory at all Masters 1000 level tournaments.

That goes for main draw and qualifying matches, on all match courts.

The shot clock is recommended for the lower-level tournaments as well. But it won’t be mandatory. That will change in 2020, when it will be required equipment at all ATP Tour events.

Doubles changes also instituted

The doubles players have been lobbying for some changes for awhile now. And they’re getting their wish in 2019 as all Masters 1000 tournaments will have 32-team draws.

Until now, only the expanded Indian Wells and Miami Open had full 32-team draws. The remainder of the Masters 1000s had 24-player draws – i.e., the eight seeded teams had first-round byes.

There will be three wild-card teams allowed per tournament, up from two currently, regardless of draw size.

In return, the doubles players will make themselves available for more off-court events to promote the tournaments.

Among those are pro-am and additional sponsor activities. These are things that already happen to some extent, at some tournaments. And it’s definitely not a new idea.

But the main addition – this is an interesting one – a “Doubles Only” court.

The biggest different with this court, if the tournaments choose to implement it, is that the court could be branded differently to make it stand out and attract attention on its own.

And, notably, there will be free crowd moment on that court. 

Which you have to think is a test of how that might go in the bigger picture.

US Open Series test passes

The tournaments leading up to this year’s US Open tried out the shot clock this year. 

As much talk as there is about it, it’s one of those things that sort of went unnoticed the vast majority of the time.

There’s no mention of the “shortened” warmup – i.e. the frantic race to get to the coin toss as soon as the players get on court, with little opportunity to refrigerate special sports drinks or even put the wristbands on right side up.

So let’s hope that’s for … later.

The end for Mirnyi, Schnyder and Jovanovic

At this time of the year, players who toiled late into November are on the beach somewhere (usually, not exclusively, the Maldives).

But those who wrapped things up a bit earlier are already back into training for the 2019 season.

So for those in the twilight of their careers, it’s decision time about whether they can – want to – go through the grind one more time.

For longtime doubles star Max Mirnyi, 41, the answer was no.

It’s been a very tough choice to make considering that the game of tennis has been my life ever since I can remember myself. I am absolutely thrilled to have had a chance to enjoy this game for so long!” Mirnyi said in a statement.

“While competing for myself or representing my country I have always treated my profession with the highest honour and respect, worked at it as hard as I could and now, stepping away from the game, I have no regrets and feel nothing but joy. I have achieved far beyond what a little boy from Minsk, Belarus could dream about at the beginning of the road.”

Belarus’s statement is a document full of evidence about just how much of a village it takes to make a successful professional tennis player.

Solid singles to brilliant doubles

Before Mirnyi was a doubles specialist, he was a very good singles player, reaching the top 20 back in 2003 with one career title, in Rotterdam that year.

But it was in doubles that he found a lasting home. Even in 2018, which turned out to be his final season, he was more than competitive. With Philipp Oswald of Austria, he won two titles – on an indoor hard court at the New York Open, and on red clay in Houston in April.

They were titles No. 51 and No. 52 of his career. And among those Mirnyi thanks are the (exactly!) 100 doubles partners with whom he teamed up professionally through a 25-year career.

Oswald and Mirnyi also reached two finals: to open the season in Auckland, and to close out Mirnyi’s ATP Tour career in Moscow in October.

His final match was in Davis Cup, in late October against Slovakia.

Mirnyi won the French Open men’s doubles four times (twice with the just-retired Daniel Nestor, twice with Jonas Bjorkman) and the US Open men’s doubles twice (with Lleyton Hewitt and Mahesh Bhupathi).

He also won the 2007 US Open mixed doubles with a young Azarenka, and again in 2013 with Andrea Hlavackova. He won the mixed at Wimbledon in 1998 with Serena Williams, His mixed partners have included Williams, Martina Navratilova, Maria Sharapova (with whom he shares an agent), Anna Kournikova and Genie Bouchard.

A multi-faceted Mirnyi life

While he did this, Mirnyi also completed his law degree in 2008. As well, he married and had four children, now ranging in age between four and 13. Mirnyi also has been a UN AIDS ambassador, a Unicef goodwill ambassador, the vice-president of the Belarus federation, 

Mirnyi relocated to Bradenton, Fla. to train at the Bollettieri academy in 1992 – and never left.

He was the flagbearer for his country at the Olympics in London in 2012, and won gold in mixed doubles (breaking British hearts) with countrywoman Victoria Azarenka over Andy Murray and Laura Robson.

 

Comeback too tough for Jovanovski

After a long time out of the game with wrist and shoulder surgeries, 26-year-old Bojana Jovanovski (who added “Petrovic” during her injury break when she got married) came back to try it again in 2018.

It turns out her body just couldn’t withstand the training needed to get back to the level she was capable of. And so on Wednesday, she reluctantly announced her retirement.

“After a lot of thinking and numerous injuries and operations it was very hard for me to make a final decision, I am still very passionate about tennis and competing but my body can not follow. Since I can no longer train and play the way I used to, give my best and fulfill all professional goals I had no other option,” Jovanovski Petrovic wrote on Facebook.

“So far I dedicated all my life to tennis, training and competition, did my best as a player and achieved great results. Maybe I did not achieved the maximum of my potential but I’m not unhappy,” she added. “Tennis has given me a lot and enriched my life. I had a chance to travel the world, meet people and make friends for life. In the future tennis will remain a big part of my life. I’m not leaving for good and without a plan.”

The Serb’s first order of business is to finish her psychology degree, and then look to coaching. 

Return in 2018

Jovanovski Petrovic was ranked in the top 80 six consecutive seasons, with a peak at No. 32 in 2014, before the injuries hit.

After losing in the first round of the 2016 French Open to Agnieszka Radwanska, Jovanovski Petrovic didn’t play again until the first round of qualifying at the WTA Tour event in St. Petersburg in Feb. 2018.

She played sporadically after that (although she did play the full grass-court season). Her final match was a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Sabine Lisicki in the qualifying in Tianjin, China in September. Lisicki, a former Wimbledon finalist, has been dealing with her own injury issues and is out of the top 200.

Schnyder’s Part II also done

Mirnyi

Another player who was gone for a significant period of time and returned was Patty Schnyder.

MirnyiSchnyder, who turns 40 in a few weeks, retired after the 2011 French Open – and even got the big, awkward official ceremony at the end of that season at the WTA Tour Finals.

She reached No. 7 in singles, and also was a top-20 doubles player and a three-time Olympian.

The new mom returned in July, 2015 in small events in Europe. And in her fourth tournament back, she went from the qualifying to the title at a $10,000 ITF in Prague. Later that season, she went from the qualifying to the final at a $25,000 ITF in Bangkok, beating former top-30 player Kaia Kanepi in the final.

Back to the WTA Tour

In April, 2016, she made her first return appearance on the WTA Tour with a wild card in the Charleston qualifying. (Other than a pair of wild cards into her home-country WTA event in Gstaad, Schnyder effected this comeback largely on her own).

By Aug. 2017, her ranking back near the top 200, she returned to the Grand Slam level for the first time, losing in the second round of US Open qualifying.

The return of Zvonareva and Schnyder (photos)

Schnyder got as high as No. 139 this June. And at the US Open, she won three rounds in qualifying, and got to face old foe Maria Sharapova in the first round of the main draw.

Sharapova and Schnyder had met eight times before, going all the way back to 2004. But while Sharapova led the head-to-head 7-1, that was a deceiving stat. Six of the eight meetings went three sets – and even the two straight-sets Sharapova victories were 7-5, 7-5, and 7-5, 6-4.

Schnyder gave Sharapova all she could handle in the second set of a 6-2, 7-6 (6) defeat.

Ends it with a comeback victory

Her last Tour match was a loss to Varvara Lepchenko in Luxembourg in October.

But her final competitive match was a victory, as Schnyder won in the French Interclubs last Wednesday for Mihaela Buzarnescu’s team, St-Dié-des-Vosges.

It was, perfectly, an impressive comeback. Schnyder beat Spain’s Laura Pous-Tio 5-7, 7-6 (8), 6-2.

But with her ranking back down to No. 279, it was going to be another season of grinding down at the lower levels. As she turned 40, as she put it, it was time to try something new.

Struggling in singles, Sock doubles … up

NEW YORK – Assuming he’s healthy, which it appears he is, American Jack Sock is having a crisis of confidence in singles.

He’s still in the top 20 – for now. And in fact, he’ll move up one spot to No. 17 on Monday after meekly going out in the second round of the US Open singles.

But he is salvaging his season in a major way, as the best possible substitute Mike Bryan could have asked for after his twin Bob underwent hip surgery.

Sock and Bryan are the US Open men’s doubles champions, after defeating No. 7 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 6-3, 6-1 in the final Friday.

“I think this was the best match we have played together, and we picked a good time to do it. You know, Jack hit some monstrous forehands. I think our average speed on shots was 84 (mph), and I’m hitting the ball in the 60s. Who’s the guy that’s bringing that up? It’s Jack. He had one at 111,” Bryan said.

They add that trophy to the one they won just two months ago, at Wimbledon. It’s the first time in 15 years that the same pair has won both.

“I tend to smile a lot more in doubles than singles and tend to put a lot less pressure on myself, for sure. And I think, as my coach is making fun of me back here, if I could translate that maybe over to singles and maybe have somewhat of that same mentality of playing loose and just enjoying, you know, every moment of it, then hopefully I can accomplish some of these things in singles,” Sock said.

“But I know the level I can play. I showed a lot of it last year. I think it’s just going to keep taking the team effort with the guys I have around me, and they are keeping me positive, keeping me motivated; I’m doing a lot of the right things. As long as I keep doing that, as I keep saying, it’s very close. And I was happy to at least get a win here and not keep the losing streak going, so I’ll take that, as well, confidence going forward and get ready for the fall.”

Oldest ever, but forever young

At 40, Mike Bryan is the oldest man to win a Grand Slam doubles title. That’s a record he could conceivably keep breaking as he expects Bob back for 2019. He also is the oldest-ever No. 1-ranked doubles player. Ditto.

For Sock, it’s a new career high in doubles at No. 2. His previous high was No. 6, back in May 2015 when he was still playing regularly with Canadian Vasek Pospisil (the two won Wimbledon together in 2014).

He began the season at No. 39, playing doubles somewhat regularly but always having it take a back seat to his singles career.

After just five tournaments together, they will rocket to No. 4 in the team rankings and will make the year-end Tour Finals in London. They are the defacto No. 3 team, as the actual No. 3s are the Bryan twins.

It is the sixth US Open doubles title for Mike, with the first five (obviously) coming with brother Bob. And it is his 120th career title.

It also puts him at the top of the list, in terms of Grand Slam doubles titles in the open era. He began 2018 tied with his brother at 16, one behind John Newcombe. Now, he stands alone.

“I think it comes down to playing the big matches well. Jack is a big match player. He always plays his best. He’s done it through his junior career. I don’t think you have lost a Grand Slam final. So he steps up when it really matters. When we lost in Cincinnati, he was, like, ‘We’re Grand Slam players’. I’m, like, ‘All right. Let’s see what we got.’

“He showed it today. He just played amazing. You know, it wasn’t easy early. At Wimbledon we struggled, had some long matches, down match points. I was still adjusting to the deuce court and to his style of play. He plays a different brand that I have never seen on my side before. So now it feels comfortable,” he added. “It’s just a blast. I mean, from the locker room, from practices, to winning these trophies, it’s just been a great ride.”

Best in the world? Nestor thinks so

The legendary Daniel Nestor said recently that Jack Sock was the best doubles player in the world. Why, Nestor was asked? Because he can win with anyone.

Mike Bryan, of course, is not anyone. But Sock played the ad side while Mike, who almost always plays the ad side with lefty Bob playing the deuce side (except, back in the day, when they wanted to change things up during a period they had a ton of trouble beating Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic), moved over.

Sock now has 13 titles. Four came with Pospisil, two with John Isner and now two with Bryan. He also has earned trophies with Nick Kyrgios, Nicholas Monroe, James Blake, Marcel Granollers and … Jackson Withrow.

“I was talking to my team and coach, especially, and I was not planning on playing doubles at Wimbledon. But after, you know, the unfortunate injury with Bob, obviously I talked to him a little bit and I said, If there’s a chance Mike contacts me, what would you say about that? I think that’s a special circumstance and occasion,” Sock said. “My coach said, ‘He’s the one guy I’d let you play with if he calls you or texts you.’ Soon after, I got the call or the text, you know, and a very quick yes from me.”

Frantic Friday at Wimbledon – Choices, Choices, Choices

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

Chapter 5 is called Choices, Choices, Choices

WIMBLEDON – We’ll have to assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no way for the All England Club to get special dispensation from the Merton Borough Council to break curfew – just this once.

Because a 1 a.m. finish for Djokovic vs. Nadal Friday night into Saturday would have been a better solution for all concerned.

The winner of the match could have slept in Saturday, perhaps had a light hit, a lot of treatment. And then, on Sunday, play the final.

As it is, one of them had to play late Friday, relatively early Saturday – and again on Sunday, where he will face the equally exhausted Kevin Anderson.

Anderson spent over 11 hours on court from Wednesday through Friday, just in two extra-time matches against John Isner and Roger Federer.

11:03 p.m.: the end

choices

If the All England Club had the option somehow, and didn’t exercise it, it did two of its illustrious former champions a disservice.

As it was, they returned to the court just 14 hours later to finish where they left off Friday night, when Djokovic squeezed out the third-set tiebreak to lead two sets to one.

The decision to start their semifinal – which kicked off around 8 p.m. because of the length of the Anderson-Isner marathon – under the roof was up to the referee, Andrew Jarrett.

It made sense, because there wasn’t going to be much daylight left, and better to take the time to close the roof and get the air-conditioning systems adjusted during the break after the first match.

It was going to have to happen anyway at some point, and time was precious.

The decision to resume on a beautiful, sunny Saturday with the roof closed was also Jarrett’s. Except, if both players agreed to play “outdoors”, with the roof open, at what is an outdoor tournament, it could have been changed even if it wasn’t a hard and fast rule.

One wanted to, one did not, is the general consensus although there’s no official confirmation from any of the parties involved at this point. 

No. 1 Court option not an option

There certainly is precedent at Wimbledon for a men’s semifinal to be played on No. 1 Court.

We tend to forget all the years when rain played havoc with the schedule, often threatening to prevent the tournament from finishing on time. And a couple of times, it actually did.

But as former finalist Andy Roddick pointed out Friday night on Twitter, he’s been there.

Once he was moved over to finish. On the second occasion, he played the entire match there.

Roddick celebrates after beating Mario Ancic on No. 1 Court on the second Friday of Wimbledon 2004.

Both times, he won, and ended up losing to Roger Federer in the final.

But Djokovic vs. Nadal in 2018 is not Roddick vs. Ancic, or Roddick vs. Johansson a dozen years ago.

No offense to those two fine players.

There was virtually no chance in Hades the tournament would move Nadal and Djokovic to No. 1 Court to finish their match.

Beyond the television considerations, the players likely would have both raised a ruckus.

It would have eliminated the roof-or-no-roof choice, though.

Had the second semifinal featured, say, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov, you can speculate it might have been a different story. Had the women’s final not featured Williams, it might have been another story again.

Maybe.

The women pay the price – again

The way the schedule panned out, part of it no one’s fault, is a tough one for the men.

But it’s an even tougher one for the women.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber will reprise their 2016 final.

choices
Serena Williams beat Angelique Kerber in a final women’s final in 2016, the last time Williams played. They started on time.

Except they had no clue when they would play. They couldn’t be sure when to eat, when to warm up, when to do anything.

And that was especially key because of the lack of a fifth-set tiebreak for the men.

At precisely 1 p.m. Saturday, when they were due to walk on Centre Court with their flower bouquets, Nadal was just wrapping up the fourth set against Djokovic.

Didn’t it seem as though we were beyond this back in the 1990s, when they finally did away with the facetiously-named Super Saturday at the US Open?

For a couple of decades, the women were an afterthought. They were the white creme between the two Oreo cookies as CBS dictated they be scheduled between the two men’s semifinals on the second Saturday.

Mercifully, that finally ended.

Serena and her sister Venus had everything to do with this when, back in 2001, it was decided that they could headline a night session with their significant star power.

The end of CBS’s longstanding contract as the event’s main broadcaster also allowed for more flexibility.

And then, the fact that someone finally decided that having the men play best-of-five sets on the Saturday, and come right back on the Sunday afternoon and play another best-of-five sets for a major title didn’t make for optimal tennis.

Well, maybe they considered that. Maybe.

Super Saturday to the max

The epic moment in Super Saturday history came on Sept. 8, 1984. Every match went the distance and every player on court that day was a champion.

First off was a legends’ match that began at 11 a.m. when Stan Smith defeated John Newcombe. Ironically, CBS had requested that extra match because the previous year’s Super Saturday had featured three blowouts.

Then came the first men’s semi: Ivan Lendl defeated Pat Cash 3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–7 (5–7), 7–6 (7–4). (Thank goodness for the fifth-set tiebreak).

Then, finally, the legendary Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova came on to play the women’s singles final.

Navratilova won that one, 4–6, 6–4, 6–4.

Then, closing in on 7:30 p.m., bitter rivals John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors finally took the court for the second men’s semi.

McEnroe won that one, 6–4, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3. It all ended at 11:16 p.m.

Women’s doubles also a casualty

With Nadal and Djokovic taking priority on Centre Court, one of the other finals was bumped off.

Of course, it was the women’s doubles final between Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova and Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke.

choices

They had been scheduled after the women’s singles final and the best-of-five sets men’s doubles final.

That’s long enough to wait (and with the men’s doubles also not having a deciding-set tiebreak, who knows how long).

But with the change, they have been relegated to “Court to be determined – not before 5 p.m.” status along with the far less consequential legends match featuring Thomas Enqvist, Thomas Johansson, Tommy Haas and Mark Philippoussis.

So they don’t know when they’re going to play. And they don’t know where.

It’s thin soup. Even given the extraordinary circumstances, you feel somehow that the tournament could have made better choices.

When the French win in France: kissing and flossing

PARIS – It’s just such a blast when a French player wins at Roland Garros, you wish it happened all the time.

But it’s rare in singles. And it had happened just twice in doubles before Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert made it happen Saturday.

The pair, who won the 2015 US Open and again the following summer at Wimbledon, defeated the best team in the world right now, No. 2 seed Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic 6-2, 7-6 (4) to earn their first Roland Garros title.

Let the kissing and flossing commence (all screenshots from FranceTV).

First you kiss your partner (multiple times; it’s very French).

France France

France

Then, you wait for your son.

This is six-year-old Nathanaël. French television had a “Nat Cam”, spying him nearly beside himself in the stands as his dad and Herbert closed in on victory, and then tracking his sprint across the court into his dad’s waiting arms.

“For two days, he’d been telling me, ‘How am I going to get on the court?’ I knew he was going to find a way if he saw us win,” Mahut said. “It’s those two or three minutes, when you win, that you share with Pierre-Hugues, and then my son arrived on court … honestly, I am overjoyed today. I don’t think I can ever feel something stronger than this.”

France France

And then, more kisses.

France
“Go and give Oncle Pierre-Hugues a kiss, baby.”
France
“OMG, dude, you got me right on the lips!”
France
“Did you guys see that? He got me right on the lips!”

Mahut told the story of his son being inconsolable, after Mahut and Herbert lost in the first round of Monte Carlo.

Herbert assured Nathanaël that they would win Roland Garros – which had Mahut freaking out a little bit.

“I told him not to make promises he couldn’t keep because it’s going to be pretty rough at home. He remembers everything,” Mahut said. “But a month later, we have the championship trophy.”

And some dancing …

 And then, of course, there was flossing.

When Mahut and Herbert went up to the France TV studios for a pre-final interview, Mahut promised there would be dancing if they won.

France

There was Herbert blowing kisses to the camera.

France

And then – the best kiss: kissing the trophy.

France

After that, a spontaneous singing of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise along with the crowd.

(The French players sing their anthem more expressively than just about anyone. Plus, it’s a great anthem. And when there’s a big crowd joining in, it’s enough to give you chills. But it’s best that you just go with the emotion and not really understand the lyrics, because the lyrics are pretty gruesome).

France France

A rough semifinal

For awhile, during the pair’s semifinal match, it was hardly certain they could even take the court for the final.

Herbert nailed Mahut in the ear with a forehand, and he went down in a heap.

“It was really painful,  maybe you couldn’t see in on the court. My ear hurt, my head hurt, and when the fans applauded I wanted to bang my head against the wall,” Mahut said Friday.

When he left the court – unable to even walk in a straight lineº to see the doctor in the locker room, he didn’t think he could continue.

Mahut had the ear examined Friday morning. There’s a slight hole in the ear drum, and a slight loss of hearing. He said the doctor assured him he would be back to normal – in three to four weeks.

During the semi, he had a few balance issues. And he heard whistling, buzzing in the ear. “The stress of the match was secondary, it hurt so much,” he said. “I just freed up, and the tennis got a lot easier.”

Other than the slight loss of hearing, and some pain, things were better in the final. No whistling, no buzzing, no loss of balance. But the exhaustion of the effort showed on his face after it was over.

Early heartbreaks

France

Mahut had been in this position before.

Mahut credited partner Michaël Llodra for being a rock when he couldn’t control his emotions in the wake of the loss in the 2013 French Open doubles final.

In 2013, he reached the French Open final with another Frenchman, lefty Michaël Llodra. They led Bob and Mike Bryan 4-2 in the third set tiebreak – but lost. 

“That was really painful in 2013. I thought it was my only chance to win Roland Garros. Thanks to Pierre-Hugues, here we are five years later, with a smile,” Mahut said in the post-match press conference.

“Emotion is so hard to relate. What we experienced on match point and the two or three minutes that followed, as soon as we try to explain it, it’s already too late. It’s almost indescribable. It’s pure joy.”

The two have had some bumps in the road, notably at the end of 2017 and the start of this season in the wake of some Davis Cup drama. “Because we’re close, because we love each other, we managed to overcome those moments and we responded in the best possible way this week, I think,” Mahut said.

At the 2015 Australian Open, Mahut and Herbert reached their first Slam doubles final. For Mahut, it was a final 15 years in the making.

But Herbert was in no shape to complete. And he was completely devastated.

Saturday night, they could put all that behind them, and celebrate with at least some of the record 110 guests they invited to the match.

Photos: Venus keeps dubs skills sharp

PARIS – Her sister has some singles duties to attend to on Saturday in the late afternoon/early evening.

But Venus Williams, eliminated from the singles in the first round, could still keep her doubles skills honed in her absence.

Williams was on a practice court at the neighbouring Club Jean Bouin, along with hitting partner Jermaine Jenkins.

Her partner was her assistant of two years, Zebe Haupt, who played as a junior in his native Australia.

A little impromptu mixed doubles, to keep things sharp.

Here’s what it looked like. (We’d have shot video, but only television rights holders are allowed to shoot, as of the start of the main draw last Sunday).

Serena vs. Goerges

Little sister has to deal with No. 11 seed Julia Goerges of Germany in her third-round singles.

Surprisingly, the two have not met in nearly seven years, since the Rogers Cup in 2011. They also played here in Paris, in the second round of the 2010 French Open (Williams won both; the clay matchup went 6-1, 6-1).

The winner will play …. get this … Maria Sharapova in the round of 16. 

Serena and Venus – together again

PARIS – It has been a couple of years since Venus and Serena Williams teamed up for doubles at a Grand Slam.

That came at Wimbledon in 2016. And they won the title.

They are back this year at the French Open, despite Venus Williams’ disappointing first-round loss in doubles.

And after shaking off some rust in the first set of their first-round match match against Japanese mighty mites Shuko Aoyama and Miyu Kato, they prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to advance.

In actual, real terms, that two-year absence isn’t that long. Serena Williams had only played one major since then. That was the 2017 Australian Open. And since she was playing doubles all on her own, with little Olympia, that actually would have been triples and therefore unfair.

Outstanding finals ratio

The sisterly pair has 22 titles together, including 14 majors (six at Wimbledon) and three Olympic golds.

Perhaps even more impressive, they have those 22 titles in 23 finals. In other words, only one time, once they reached the final, did they fail to take home the champions’ trophy. 

That came all the way back in 1999, in San Diego. They lost to Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu.

Quite frankly, that’s ridiculous.

They have won the French Open doubles title twice. In 1999, they defeated Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova in the final. In 2010, they beat Katarina Srebotnik and Kveta Peschke (who are both still playing, albeit with different partners).

Here are some pics of the sisters in action together through the years.

Can they do it again?

You kind of figure the sisters can do anything they set their mind to.

But of course, life is different now.

Williams has a tough second-round singles match against No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty Thursday. And when and if she loses in singles, it’s hard to know whether she will want to stick around the tournament just to play doubles.

As well, Venus will have to pick up her game. While Serena was roaring and intense and all over their first-round match, Venus had trouble keeping the unforced errors down.

(The size differential between the sisters and their Japanese opponents was substantial – FranceTV)

That was even more important, given she was playing the ad side.

Their next match will be between the winner of savvy veterans Sara Errani and Kirsten Flipkens, and a young French wild card team.

Their third-round match could be the No. 3 seeds, Andreja Klepac and Maria José Martinez Sánchez.