Faster men’s doubles format trialled at Madrid Open

Michael Venus and Jamie Murray
Michael Venus (left) and Jamie Murray (right) will play Abedallah Shelbayh and Benjamin Hassan in the second round on Wednesday in Madrid [Getty Images]

A faster men’s doubles format, with greater focus on matches between singles players and established doubles teams, is being trialled at the Madrid Open.

Teams are allowed just 15 - rather than the usual 25 - seconds between points after rallies up to three shots, and only 60 seconds to sit down at the change of ends.

Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas were among seven top-20 singles players to enter the event, which features five rounds in just five days.

"For me, it’s a shootout, which is kind of exciting. Once we get going - bang, this is on," said Matt Ebden, the current doubles world number one and president of the ATP Player Council.

"People like seeing the volleys, the return winners, the angles and all the reactions, but there is a bit too much dead time.

"We just looked at how we can keep the game flowing to make it a better product for the fans ultimately.”

Those supporters will be able to move freely around the stadium during points.

Jamie Murray and his partner Michael Venus beat the singles team of Denis Shapovalov and Alexander Bublik in the first round on Tuesday.

Murray likes the shortened changeovers and the tournament being spread over such a short period, but is not a fan of the reduced time between some points.

“I feel like it’s very rushed,” the seven-time Grand Slam champion said after the match.

"Fifteen seconds for doubles is very short. In singles you are playing a lot on instinct, but in doubles there’s a lot more strategy to start the points, and to lose that communication with your partner I don’t think is a good thing for the sport."

Murray would also like to see more social media promotion of doubles, to attract new fans to the game.

"The social media side of things is just an absolute zero," he said.

"I wrote to ATP Media last year after Miami and I basically counted all the posts that they had done across Indian Wells and Miami, and it was like 1% of their total posts [were about doubles]."

The trial will continue at future tournaments, although not necessarily always in the second week in the space of just five days.

Such a timetable might discourage singles players, and here in Madrid Taylor Fritz and Ben Shelton withdrew before their first-round match, shortly after Fritz had qualified for the singles quarter-finals.

Doubles players generally do not mind singles players entering the draw, “as long as they are committed to playing properly, competitively and through to the end of the tournament,” in the words of Ebden.

Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski were among the winning pairs on Tuesday, in their first appearance together on the ATP Tour since winning the San Diego title in October 2021.

Skupski is looking for a partner after splitting with Santiago Gonzalez following the Monte Carlo Masters.

Salisbury was looking for a way into the draw as his regular partner Rajeev Ram did not initially plan to play in Madrid.

And as a potential pairing for Team GB at the Paris Olympics this summer, they will be hoping to make the most of the opportunity.