Tennis Podcast: Does playing doubles help or hinder top singles players?

Telegraph Sport
The Telegraph
Stefanos Tsitsipas will play in doubles events for the rest of the season - Getty Images Europe
Stefanos Tsitsipas will play in doubles events for the rest of the season - Getty Images Europe

It used to be common practice for the best tennis players in the world to compete regularly in doubles, with the likes of Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver and John McEnroe all complementing their prolific singles careers by winning multiple Grand Slam doubles titles. But this is no longer the case. The more physical nature of tennis today, as well as the increased importance and lucrativeness of singles, has seen most of the modern-day greats participate only sparingly in doubles events, with the exception being the Williams sisters.

The recent decision of Stefanos Tsitsipas, then, to commit to playing doubles in the seven remaining Masters 1000 events this season was an interesting one, and on this week’s Tennis Podcast, presenters Catherine Whitaker (Amazon Prime, Eurosport) and David Law (BBC 5 Live, BT Sport) discuss whether participating in both disciplines can help or hinder singles players.

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“By and large I think it’s a great idea because winning is winning,” says Whitaker. “That winning feeling might be slightly reduced for some players if they’re getting it on the doubles court, but it’s still confidence that they can’t just magic out of thin air. It won’t necessarily work for everybody, but it will work for an awful lot more people than are currently doing it.”

“A lot of the Next Gen do seem more inclined to play more doubles than the generation before them […] and I don’t think it’s any accident that we’re seeing an increased willingness from these younger players to introduce variety into their game. Denis Shapovalov is determined to play with variety and, when he started doing it, his volleys weren’t up to it. But he’s improving and playing doubles will only help him more.”

“My concern over this is that there have been a few players in recent years who have played both singles and doubles, and I think you could question whether it has cost them, and whether it’s worn them out,” adds Law. “Caroline Garcia had her best singles results when she wasn’t playing doubles. I love the idea of it - players like Jo Durie, Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe always talk about how playing doubles was the best practice - but I don’t know how sustainable it is if you want to be the very best singles player that you can be.”

One player who can be found regularly on the doubles court is Nick Kyrgios. The Australian has spoken openly about finding doubles to be more enjoyable than singles, and The Tennis Podcast team feel strongly that playing doubles can aid the mental health of some players.

“Tennis is a lonely, unforgiving sport, and adding some sort of team element and shared responsibility must be an immense relief for a lot of players”, says Whitaker.

This episode also includes debate about Serena Williams’ ongoing silence over last year’s US Open final outburst, discussion on the role of the Hall of Fame, and a comparison of the careers of Kyle Edmund and Tim Henman.

The Tennis Podcast is produced weekly throughout the year and daily at the Grand Slam tournaments, in association with Telegraph Sport.

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