Raising the doubles fault line

John McEnroe questioned the relevance of doubles in modern tennis. In his interview to The Times of London he said, "Doubles, why are we even playing it?"

The tenor of his tirade, though, could be obliquely interpreted by cynics as targeting the Bryan twins who are being called "the best doubles team ever" and whom McEnroe's former partner Fleming too doesn't quite deem as the greatest.

McEnroe argued: "I don't know what doubles is bringing to the table. The doubles are the slow guys who aren't quick enough to play singles." It's unlikely that his suggestion to scrap the pairs event altogether and "invest all the money we save elsewhere so that some other guys, who never really got into a good position in the sport, end up playing more in singles" will be taken seriously by those who matter at AT. But it makes you wonder if Indians would want to give his harangue a good listen.

India now boasts of 5 players in the men's doubles Top 100. The country loosely hangs onto the hope that Somdev Devvarman — the lone man plodding on in singles at that level (he's ranked 90 now, was 62 at his best) will push his game to the next level, shrugging off injury setbacks and some impossible physical deficiencies, to maximise his effort. But all around him, young players are copping out on their singles dream and settling for half-glory of the deuce and ad court.

While Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have brought unprecedented Slam success to Indian tennis, and Rohan Bopanna has hit the same path of split responsibility on court, the temptation to chuck the singles career out at the first hint of the steep upclimb in competition, isn't exactly an inspiring precedent. Some may even call it an easy way out.

With fitness requirements only a fraction of what a singles player would need, and a job-brief of manning only half a court, several Indians struggling to break out in the singles are seen latching onto partnerships, honing specialised skills to forge hyphenated careers and securing livelihoods on the expensive Tour. While this trend has seen India stride confidently into Davis Cup Saturdays, the two singles days on either side of the doubles rubber are asking some pressing posers.

(Shivani is an assistant editor based in Mumbai.) shivani.naik@expressindia.com

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