With the first Grand Slam tournament of the year in its final rounds, let's have another look at the players in the draw. This time we'll provide exciting information about the former college players in the men's doubles event. With 22 out of 128 players having had some sort of college experience, 17% of the total doubles draw are made up of former collegiate players. We will also relate their doubles strength to an interesting ranking phenomenon, some great players have displayed on their way up.
Two weeks ago we provided an overview of the crowd of hungry professionals in the men's qualifying event of the Australian Open 2015, who tried to qualify for the main draw. We got much appreciated feedback, including advice to also take a look at the doubles draw. We did, and today's Friday Scholarship Guide will thus be about the success of former college athletes in the doubles event of the first Grand Slam. Let us start with an interesting phenomenon among some of the world class tennis pros and how this could apply to the many excellent collegiate doubles players on the tour.
Pete Sampras, Jonas Björkman, Radek Stepanek, and Michael Llodra: We'll take a look at these 4 players because of various reasons.
The first player, Sampras, is obviously one of the greatest of all times. Another one (Björkman) achieved a ranking within the top 4 in both rankings. Stepanek and Llodra are two players, who are still active on the tour and who show a similar playing style: variable offensive.
Yes, they are all famous for their offensive game and all four have been or still are among the world's best tennis players (defined as ranked within the top 50). But what else is it that unites these different players in essence?
They had a similar ranking development in singles and doubles, meaning they all had their breakthrough in doubles before they did so in singles.
Top 50 doubles - May 1989
Top 50 singles - January 1990
Top 10 doubles - June 1994
Top 10 singles - November 1997
Top 50 doubles - October 2001
Top 50 singles - March 2003
Top 50 doubles - January 2002
Top 50 singles - September 2004
We find this quite interesting given the number of highly ranked doubles players with a past in collegiate tennis. Now some people will argue that doubles is for older players and much easier to win. And they may be right to some extent. But the truth is likely to be found somewhere different. But let's first look at some of the 22 pros who competed in this year's Australian Open main draw.
There are different groups of doubles players. There are the ones who are young, ambitious, and who are waiting for their breakthrough in singles in particular. Another group of players made a serious effort in singles, but realized they will never reach the top due to different reasons. However, their style of play and talent is great for doubles and they focus exclusively on this competition. And last but not least, there's the old generation of players we only really know as doubles specialists, showing perfection as a team.
The ITA keeps great track of their former collegiate athletes. No need for us to list them all at this point. But some of them are certainly worth highlighting and we invite you to decide for yourself how to categorize them:
Bryan Brothers (USA): 16 Grand Slam (GS) titles
Robert Lindstedt (SWE): 1 GS title, 3 GS finals and #3 career high (2013)
Jean-Julien Rojer (NED): Australian Open 2015 Semifinal and #6 career high (2013).
Dominic Inglot (GBR): Lost Australian Open 2015 Quarterfinal and #18 career high (2014).
Marcin Matkowski (POL): 1 GS-Final and #7 career high (2012)
These 6 players are certainly some of the shining examples where college tennis can take you. Why doubt the college way if you definitely seem to receive the skill set to pick up an Australian Open doubles title afterwards? And for many of the other former collegiate athletes who tried their luck in the doubles event, they are in their prime to excel. Be it in doubles or also in singles after all.
We like the pattern that we highlighted above. In fact we love it, as it shows how your game matures and how your singles play profits at the same time. Return, serve, net game, anticipation; plenty to be applied in singles after all. Of course at some point, most players need to make a decision what competition to focus on.
But how does this all translate to college tennis? Imagine 4 years of collegiate tennis and lots of matches against other schools each season. Besides the singles the focus on doubles is large. As doubles are traditionally played in the beginning, this can really set the direction for the entire dual match. As a college athlete, you basically receive four years of high-level training and competition in doubles. And quite often, you team up with the same partner for much of the time. We'll dedicate a separate article solely about the doubles competition at a later stage.
By the way, Nicolas Mahut (FRA) is in the final of the Australian Open 2015 event. While he never played college tennis, he is another of the established professionals we listed above. Just like Llodra, Björkman, and the others, he reached Top 50 level in doubles before he did so in singles:
Top 50 doubles - July 2004
Top 50 singles - November 2007
And now after years on the tour and one lost GS final in Roland Garros in 2013, he has yet another chance to win his first GS title.
We hope today's topic will complement your image of the high level of play at college. And remember that we've just been looking at Grand Slam titles. Winning titles at ATP World Tour Masters tournaments is an incredible achievement as well and the above list would just get longer. As always, please feel free to get in touch with us in case you have any further questions or feedback. Interested in college tennis? Go ahead and check our other blog articles or sign-up to Smarthlete, which will enable you to connect with college coaches directly very soon.