On and off the court, doubles can be a fascinating follow. Here are some ideas how.
It was terrific to watch your matches at the Nitto ATP Finals this past week. With all eight teams still having a chance to finish the year ranked No. 1, there was plenty at stake. In the end, as you know, the top spot was clinched by the team of Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares.
There was also tons of drama inside the lines. Ten matches ended with 10-point tiebreakers, including the final, won by Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic over Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, 6-2, 3-6, 10-5. Agility and athleticism, power and touch were all repeatedly on display in ways quite different from singles. It was Koolhof and Mektic’s first title together, a win for which they’ll split $254,000. Mektic in particular came up big, coming up with four great shots in the final tiebreaker, including one around the netpost, a sharp forehand volley poach off a return, an ace and a return winner.
Consider doubles now in the ABB Era—After Bryan Brothers. For 15 years, Bob and Mike lit up the marquee and put doubles in the spotlight. This wasn’t just because they were the best team. The Bryans were also a fantastic advertisement for doubles, a two-man promotional firm that relentlessly generated tremendous excitement and affinity among fans, sponsors and media. And they did this not just with their racquets, but with their personalities: accessible and polite, concerned and connected. Have Sharpie, will travel.
So now, with the Bryans having retired, it’s your turn. In a time when the sport’s economy is in more flux than ever, when tournaments are casting a close eye on matters of money and marketing, you have an opportunity—and a challenge—to continue making doubles not just relevant, but meaningful and perhaps even beloved. As ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi recently said in a SportsPro Media story, “So instead of having this tournament or player-centric approach, I think we need to shift our focus to our fans and try to deliver a better and richer experience by working united. ”
One reason fans enjoy seeing singles players occasionally play doubles is familiarity—with the player, the his story, with the strokes. But for years, doubles players have been more difficult to recognize; impressively skilled, but often faceless. As a start, put your names on the back of your shirts; that includes any piece of clothing you’re wearing at all times during a tournament. The fans want to know who you are, be it in practice or around the grounds. And they’re keen to know you for a long time. After all, players like the Bryanes, Daniel Nestor and Leander Paes have proven that doubles pros can last well into their 40s (Melzer turns 40 next May). The more we can sort out one great doubles player from another, the more likely we are to be curious about you, pay attention to your specific matches, follow you regularly. Familiarity is what leads to clothing contracts, equipment bonuses, patch deals, corporate appearances, motivational speaking gigs.
Contact every tournament director possible, from the majors to the Challengers, and ask: How can I become an ambassador for your event? No question, doubles players put in their share of hard yards in practice, training and match play. But when you consider the workload away from the majors consists of two sets of No-Ad scoring and a 10-point tiebreaker, doubles players also have a reasonable amount of available capacity to stage several clinics, Pro-Am or charity events, autograph sessions. Again, more contact with the public triggers increased engagement.
Fans connect with players not just because they are skilled, but because they are interesting. And the only way to build that connection is for people to know more about someone. A quick probe on the ATP website reveals that Mate Pavic is a moviegoer; Wesley Koolhof is a San Francisco Giants fan; Rajeev Ram has a non-profit organization that helps high school players in his home state; Joe Salisbury lists The Power of Wow as his favorite book. Each of these data points is a potential launching point for a bigger story that can concurrently draw attention to you and your matches.
But please give media the chance to tell it. I’ll never forget the time a Grand Slam doubles champion gave me a perfunctory 20-minute interview while repeatedly looking at his watch. But I’ll also never forget the time that Luke and Murphy Jensen took me with them in a helicopter to be part of a clinic they were conducting during an ATP tournament, or the evening in Indian Wells when Mike and Bob suggested I grab one of the their racquets and spend five minutes embedded in one of their practice sessions. These are stories I will continue to write and tell for decades. They bring the world of doubles to life in vivid, compelling ways.
Please, initiate and sustain frequent contact with the media to bring your stories to life with more depth. How about a doubles diary at every tournament? Or an analysis of such past great doubles stars like Paes and Leach? Or a story on imagined pairings, such as Ram and John McEnroe? Or a post-match five-minute hit with a random fan in the stands?
You well know that the vast majority of fans who watch your matches play doubles. Teach these players by creating instruction content with video breakdown of key doubles strokes as the volley, overhead and return of serve. Tell us some stories about the ways good teams communicate, with specific examples drawn from your many experiences around the world. On that note, tell us a bit on why certain players join forces—and why others break up. On and off the court, doubles can be a fascinating follow.
You don’t have to do it all yourself. Doubles warrants its own leadership group, with someone such as Luke Jensen or Wayne Bryan at the helm who will generate and execute ideas, hold everyone accountable and, most diligently of all, drum up sustained enthusiasm and interest.
I hope you take some of these ideas to heart. Fans love doubles, but mere athletic skill isn’t enough to get them involved in a sustained way. So give us the chance to know you even more.
Nitto ATP Finals, Wesley Koolhof, Édouard Roger-Vasselin, Nikola Mektić, Jürgen Melzer, Tennis, Association of Tennis Professionals, Joe Salisbury, Rajeev Ram, Mate Pavić
EbeneMagazine – IN – A Letter to ATP doubles players: Life in the After Bryan Brothers era
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