Ever since Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003, the United States has been looking for a men’s champion. The seventeen year drought has been highlighted by several early round losses and struggles on clay. Surprisingly, an American man won the championship at Roland Garros just mere weeks ago, so why is it that nobody is talking about it?
Fourteen days ago American tennis player Ryan Harrison felt the immense triumph of winning his first grand slam title. Of course, the tennis world would soon be abuzz with headlines about America being back on top of the tennis world. That didn’t happen though. Instead, very few people were even aware of the Harrison’s victory. The reason for this was simple. It wasn’t the singles tournament that Harrison won, but rather the French Open doubles title.
The Problem For Doubles
Doubles can be an extremely entertaining spectacle. There are fast serves, quick volleys, and way more overhead smashes than in any singles match. While the doubles game is certainly a favorite of recreational players, it never caught on as a televised sport with the exception of the Olympics. For this reason, the doubles draw in majors has been forgotten by main stream sports fans. Even the most hardcore professional tennis fans seem to pay little attention to anything but singles. So what is it about our culture that makes people ignore doubles?
It’s hard to say which came first for doubles, the lack of popularity leading to less TV time, or less TV time leading to a lack of popularity. Either way, with the two on two format taking the back seat, fans are all in for singles.
In a world where tennis isn’t a prominent television sport, even most majors don’t get much air time in the United States. The one exception to this rule is the US open when primetime matches are shown on popular networks. The issue is that the primetime slots are always taken by big name singles players. Doubles does get occasional TV coverage at the US Open but it’s usually still rare. This general lack of national exposure means tennis enthusiasts will naturally be more interested by what they’ve seen before on TV. This brings us back to the original question, which came first between lack of air time and lack of popularity. The star power of the singles players most likely led to more TV time which then proliferated a cycle in which viewership drives popularity which drives more air time for singles.
With singles garnering more exposure than doubles, the top tennis players in the world opt to play singles. This has always given the impression that doubles players aren’t the world’s best but rather what’s left over after the top athletes are removed. While there is an element of truth to this, it isn’t entirely accurate. Doubles and singles are actually vastly different. The two variations of the game require different strategy and skill set to perfect. A singles player with great ground strokes but average volleys may struggle playing doubles but flourish in singles. The same is true for players with great volleys and average ground strokes finding double success while never achieving a high singles ranking. While it’s true that most top doubles players wouldn’t fare well in the singles draw, the same could be said about a lot of the top singles players, but that doesn’t stop the perception of doubles players being lesser from being proliferated.
Another aspect of singles that Americans tend to gravitate toward is the idea of being alone in the spotlight. America (even more so than other countries) values individual accolades and achievement. Singles provides the opportunity to be the only one taking credit for victories. In the doubles game, that attention is split in half.
For a long time the United States of America the top ranked doubles team in the world in the Bryan brothers. Bob and Mike Bryan dominated doubles winning majors and making a name for themselves. While the Bryan brothers did achieve some level of stardom, they weren’t enough to get the US excited about tennis or for people to hold them in the same esteem as a Roger Federer or a Rafael Nadal. To complicate things further, doubles teams often consist of players from different countries. For example, Harrison won with Michael Venus from New Zealand. This means that while Harrison is American, the team that won isn’t a true American team. Pairings such as this are extremely common but seem random without knowing the backstory of the duo. To many viewers it cheapens the victory.
What It Means
Doubles may never be as popular as singles in the world of professional tennis. That doesn’t mean that Harrison’s accomplishment should go unnoticed. The guy won a major championship and beat out many of the best players in the world. Hopefully this victory will be a springboard for his career that will propel him to even more accomplishments in the future.